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Ulster Bank League: Division 1A Final Preview

Ulster Bank League: Division 1A Final Preview

Jason Higgins and Evan Mintern are set to start for Cork Constitution in Sunday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A final, while Leinster prop Peter Dooley will feature in Lansdowne’s front row for the heavyweight contest at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3pm).


LANSDOWNE (1st) v CORK CONSTITUTION (3rd), Aviva Stadium, 3pm (live RTÉ 2/www.rte.ie/live (worldwide))

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Ticket Information: Tickets are available from ticketmaster.ie and Ticketmaster outlets nationwide, priced at €;10 for adults. Under-18 tickets are free with an adult ticket. We encourage you to purchase tickets in advance of the match to avoid problems or queues on the day of the game.

Purchasers can avail of the TicketFast facility, allowing them to print their own tickets at home or work. TicketFast must be pre-printed – they cannot be scanned directly from a phone.

A Ticketmaster kiosk will be on located on Lansdowne Road outside the stadium for on-the-day sales. All entry to the stadium is through the gates on Lansdowne Road opposite the Elverys store. Any request for disabled access tickets should be made to ticketqueries@irishrugby.ie.

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Lansdowne: WWWWWWWWWWWWLWLWWWW; Cork Constitution: WLWLLWWWLWWLWLWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Lansdowne: Points: Scott Deasy 205; Tries: Alan Bennie 10; Cork Constitution: Points: Tomas Quinlan 166; Tries: Rob Jermyn 6

Previous Ulster Bank League Titles – Lansdowne: 2 (2012/13, 2014/15); Cork Constitution: 5 (1990/91, 1998/99, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2016/17)

Preview: Fittingly, the table toppers and the defending champions face off in the Division 1A final, Lansdowne finishing 10 points clear of their nearest rivals with just two defeats during the regular season, and Cork Constitution looking to retain their league crown after losing the Bateman Cup recently to the headquarters club.

The league’s showpiece game has Lansdowne striving to lift the trophy for the first time since 2015, while Con, double winners last season, have the chance to join Shannon as the only two in-a-row title winners in top flight history. Shannon retained the Division 1A cup most recently in 2006 when Sean Cronin and Donnacha Ryan, two current Champions Cup finalists, were part of their pack.

Cronin and Ryan’s former Munster Academy colleague, Gerry Hurley, suffered an injury in the warm-up prior to Cork Con’s 22-15 semi-final win at Terenure College last Saturday. Jason Higgins will retain the number 9 jersey with former club captain Hurley fit enough to back him up from the bench.

Head coach Brian Hickey has made three changes to the Con side that lost the Bateman Cup final 32-12 to Lansdowne a fortnight ago, as Higgins, prop Brendan Quinlan and flanker Evan Mintern all come into the starting XV. Shane Daly also slots back in at full-back, having missed the Terenure game due to his call-up to the Munster bench.

The inclusion of Leinster Academy graduate Peter Dooley, who has played nine times for the province this season, is the only change to the Lansdowne team from last week’s 36-19 semi-final victory over Garryowen. The Birr man was an early entrant in that match for the injured Martin Mulhall.

Although injuries have impacted regularly on selection, Lansdowne have fielded a settled XV at the business end of the season as they strive to win the league title for the first time since 2015, claiming a coveted All-Ireland League and Cup double in the process.

The club’s director of rugby Steve Rooney said: “Our main goal every season is to win the league and even though we’ve managed to pick up the Bateman Cup, that hasn’t changed. Winning the league title is the ultimate honour for any club and their players.

“Lansdowne are no different to any other club – we want to succeed. This is what drives the players and the management. Our players have worked very hard since they came together as a unit last June and a league title would be a great reward for their incredible commitment.

“We’re very lucky to have two coaches of the calibre of Mike Ruddock and Mark McHugh. They’re both very intelligent coaches and try to instill that rugby intelligence into our players and give those players the freedom to use this intelligence in games as they see fit.”

He added: “Willie Earle and Scott Deasy, who is the division’s top scorer with 205 points, have been immense for us over the last few seasons and it is brilliant to see young guys like Harry Brennan, Jack O’Sullivan and Mark O’Keeffe come into the senior squad and make such an impact.

“Our captain Prendo (Ian Prendiville) is an absolutely fantastic rugby player and has led the team superbly this season. In addition, Jack Dwan and Aaron Conneely must be two of the hardest working players in the league and we’re very lucky to have them.”

It is hard to look past a potential shootout between out-halves Deasy and Tomas Quinlan, who contributed 20 points in a man-of-the-match performance that steered Con over the line against Clontarf last May. That 25-21 triumph represented the biggest winning margin of the last three league finals, emphasising how little there is between the division’s perennial challengers.

