There are two fascinating top-four clashes to savour on Sunday afternoon, but the Ulster Bank League Division 1A action gets underway tonight with the rescheduled meeting of Buccaneers and Clontarf at Dubarry Park.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: Friday, March 9-Sunday, March 11
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BUCCANEERS (10th) v CLONTARF (6th), Dubarry Park, tonight, 8pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LLLLLLLWWLLLLL; Clontarf: LWLWWWLWWWLLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Luke Carty 75; Tries: Rory O’Connor 7; Clontarf: Points: David Joyce 68; Tries: Matt D’Arcy 7
Preview: Division 1A’s bottom side Buccaneers could hardly have a tougher plight. They are eight points adrift and their final four games are all against clubs currently chasing semi-final places.
Again, a very promising two-try start against Trinity gave Buccs just a losing bonus point in the end. Young scrum half Conor McKeon and lock Cian Romaine both stood out, but the collective effort needs to be much better.
Clontarf were 20-points winners when they hosted the Pirates in October, and they will fancy their chances tonight with their two Ireland Club international representatives, Matt D’Arcy and Michael Noone, both available for selection.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 7, 2017: Clontarf 26 Buccaneers 6, Castle Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win
GARRYOWEN (4th) v TERENURE COLLEGE (2nd), Dooradoyle, Sunday, 2.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Garryowen: LWWLWLWWWLLWWW; Terenure College: WWWWLWLLWLWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Garryowen: Points: Neil Cronin 135; Tries: Liam Coombes, David Johnston 7 each; Terenure College: Points: Mark O’Neill; Tries: Jake Swaine, Robbie Smyth, Sam Coghlan Murray 5 each
Preview: The Ireland Club international squad have moved their training day from Sunday in order to not impact on selection for this weekend’s rearranged Ulster Bank League fixtures.
It is a big boost for Garryowen and Terenure who have a combined seven players involved in Ireland’s two-match series against Scotland, including talismanic captain Neil Cronin who has tallied up 135 league points for the Light Blues this season.
The Limerick men have won their last three matches and currently hold onto the last semi-final spot. Home advantage has been the difference in these clubs’ most recent meetings, with ‘Nure winning the last two encounters in the capital since early 2017. In-form winger Sam Coghlan Murray has bagged four tries in his last six outings for James Blaney’s second-placed side.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 28, 2017: Terenure College 27 Garryowen 17, Lakelands Park; Saturday, October 7, 2017: Terenure College 27 Garryowen 20, Lakelands Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
CORK CONSTITUTION (3rd) v LANSDOWNE (1st), Temple Hill, Sunday, 3pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Cork Constitution: WLWLLWWWLWWLWL; Lansdowne: WWWWWWWWWWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Cork Constitution: Points: Tomas Quinlan 98; Tries: Ned Hodson, Rob Jermyn 4 each; Lansdowne: Points: Scott Deasy 152; Tries: Mark O’Keefe 6
Preview: Cork Constitution’s record against play-off rivals this season has hampered them, with losses to Terenure College, table toppers Lansdowne, Young Munster (twice) and Garryowen.
Despite dropping to third last time out, Brian Hickey’s men remain right in the hunt for another league title shot. Returning scrum half Gerry Hurley and Rob Jermyn have scored five tries between them in the last three rounds.
It should be quite a battle if Daniel McEvoy lines up opposite Jermyn, with the Lansdowne winger claiming crucial tries for both club and country in recent weeks. There is always some added spice too when Corkonian Scott Deasy returns to Leeside to face his former side.
Recent League Meetings – Sunday, April 23, 2017: Semi-Final: Lansdowne 16 Cork Constitution 19, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Sunday, October 8, 2017: Lansdowne 24 Cork Constitution 10, Aviva Stadium back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win
BANBRIDGE (3rd) v BALLYMENA (9th), Rifle Park, Saturday, 2.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: WDWWWLWLWWLWDW; Ballymena: WLLLWLLLWLLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 103; Tries: Andrew Morrison 8; Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 78; Tries: Rodger McBurney 6
Preview: It is Ulster derby time for Banbridge again, as they look to follow up on their superb 29-14 win at Division 1B leaders Ballynahinch from three weeks ago. That result means they are just a point off the summit.
Ballymena were also boosted by an impressive bonus point success in the last round, emerging as 26-8 winners over Naas. However, Old Wesley’s mid-week win has nudged the Braidmen back into the bottom two.
This game brings together two of Ulster club rugby’s most threatening backs, with Bann centre Andrew Morrison (8 tries) and Ballymena full-back Rodger McBurney (six) regularly causing headaches for defences. Jason Gribbon, who deputised for Ian Porter at scrum half against ‘Hinch, and Azur Allison, Ballymena’s try-scoring number 8, also caught the eye last time out.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 23, 2013: Ballymena 15 Banbridge 17, Eaton Park; Friday, October 6, 2017: Ballymena 17 Banbridge 23, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win