With Shannon and UCC coming up from the second tier, there is now an even split of five Munster clubs and five from Leinster in All-Ireland League Division 1A. It is also the first time ever that three University clubs have competed in the top flight.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, October 6
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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CLONTARF v LANSDOWNE, Castle Avenue, tonight, 8pm
Preview: Lansdowne begin their Division 1A title defence at the Bull Ring, never an easy place to go but Mike Ruddock’s men have won on three of their last four visits there and look in very good early season form. Lansdowne thumped Terenure College 42-5 last Friday to retain the Leinster Senior League Cup.
David O’Connor and Leinster Academy out-half Harry Byrne are among the champions’ new additions, with released Connacht prop Denis Coulson set to feature more regularly in their already formidable front row ranks. Back rower Jack O’Sullivan said: “It’ll be a huge game against Clontarf, who were unlucky not to make the play-offs last season. We’ve Garryowen and UCD away too, so three big game to start us off.”
Andy Wood’s ‘Tarf side will not lack for motivation after a frustrating fifth place finish last season. They have bolstered their squad with a number of Trinity players, including Jack McDermott, Michael Courtney, Martin Kelly and Paddy Finlay, and have the strength-in-depth to mount another title challenge.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 10, 2017: Clontarf 0 Lansdowne 9, Castle Avenue; Saturday, January 6, 2018: Lansdowne 38 Clontarf 8, Aviva Stadium back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win
CORK CONSTITUTION v SHANNON, Temple Hill
Preview: A fascinating Munster derby as Cork Constitution welcome their old rivals Shannon back to the top flight. These clubs have an incredible 14 league crowns between them, and Shannon will be hoping to avoid the pitfalls that saw last year’s Division 1B champions Buccaneers promptly relegated.
Strength & conditioning coach Ed Daly oversaw a gruelling pre-season regime for Tom Hayes’ young Shannon squad. Front rowers Eoghan Clarke and Cronan Gleeson have signed from Wanderers and Old Wesley respectively but their availability tomorrow depends on their game-time off the Munster ‘A’ bench.
Two losses to Garryowen (24-5 and 27-9) have been early season setbacks for Shannon, and Cork Con, with a mostly settled squad, will fancy their chances of making a winning start to the league. They have Paul Barr back as attack coach but will miss the magical left boot of Tomas Quinlan, who is now plying his trade with Narbonne in France.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 1, 2012: Cork Constitution 23 Shannon 15, Temple Hill; Saturday, March 2, 2013: Shannon 45 Cork Constitution 26, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win
GARRYOWEN v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY, Dooradoyle
Preview: Garryowen broke back into the top four last season, losing at the semi-final stage to eventual champions Lansdowne, and head coach Conan Doyle is plotting a return trip to the play-offs. Recent Munster Senior Cup wins over Young Munster (26-23) and Shannon (27-9) augur well.
21-year-old centre Peadar Collins shone in those two games, scoring two tries and 38 points in all. The availability of Neil Cronin, last season’s Light Blues captain and Division 1A Player of Year, will be dependent on his commitments with Munster. Experienced lock Dean Moore skippers Doyle’s men this term, with Nenagh’s Kevin Seymour, Jeremy Loughman and Cookies scrum half Rob Guerin added to the squad.
Tony Smeeth, who is entering the 21st year of a stunning coaching career at Trinity, has had to cope with the loss of a dozen key players, but is sure to bring through some gems from the college’s Fraser McMullen Cup-winning team. Smeeth had a two-week summer stint with Super Rugby champions Crusaders where he immersed himself in their International High Performance Unit elite training programme.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 25, 2017: Dublin University 28 Garryowen 37, College Park; Saturday, February 10, 2018: Garryowen 52 Dublin University 20, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
UCD v UCC, Belfield Bowl
Preview: It is sure to be a memorable afternoon for centre Paul Kiernan who makes his league debut for UCD against his former club UCC, whom he captained to an historic promotion just last April. Kiernan, now studying a Masters in Dublin, is the reigning Division 1B Player of the Year.
Matthew Gilsenan and James Taylor are set for a crucial duel at out-half in this student derby, with the left-footed Taylor top-scoring for UCC with 184 points last season. This is Brian Walsh’s second year at the helm of UCC and he will want a strong opening display to take into next Friday’s derby at home to Cork Constitution, his former club.
John Poland’s involvement will depend on his Celtic Cup exertions with Munster ‘A’, but UCC will have ex-Munster centre Cian Bohane and Ryan Murphy featuring prominently in the team. Murphy and company will be looking to quell the influence of an exciting UCD back row of Stephen McVeigh, Alex Penny and Ronan Foley.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 8, 2011: UCD 23 UCC 16, Belfield Bowl; Saturday, January 28, 2012: UCC 11 UCD 13, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win
YOUNG MUNSTER v TERENURE COLLEGE, Tom Clifford Park
Preview: Derek Corcoran has taken up a player-backs coach role with Young Munster this season, bringing Clayton Stewart, Nenagh Ormond’s skilful Kiwi out-half, along with him to Greenfields. Notably, Gearoid Prendergast has also snapped up the services of Connacht Academy scrum half Stephen Kerins and Shannon’s John Foley.
Terenure’s new captain Michael Melia is without his second row partner Alex Thompson, who has earned a shot at the professional game with Ulster, but Leinster Academy prop Jack Aungier and UCD duo Jamie Glynn and Billy Dardis, whose Ireland Sevens commitments will curtail his involvement, have all come on board at Lakelands.
It was one win apiece when the clubs met last December, with ‘Nure winning 32-13 at home and Munsters returning the favour (15-5) a week later in Limerick. After missing out on the play-offs last season, the Cookies need to put their best foot forward tomorrow and set out their stall with a solid home victory.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 2, 2017: Terenure College 32 Young Munster 13, Lakelands Park; Saturday, December 9, 2017: Young Munster 15 Terenure College 5, Tom Clifford Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Young Munster to win