‘Friday Night Lights’ at the Aviva Stadium with the Division 1A title on the line for Clontarf. They cannot afford to slip up again or Old Belvedere could sneak in ahead of them. This one is going down to the wire!
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, April 12
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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LANSDOWNE (4th) v CLONTARF (1st), Aviva Stadium main pitch, 7.30pm (Friday, April 11)
Can Clontarf close out the deal and capture the title by beating Lansdowne and Ballynahinch in their final two games?
Their shock defeat at the hands of an understrength UCD outfit last weekend means that they have just a point to spare over Old Belvedere.
Hopefully, from their point of view, the pressure of securing that overdue title has not suddenly got to them. It seems much more likely that they went into the game against UCD a tad complacent because of the fact that the students were so much understrength, and they were duly punished.
It goes without saying that the north Dubliners simply cannot adopt the same attitude against Lansdowne.
Although Lansdowne’s form has been poor lately, the worry for Clontarf is that they will lift their game for this ‘Friday Night Lights’ encounter on the main pitch at the Aviva Stadium.
Furthermore, Lansdowne ran Clontarf close – 16-13 – when the sides met at Castle Avenue in Janurary. So, it is essential that Clontarf return to the sort of form which saw them defeat Old Belvedere a couple of weeks back.
Fortunately, it seems that influential full-back Darragh Fitzpatrick will be able to return against a Lansdowne side that is expected to include some of the talented up-and-coming younger players at the headquarters club.
BALLYNAHINCH (9th) v UCD (3rd), Ballymacarn Park
Ballynahinch bid to continue their extraordinary revival which has seen them take maximum points from their last two games to move 10 points clear of Garryowen in the automatic relegation spot.
Potentially, they could even move away from the second-from-bottom spot but that seems unlikely. Even so, they will be very keen to make it three wins on the trot by defeating UCD for a second time this season.
But UCD represent very formidable opposition having gone on a run which has seen them move back up to third spot in the table.
Last Saturday’s 39-33 victory over leaders Clontarf with a much understrength team was a remarkable result.
The students have really got going again following a disappointing middle part of the season. Andrew Boyle, who missed the Clontarf game, has been really outstanding in the back-three.
OLD BELVEDERE (2nd) v DOLPHIN (8th), Anglesea Road
Old Belvedere’s spirits must have been lifted when hearing of Clontarf’s defeat by UCD. They are right back in the hunt, just a point adrift with just two games left.
It is now up to them to win those two games against Dolphin and Garryowen, preferably with a bonus point or two, and hopefully pip Clontarf for the title.
If they can manage it, it would be an astonishing achievement for a side quoted at 100/1 at the start of the campaign.
Irrespective of what happens they have had a remarkable season under the astute coaching of Paul Cunningham. They lost nothing in terms of their reputation when losing out narrowly to Clontarf away last time out.
Hopefully, their captain and full-back Daniel Riordan will be back to face Dolphin. He is absolutely crucial.
Dolphin are unlikely to lie down given that they are third-from-bottom and will be keen to put further space between themselves and Ballynahinch.
They have suffered some huge defeats recently but bounced back with a vital 26-12 victory over Garryowen last time out.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th) v GARRYOWEN (10th), Templeville Road
The pressure should be off St. Mary’s following their resounding 38-18 away victory over Lansdowne in a rearranged fixture.
Matthew D’Arcy was particulary good, crossing twice in a match which saw St. Mary’s get six tries. Sadly for Garryowen, their recent good run has come to an end and they are now effectively doomed to automatic relegation.
No doubt though they will be keen to finish the season on a good note. But they have a big job on their hands against a St. Mary’s side that has done well to turn their situation around in the second half of the season.
YOUNG MUNSTER (7th) v CORK CONSTITUTION (5th), Tom Clifford Park
Difficult to know what to expect from a Cork Constitution team that was surprisingly demolished at home by Ballynahinch in their last outing.
With little to play for in the league, perhaps their eyes are on the Bateman Cup final against UCD at the start of next month.
Presumably though that effort against Ballynahinch was a once-off and they will return to something like their normal selves against Young Munster.
Young Munster should be safe but they will be keen to make certain of staying clear of Ballynahinch. While their form has tended to be erratic, they have generally been pretty good at Tom Clifford Park recently.
Their effort in beating St. Mary’s College 30-17 last time out was a really good. The powerful centre Kolio Hifo scored a hat-trick of tries in that game and he is clearly a potential match winner again against Cork Con.