There are four heavyweight contenders in the Division 1A semi-final line-up, with Lansdowne and Clontarf, who have shared the trophy over the last four years with two wins each, facing off against Bateman Cup kingpins and last season’s beaten league finalists Cork Constitution and Young Munster who have reached this stage for a third year in a row.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A SEMI-FINALS: Sunday, April 23
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Ulster Bank League Results Service: Send UBL to 51444. To unsubscribe send the word STOP to 0876445950. Search #UBL on Twitter for club updates.
LANSDOWNE (1st) v CORK CONSTITUTION (4th), Aviva Stadium back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Lansdowne: WWLLWWWWWLWWWLLDLW; Cork Constitution: WLLWWWWWWLWLWWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Lansdowne: Points: Scott Deasy 165; Tries: Daniel McEvoy 11; Cork Constitution: Points: Tomas Quinlan 166; Tries: Conor Kindregan 6
Preview: Having lost the 2016 decider in dramatic circumstances, Cork Constitution have very much looked a team on a mission this season, winning five of their final six games to reach the last-four. They will also return to Dublin for next Saturday’s Bateman Cup final against Old Belvedere.
2013 and 2015 league champions Lansdowne, who got back to winning ways against Garryowen last Saturday, lie in wait this weekend, looking to make the most of home advantage and the guile of former Temple Hill favourite Scott Deasy, who trails Con’s Tomas Quinlan by a single point at the top of the scoring charts (165 to 166).
Lansdowne’s backs, including the division’s leading scorer Daniel McEvoy (11 tries), have been the more potent force, but this match is likely to be decided up front. Constitution won the sides’ two previous meetings this season, their 25-20 triumph on the Dubliners’ artificial pitch in March including lock Brian Hayes’ third try in as many games and a defiant late defensive stand.
Hayes and Conor Kindregan are the league’s most prolific second row pairing, with 10 tries between them, but the Ian Prendiville-led Lansdowne front row has been just as influential, picking up a number of penalty tries via their powerful scrummaging. That could be a decisive area with Con missing the Munster ‘A’-tied Rory Burke and Liam O’Connor.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 8, 2016: Cork Constitution 31 Lansdowne 13, Temple Hill; Saturday, March 11, 2017: Lansdowne 20 Cork Constitution 25, Aviva Stadium back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win
CLONTARF (2nd) v YOUNG MUNSTER (3rd), Castle Avenue
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Clontarf: WLLWLLLWWWLWWWWLWW; Young Munster: LWWLWWWLLWWLWLLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Clontarf: Points: Rob Keogh 99; Tries: Matt D’Arcy 8; Young Munster: Points: Alan Tynan 97; Tries: Cian Bohane, Rob Guerin 5 each
Preview: An equally tight encounter looks likely here. Only scoring difference separated Clontarf and Young Munster in the final standings, with the Cookies notably claiming a brace of regular season wins over the reigning champions (20-18 at home and 13-11 at Castle Avenue).
Young place-kickers David O’Mahony and Alan Tynan shone in those matches, the latter nailing a decisive late drop goal away to ‘Tarf, and the Tipperary starlet will relish another out-half duel with David Joyce, the league’s Rising Star of the Year award winner in 2014.
Munsters have suffered narrow semi-final defeats these past two seasons, going down to Lansdowne and Cork Constitution, so will it be a case of third time lucky? The unfortunate scheduling clash with the British & Irish Cup final (which takes place tonight) sees a number of Cookies involved for Munster ‘A’, including centre duo Dan Goggin and Cian Bohane.
Clontarf boss Andy Wood is well used to getting his side to peak at play-off time. The scoring form of the likes of Conor O’Brien, Michael Brown and Michael Noone, who have tallied up 10 tries between them in the last six rounds, suggests that they will be playing for a third league title in four years on Sunday, May 7.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 1, 2016: Young Munster 20 Clontarf 18, Castle Avenue; Saturday, March 25, 2017: Clontarf 11 Young Munster 13, Castle Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win