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All-Ireland League: Division 2A Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2A Previews

UL Bohemians and Queen's University will renew rivalries in an eagerly-anticipated student derby in Division 2A ©Harry Ryan

Navan are next up to challenge Division 2A table toppers Highfield, with the third-placed Meath men needing a big performance after losing to Queen’s University last week. The Belfast students host UL Bohemians in another of this afternoon’s most anticipated clashes.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, February 23

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Cashel (2nd) v Blackrock College (8th), Spafield

It has been an up-and-down start to 2019 for Cashel, with the last two rounds seeing them win by 20 points against Queen’s University before losing by a similar margin to UL Bohemians. They will not give up hope in pursuit of Highfield but cementing second place looks increasingly like their main target.

Securing their third-tier safety is Blackrock’s chief aim, and winger Kim Henderson’s late match-winning try against Dolphin has lifted them out of the bottom two. They already have a keen eye on next season having launched the search for Mick Carroll’s replacement as head coach at Stradbrook.

Carroll’s men may have lost on their last three visits to Munster, but they did win 31-23 at Cashel’s Tipperary rivals Nenagh Ormond back in October’s second round. Denis Leamy’s side have also been hit by a bad run of injuries, losing their entire front row of Cormac O’Donnell (hand), Niall Fitzgerald (shoulder) and James Kendrick (ankle) last Saturday.

Dolphin (9th) v Nenagh Ormond (7th), Irish Independent Park

Dolphin are hoping that home advantage proves significant today after suffering two very tight losses in the last two rounds. UL Bohs and Blackrock beat them by four and five points respectively, denting confidence levels with a slide back into the bottom two.

The next seven days are huge for the Corkmen as they face two teams either side of them – seventh-placed Nenagh Ormond are a point ahead and Galwegians, next Saturday’s opponents, trail them by twelve points. The bottom of the table could look a little more clear-cut once those matches are decided.

When Nenagh hosted Robbie Doyle’s charges in November they emerged a nail-biting 24-23 winners. It was another case of what might have been for Dolphin who fought back from 21-8 to lead 23-21 with six minutes remaining. However, Nenagh out-half Alex Ropeti denied them with a last-minute drop goal.

Navan (3rd) v Highfield (1st), Balreask Old

A massive encounter for third-placed Navan who were well-beaten by Queen’s last weekend. They need to bite back at the league leaders who had 30 points to spare when they sides met at Woodleigh Park in November. Highfield stung them with three tries inside 17 minutes and never looked back.

It is difficult to see anyone catching Tim Ryan’s men on current form – last Saturday’s 66-point haul at Galwegians took their match average for the campaign to an incredible 44.25 points. Captain Fintan O’Sullivan swaps back in for Colm Gallagher in the second row today in their only personnel change.

The 34-year-old Ryan will also put in a shift at tighthead prop, with the scrum continuing to be a key weapon in Highfield’s arsenal. Navan did well at set piece time and at the breakdown against Cashel recently. The ruck area is sure to be ferociously competitive as the hosts look to disrupt Highfield’s stride and put some doubt in their minds.

Old Crescent (6th) v Galwegians (10th), Rosbrien

Old Crescent head coach Matt Brown has changed a third of his team for this visit of bottom side Galwegians. Backs coach Brian Tuohy’s absence at full-back is filled by the versatile Val McDermott, while the alterations in the pack include Alex Simpson and Niall Hardiman packing down in the front row.

The jet-heeled McDermott will be very much a watched man with nine tries already to his name, including a scintillating long-range solo effort against UL Bohs which is one of the contenders for the All-Ireland League Try of the Month award for January.

Galwegians brings in Ireland Under-19 international Tommy Downes at inside centre and the influential Ronan ‘Chief’ Moore resumes at blindside flanker. Daniel Faulkner reverts to the wing and Mike O’Donnell rejoins captain Anthony Ryan in the second row tandem.

Queen’s University (5th) v UL Bohemians (4th), Dub Lane

Facing a second successive home game, Queen’s University must grasp this opportunity to reel in fourth-placed UL Bohemians. They were impressive 26-7 bonus point winners over higher-placed Navan last Saturday with Mark Keane, Michael Orr, captain David Whitten and Rory Bell sharing out the tries.

Front rower Matthew Millar is promoted from the bench in their only expected change, with the back-line, led by Richie McMaster and Keane, likely to stay intact. The Belfast students will want to avenge November’s 36-24 defeat to the Red Robins, during which they conceded four tries and 29 points in the first half.

Bohs are gunning for their third straight victory and are able to add two Ireland Under-20-capped players to their starting XV – winger James McCarthy and prop Joey Conway. The sides’ first meeting in Limerick saw Queen’s struggle with the UL maul and hooker Joe Bennett bagged two tries.