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Ulster Bank League: Division 1A Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 1A Previews

Defending champions Cork Constitution and top flight returnees Buccaneers will both aim to make home advantage count when the new Ulster Bank League season launches tomorrow with five exciting Division 1A clashes.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, September 16

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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BUCCANEERS v LANSDOWNE, Dubarry Park

Preview: Buccaneers are back dining at the Ulster Bank League’s top table after a 10-year absence. With their Division 1B title-winning coach Brett Wilkinson taking up a job in Hong Kong, there is some continuity with his assistant Darin Claasen stepping up as Buccs’ new head coach. Retired Leinster and Ireland lock Mike McCarthy is in charge of the forwards.

Recent Ireland Under-20 captain and Connacht Academy newcomer Paul Boyle is poised to make his debut for the Pirates against his former club, while Peter Claffey, Conan O’Donnell and New Zealander Dan Law will strengthen their pack. Injury rules out Jordan Conroy, their 18-try hero last season.

Lansdowne did the hard work in topping the table in April but fell short in the play-offs. Prop Ian Prendiville, who continues as club captain, said: “With the squad we have, they’re a year older and a lot of them needed that extra year. Hopefully now we can push on and be real contenders. The standard of coaching that Mike (Ruddock) brings is huge – he’s an international coach coaching at AIL level.”

Recent League Meetings – N/A

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win

CORK CONSTITUTION v CLONTARF, Temple Hill

Preview: The league’s last two champions meet in a repeat of the 2017 final, in which man-of-the-match Tomas Quinlan kicked 20 points for a victorious Cork Constitution. Captain Niall Kenneally feels Con are just as hungry for success this season, saying: “Guys get a taste of it and they want it again. Hopefully we can get off to a solid start.”

Clontarf have some new faces in the squad – including forwards Dylan Donnellan and Joe Roe and winger James McKeown – as well as a new backs coach in James Downey. Skipper Ben Reilly said: “It’s great to have Jimmy back (at Clontarf), he’s a real clubman. The backs are enjoying the change there, he’s bringing in some really good stuff.”

The clubs’ two regular season meetings in 2016/17 produced a home win apiece. Ireland Sevens squad member Shane Daly starred in Con’s 24-17 success at Temple Hill, before ‘Tarf – aided by two tries from full-back Rob Keogh – won the rematch at Castle Avenue on a 22-13 scoreline.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 11, 2017: Clontarf 22 Cork Constitution 13, Castle Avenue; Sunday, May 7, 2017: Final – Clontarf 21 Cork Constitution 25, Aviva Stadium

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win

DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v TERENURE COLLEGE, College Park

Preview: Dublin University begin the new league campaign against the team they defeated to stay up in mid-April. That 27-25 victory over Terenure, crowned by a stunning last-minute try from winger Tim Maupin who has since moved to St. Mary’s, kept Tony Smeeth’s young guns in the top flight.

Although Trinity have lost some key players, Ulster and Munster-capped scrum half Angus Lloyd returns in the number 9 jersey tomorrow. Strong-running centre Michael Courtney, who turned 22 yesterday, steps up as captain, Sam Pim, who returns from a successful stint playing for University of Queensland, starts at blindside flanker and Denis Buckley’s brother Maurice (21) gets the nod at hooker.

The family links continue as Terenure welcome back Joe Schmidt’s son, scrum half Tim, following an Erasmus year in Toulouse. The ‘Nure pack has been beefed up by South African hooker Schalk Jooste, Giorgi Turabelidze (from Portugal via Georgia) and former Ireland Under-20 and Ulster ‘A’ lock Alex Thompson, while it will be interesting to see how American recruit Kalei Konrad fares in midfield.

Recent League Meetings – Friday, September 16, 2016: Terenure College 18 Dublin University 25, Lakelands Park; Saturday, April 15, 2017: Dublin University 27 Terenure College 25, College Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Terenure College to win

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE v GARRYOWEN, Templeville Road

Preview: It was a tough slog for both of these clubs last season with 11 defeats each. St. Mary’s ended up just three points clear of the relegation zone, while Garryowen had to save their top flight status via play-off wins over Old Wesley and UL Bohemians.

On early season evidence, Garryowen have bolstered their squad with some canny acquisitions. Their scrum is much improved with Trinity prop Andy Keating now on board. Behind him, Darren Ryan, Aaron McCloskey and Sean Rennison have moved across from Young Munster and number 8 Mark Rowley returns from Old Wesley.

Led by new captain Ciaran Ruddock, St. Mary’s have had an encouraging early season with Leinster wins over UCD and Old Belvedere, although a second half slump saw them beaten 31-20 by Lansdowne last Saturday. They will be eager to retain the Shay Deering Trophy and give new head coach Peter Burke a winning start in Division 1A.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 12, 2016: Garryowen 43 St. Mary’s College 38, Dooradoyle; Saturday, February 11, 2017: St. Mary’s College 27 Garryowen 7, Templeville Road

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win

YOUNG MUNSTER v UCD, Tom Clifford Park

Preview: Back to full fitness after shoulder and ankle injuries, 22-year-old back rower Ben Kilkenny from Tipperary will captain Young Munster this term as they target a fourth successive Division 1A semi-final and, with it, a long-awaited shot at the league title.

There have been a number of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ in the off-season, the Cookies recruiting Trinity number 8 Tom Ryan, versatile Galwegians and Connacht Eagles forward Marc Kelly, Kiwi centre Ben Swindlehurst from Naas and 19-year-old Munster Academy newcomer Daniel Hurley.

UCD will want to build some momentum ahead of next week’s home clash with Trinity. They ran Munsters close (37-31) on their last visit to Greenfields and certainly have the personnel to trouble them. Their Ireland Sevens contingent, including lively centre Jimmy O’Brien, ran Old Belvedere ragged in a 43-5 Leinster Senior League win last Saturday.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 29, 2016: Young Munster 37 UCD 31, Tom Clifford Park; Saturday, March 4, 2017: UCD 20 Young Munster 13, Belfield Bowl

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Young Munster to win

This season sees the introduction of the #UBLTry of the Month award with a prize of 250 euro for each monthly winner and entry into the Try of the Year award.