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Ulster Bank League: Division 1A Final Preview

Ulster Bank League: Division 1A Final Preview

So it all comes down to this, a first play-off final at Lansdowne Road since 2006 and a crunch encounter between the league’s last two title holders – Lansdowne (2013) and Clontarf (2014). Kick-off on Saturday is at 1pm, with tickets available from Ticketmaster and live TV coverage on RTE 2.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 1A FINAL: Saturday, May 9

LANSDOWNE (1st) v CLONTARF (3rd), Aviva Stadium main pitch, 1pm (live RTÉ 2/www.rte.ie/live (worldwide)/IRFU Live Blog)

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Ulster Bank League Form – Lansdowne: WWWLW; Clontarf: LLWWW
Ulster Bank League Season’s Record – Lansdowne: 1st place finish, fourteen wins; Clontarf: 3rd place finish, ten wins

This Season’s League Meetings – Saturday, September 27, 2014: Lansdowne 9 Clontarf 6, Aviva Stadium main pitch; Saturday, January 10, 2015: Clontarf 0 Lansdowne 35, Castle Avenue

Preview: Dublin’s dominance of the top flight will continue with a fifth straight winner from the capital. If Clontarf prevail, they will become the first back-to-back champions since Shannon (2004-2006).

Regular out-half David Joyce has seemingly lost his battle to be fit for tomorrow’s decider. He injured his shoulder in the recent Bateman Cup final and subsequently missed the Divison 1A semi-final win away to Terenure.

Andy Wood slotted the experienced Evan Ryan in at number 10 that day as centre Matt D’Arcy took over the place-kicking duties, guiding ‘Tarf to a hard-earned 9-0 victory. Ryan’s retention at out-half sets up a fascinating head-to-head with his former Cork Constitution team-mate Scott Deasy, while Rob Keogh returns at full-back.

D’Arcy and co. do not have fond memories of facing Lansdowne this season, with a narrow 9-6 loss at this same venue in September and a 35-0 thrashing at home in January.

Lansdowne captain Ron Boucher dubbed that five-try rout their ‘best performance of the season’, but he admitted they were ‘very lucky’ to overcome Young Munster in extra-time last time out. Their one personnel change sees Mark Roche come in for Cian Aherne on the right wing.

League form went out the window for that semi-final clash and the beauty of the play-offs, from Clontarf’s point of view, sees the 13-point gap between themselves and Lansdowne in the table completely erased.

If the headquarters club’s back-line clicks, particularly stars-in-the-making Cian Kelleher and Tom Farrell, then Mike Ruddock’s men should make home advantage count.

But you cannot write off a Clontarf side that will want to bounce back from their disappointing Bateman Cup final defeat in Cork, as well as those two regular season reversals to Lansdowne.

There is the added motivation of this being the northside club’s first final outing at Lansdowne Road since the last play-off decider was held there nine years ago. That was a day to forget for current ‘Tarf boss Wood who played in a heavy 30-3 loss to Shannon and then, as head coach, watched his charges go down to Shannon again in 2009. Time for the Castle Avenue outfit to banish those bad memories of past finals.

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win by 1-5 points

* Tickets for Saturday’s final, which are available on www.ticketmaster.ie, are priced at €;10 for adults and it is free admission for children. There will also be a Tickermaster van outside the stadium from 10.30am tomorrow.

LANSDOWNE: Cian Kelleher; Mark Roche, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Ian Fitzpatrick; Scott Deasy, Adam Griggs; Peter Dooley, Tyrone Moran, Ian Prendiville, Brian Moylett, Stephen Gardiner, Joe McSwiney, Aaron Conneely, Ron Boucher (capt).

Replacements: Paddy Flood, Adam Boland, Tadhg Beirne, Paddy O’Driscoll, Tom Kiersey, Cian Aherne, Joe O’Brien.

CLONTARF: Rob Keogh; Conor O’Brien, Colm O’Shea, Matt D’Arcy, Max McFarland; Evan Ryan, Sam Cronin (capt); Ivan Soroka, Bryan Byrne, Royce Burke Flynn, Tom Byrne, Ben Reilly, Karl Moran, Adrian D’Arcy, Tony Ryan.
 
Replacements: Rory Litchfield, Liam Og Murphy, Ian Hirst, Dermot O’Meara, Ariel Robles, Timmy McCoy, Conor O’Keeffe.

Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)

Captain’s Call – Ron Boucher (Lansdowne): “I think there is a place for the club game and if people could see that, it would be fantastic. It’s also an opportunity to showcase some of the younger guys.

“Sean Cronin started his career playing with Shannon, won an AIL and played really well in the (2006) final. He got a lot of recognition from that. There’s maybe three or four guys in our team who might do that and kick on from there.

“We had a very close game (with Clontarf) in the stadium at the start of the year, we played really well over there (Castle Avenue) and beat them well in probably our best performance of the year. While we hope to take elements of that and there were certain things we will try to replicate, remember this is a game in isolation and the dynamics are different.”

Sam Cronin (Clontarf): “It would be a massive feat (to retain the title) and it kind of shows how club rugby has changed. From our team last year, a couple of guys got picked up for contracts and that kind of thing, so there’s a natural kind of loss in your player pool, which maybe Shannon didn’t have back in the days they were retaining the league season on season.

“It’s a different feat, but it’d be a superb one to get for the club and it would show our strength in depth. To retain it would be unbelievable.

“There’s huge excitement in the club and the squad for the final. Personally, I think it’s great to have the play-off structure – and this marquee day back on the rugby calendar. We’re really looking forward to it, we just can’t wait to get out onto the pitch.”

Did You Know?:

– Ten different clubs have won the All-Ireland League top flight crown over the years. Of course, record breakers Shannon lead the way with nine wins, while Cork Constitution (4) and Garryowen (3) are next up. Either Lansdowne or Clontarf will join St. Mary’s College on two league successes today

– The Ulster Bank League Awards take place in Dublin next Thursday, with Clontarf centre Matt D’Arcy and Lansdowne flanker Aaron Conneely shortlisted for Division 1A Player of the Year along with Terenure’s Kyle McCoy. Lansdowne’s Cian Kelleher and Tom Farrell are also in the mix for the Rising Star honour

– New Zealander Andy Wood replaced Bernard Jackman as Clontarf’s head coach in 2011, for his second coaching spell at Castle Avenue. The Wellington second row had previously played for De La Salle Palmerston and ‘Tarf. He has also had coaching involvement with the Blackrock College RFC and Ireland Club international squads

– In 2005, Lansdowne head coach Mike Ruddock guided Wales to their first Grand Slam in 27 years. He led Lansdowne to their first Ulster Bank League title in 2013 and coached the Ireland Under-20s to their best ever Junior World Championship finish (fourth) last summer before stepping down after four years at the helm

Ulster Bank League Division 1A – Roll Of Honour (2005-2014):

2014 – Clontarf (first in league table)
2013 – Lansdowne (first in league table)
2012 – St. Mary’s College (first in league table)
2011 – Old Belvedere (final: 20-17 v Cork Constitution, Donnybrook)
2010 – Cork Constitution (final: 17-10 v St. Mary’s College, Dubarry Park)
2009 – Shannon (final: 19-19 v Clontarf, Thomond Park (aet) (Shannon won via first try scored))
2008 – Cork Constitution (final: 18-8 v Garryowen, Musgrave Park)
2007 – Garryowen (final: 16-15 v Cork Constitution, Musgrave Park)
2006 – Shannon (final: 30-3 v Clontarf, Lansdowne Road)
2005 – Shannon (final: 25-20 v Belfast Harlequins, Lansdowne Road)