Munster clubs lead the way in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League with Highfield and Cashel winning all bar one of their matches over the first half of the season. The Tipperary club’s trip to third-placed Navan is the match of the round.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, January 19
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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UL Bohemians (4th) v Old Crescent (7th), University of Limerick 4G pitch, Friday, 8pm
Ten points separate these Limerick rivals in the table, with UL Bohemians winning three of their last four games to hit fourth spot in time for Christmas. Captain Brian Walsh’s first half try teed them up for a 13-10 derby triumph at Crescent last month.
The Red Robins make two changes from that game, bringing in Oige Scannell on the left wing – with Ireland Under-20 international James McCarthy on the opposite flank – and prop Philip Poillot returning on the loosehead side of the scrum.
Seventh-placed Crescent will take encouragement from their finish to the first meeting as Cathal O’Reilly’s closing try earned them a bonus point. A better start will be their first target in this final leg of the inaugural Hayes-Walsh Cup which honours Crescent’s Tom Hayes and Fergus Walsh of Bohs.
Nenagh Ormond (9th) v Galwegians (10th), New Ormond Park, 2pm
Another basement battle for these sides and the pressure is on Galwegians to make it two wins in a row. They deservedly saw out their maiden victory of the season – 20-12 at home to Nenagh Ormond – and the return match offers them a shot at a much-needed double.
Flanker Ronan Moore’s 71st-minute try sealed it for the Blues, who gave a debut to Ireland Under-19 centre Tommy Downes. Can Brian McClearn’s youngsters eat further in Nenagh’s seven-point advantage over them at the foot of the table?
The Tipperary men, whose robust scrum earned a penalty try in Glenina, will want to dictate through their forwards as they aim for their first win in four rounds. Increasing their try-scoring threat is a must too if they want to climb out of the bottom two.
Blackrock College (8th) v Highfield (1st), Stradbrook
A tough assignment for Blackrock first up after the Christmas break. Can they bite back at leaders Highfield? Last month’s free-scoring affair on the all-weather surface at Irish Independent Park produced a whopping 97 points and 15 tries.
Highfield centre Dave O’Sullivan grabbed a hat-trick to take his season’s haul to ten tries already. However, they will have been frustrated to leak five tries and suffer two second half sin-binnings, including one for captain Fintan O’Sullivan for blocking a quickly-taken penalty.
The Corkmen will field an unchanged team at Stradbrook, with head coach Tim Ryan packing down again at tighthead. Mick Carroll will also start for Blackrock, who welcome back captain Job Langbroek, Sean Joyce and Ireland Sevens star Mark Roche, who lines out at outside centre.
Navan (3rd) v Cashel (2nd), Balreask Old
Navan will field a team showing seven personnel changes as they try to avenge last month’s 23-7 defeat to promotion rivals Cashel. They need a big result after the Cashel forwards dictated and hooker Niall Fitzgerald scored two maul tries.
James McInerney and half-backs Colm O’Reilly and Brian Haugh are added to the back-line, Eoin King and David Clarke get the nod in the front row, and Conor Farrell and Bryan McKeever return to the back row. Conor Hand switches to the engine room.
Munster underage scrum half Kevin O’Connor steps up as one of four changes for second-placed Cashel. Brendan Crosse and Tommy Anglim come into the second row and back row respectively, with Conor Cashman resuming his centre partnership with Aiden McDonald.
Queen’s University (5th) v Dolphin (6th), Dub Lane
December was a month of near misses for Queen’s who endured three narrow defeats by seven, six and three points. The latter one saw Dolphin triumph 13-10 in windy conditions in Cork where their captain Daryl Foley landed an all-important 74th-minute penalty.
Former skipper John Fitzgerald made his 50th league appearance for Dolphin who, having won their last three home games, will now want to press for that first away victory. Queen’s sit three points above them, mainly due to their glut of bonus points – eight so far.
Determined to get back to winning ways at the Dub, the Belfast students will need big performances from the likes of Conor McAuley and captain David Whitten, who both touched down against City of Armagh in the Ulster Premiership, and experienced out-half Richie McMaster.