Will the Dublin clubs’ dominance of Division 1A continue, or can the likes of Young Munster, Cork Constitution or Ballynahinch break the capital’s stranglehold on the trophy? The top flight of the Ulster Bank League kicks off tonight with two exciting ‘Friday Night Lights’ clashes.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, September 12
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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OLD BELVEDERE v TERENURE COLLEGE, Anglesea Road, Friday, September 11, 7.30pm
Preview: Old Belvedere could make quite a statement of intent with an opening night win over Terenure College, who finished second in the table last season.
‘Belvo, who have brought in Willie Staunton and Ed Rossiter, have a good recent history of starting the league well with first round victories over Clontarf and Cork Constitution in the last two years, and will again look to Daniel Riordan and Aidan Wynne to spark a talented back-line.
Like their hosts, Terenure are three from three in the Leinster Senior League Cup, with Oisin Heffernan and Kyle McCoy both impressing up front. They have the personnel to just shade this Dublin derby.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 22, 2014: Terenure College 34 Old Belvedere 27, Lakelands Park; Saturday, April 11, 2015: Old Belvedere 18 Terenure College 8, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Terenure College to win
UCD v CLONTARF, Belfield Bowl, Friday, September 11, 7.30pm (live on IrishRugby.ie)
Preview: Ireland Under-18 Schools head coach Noel McNamara is now in charge of UCD, and his Division 1A opener sees last year’s beaten finalists Clontarf make the trip across the Liffey.
Already through to the Leinster Senior League Cup’s knockout stages, the students will be out for revenge after losing twice to Clontarf last season – including a 38-17 home defeat in January.
For their part, ‘Tarf, whose forward ranks now include Ed Kelly, Michael Noone and Diarmuid Higgins, have had the summer months to get over their Bateman Cup and Division 1A final losses. A strong start would be the ideal response, particularly with back-to-back home games in rounds 2 and 3.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, October 3, 2014: Clontarf 28 UCD 5, Castle Avenue; Saturday, January 31, 2015: UCD 17 Clontarf 38, Belfield Bowl
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win
GALWEGIANS v CORK CONSTITUTION, Crowley Park
Preview: A big test for Galwegians on their return to the top flight. Matt Brown’s men know how important their home form could prove to be in maintaining their Division 1A status.
Former captain Brian McClearn, now coaching NUIG, is one of a number of Galwegians to move on, but Connacht Academy recruits Ed O’Keeffe (ex-Young Munster) and Cormac Brennan – both talented backs – have linked up with the Blues.
Cork Constitution won the Cork Charity Cup recently and had 23 points to spare against Shannon in a friendly last weekend. Young place-kicker Tomas Quinlan and flanker Sonny Dwyer are two players to watch out for.
Recent League Meetings – This is the clubs’ first Ulster Bank League clash since November 2008
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win
GARRYOWEN v BALLYNAHINCH, Dooradoyle
Preview: Conan Doyle’s second season in charge of Garryowen begins with a home clash with Ballynahinch, as the Light Blues make their return to Division 1A.
Doyle will hope that their surprise Limerick Charity Cup defeat to Old Crescent was an early season blip, and that players like Alex Wootton, new captain Josh Hrstich and Aaron McCloskey inspire them to a solid start.
However, Ballynahinch will fancy their chances of winning in Limerick. They finished only two points short of a semi-final place last season, and skipper Paul Pritchard leads their workhorse forwards.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 23, 2013: Ballynahinch 18 Garryowen 6, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, February 1, 2014: Garryowen 18 Ballynahinch 9, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
LANSDOWNE v YOUNG MUNSTER, Aviva Stadium
Preview: Arguably the match of the weekend in Division 1A as reigning champions Lansdowne host Young Munster in a repeat of last season’s semi-final. Tyrone Moran’s extra-time try saw Lansdowne prevail 23-19 that day.
Hooker Moran, since moved to London Scottish, is one of six forwards missing from Lansdowne’s title-winning pack. It is something of a transitional period for Mike Ruddock’s men, but he should get a good return from new backs Matthew D’Arcy and Eamonn Mills who are noted league operators.
It will be interesting to see how Young Munster go under the guidance of new boss Anthony Mathison, the former Queensland Reds and Australia ‘A’ prop. Backs Darragh O’Neill and Mark Doyle have returned to strengthen the Cookies’ depth.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 11, 2015: Young Munster 15 Lansdowne 5, Tom Clifford Park; Saturday, April 25, 2015: Semi-Final – Lansdowne 23 Young Munster 19 (AET), Aviva Stadium main pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win