Speaking ahead of his third league final appearance with Con at the age of just 21, Munster Academy talent Shane Daly said: “It’s great to be in the league final again, it’s my third one in a row with Con. Obviously it’s been a long season and these finals aren’t easy to get to, with 18 games in the regular season. It takes a lot just to get to this stage.

“We lost in the World Series qualifier in Hong Kong (with the Ireland Sevens team), and then lost the Bateman a week later, so we’re gunning for this weekend really, it’s the last thing we have this season so I’m really looking forward to it.

“These are two teams that have proven themselves over the last few years to be two of the top teams in the league. Every time we play Lansdowne, it’s a good game. Two weeks ago in the Bateman was probably the only time ever that there’s been a big differential in the scoring. Realistically, it’s going to be a tight game (on Sunday) between two great teams, and whoever comes out on top will deserve it.”

Ruddock’s men were 24-10 winners when the clubs met on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch in October, with a Brian Hayes try and 20 points from Quinlan’s left boot seeing Cork Con record a 25-13 win at Temple Hill in March’s clash. That was only Lansdowne’s second defeat of the campaign and they have since remained unbeaten in five league and cup games.

Pre-Match Quotes: Ian Prendiville (Lansdowne): “We finished as table toppers last year so we know it’s no easy feat to win the league title – Con beat us in the semi-final last year. So we’re out for a bit of revenge (at the Aviva) on Sunday afternoon.

“I suppose cup rugby is a bit different to league rugby, you saw Con were in the final the last three years and Bateman Cup winners the last five until (we beat them) this year. So they’re well used to cup rugby and well used to knockout rugby.

“A lot of people would say it’s a home game for us, but we’ve only played twice on the main pitch this year and a lot of people didn’t even play in that game because it was the last game of the (regular) season, so we rested a few that week ahead of the Bateman (final). Again, it’s always exciting to play in this stadium.”

Niall Kenneally (Cork Constitution): “We’re very excited, really looking forward to it now. It’s our third final in a row so we’re just really excited about it and getting stuck into Lansdowne on Sunday. We’ve a very healthy respect for Lansdowne, they’re a very strong side.

“Usually it comes down to a kick of the ball or a one-score game between us. It will most likely be the same on Sunday and hopefully we’ll be on the right side of the result. I have seen both sides of it (in the last two years losing the first final and winning last May).

“I’ve seen how fine the margins are in these games, between winning and losing. Sometimes it could even be the rub of the green that can get you over the line, so hopefully we get the bounce of the ball this weekend.”

Recent League Meetings – Sunday, October 8, 2017: Lansdowne 24 Cork Constitution 10, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Sunday, March 11, 2018: Cork Constitution 25 Lansdowne 13, Temple Hill

LANSDOWNE: Eamonn Mills; Foster Horan, Harry Brennan, Mark O’Keeffe, Adam Leavy; Scott Deasy, Alan Bennie; Peter Dooley, Tyrone Moran, Ian Prendiville (capt), Josh O’Rourke, Jack Dwan, Jack O’Sullivan, Aaron Conneely, Willie Earle.

Replacements: James Rael, Ntinga Mpiko, Barry Fitzpatrick, Charlie Rock, Charlie McMickan, Ian Fitzpatrick, Greg McGrath.

CORK CONSTITUTION: Shane Daly; Liam O’Connell, Alex McHenry, Niall Kenneally (capt), Rob Jermyn; Tomas Quinlan, Jason Higgins; Brendan Quinlan, Vincent O’Brien, Ger Sweeney, Brian Hayes, Conor Kindregan, Evan Mintern, Joe McSwiney, Luke Cahill.

Replacements: Dave McCormack, Gavin Duffy, Dylan Murphy, Ross O’Neill, JJ O’Neill, Sean Duffy, Gerry Hurley.

Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win

Ulster Bank League Division 1A – Recent Finals/Winners:

2017 – Cork Constitution (final: 25-21 v Clontarf, Aviva Stadium)
2016 – Clontarf (final: 28-25 v Cork Constitution, Aviva Stadium)
2015 – Lansdowne (final: 18-17 v Clontarf, Aviva Stadium)
2014 – Clontarf (first in league)
2013 – Lansdowne (first in league)
2012 – St. Mary’s College (first in league)
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)

Ulster Bank League Division 1A – Champions’ List:

Shannon 9 (1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005/06, 2008/09)
Cork Constitution 5 (1990/91, 1998/99, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2016/17)
Garryowen 3 (1991/92, 1993/94, 2006/07)
Clontarf 2 (2013/14, 2015/16)
Lansdowne 2 (2012/13, 2014/15)
St. Mary’s College 2 (1999/00, 2011/12)
Ballymena 1 (2002/03)
Dungannon 1 (2000/01)
Old Belvedere 1 (2010/11)
Young Munster 1 (1992/93)