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All-Ireland League: Division 2A Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2A Previews

UL Bohemians, who were 30-18 bonus point winners against Blackrock, visit Nenagh Ormond in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League tonight ©Harry Ryan

The destination of the Division 2A title could be decided just after 4pm on Saturday as Highfield entertain their closest challengers Cashel in a titanic top of the table clash at Woodleigh Park. The round begins tonight with two provincial derbies in Blackrock and Nenagh.

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

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Blackrock College (9th) v Navan (3rd), Stradbrook, tonight, 8pm

The final few weeks of Mick Carroll’s coaching tenure are massive for Blackrock College, particularly their upcoming clashes with relegation rivals Nenagh Ormond and Galwegians who currently sandwich them at the bottom end of the table. Two wins are the target if ‘Rock want to finish out of the bottom two.

Third-placed Navan are smarting from a 17-14 home defeat to Old Crescent, their only try coming from South African centre Riaan van der Vyver. As things stand, they would be away to Cashel in the promotion play-offs but a win under the Stradbrook floodlights would keep the pressure on the Tipperary men.

Navan had 20 points to spare when they hosted Blackrock back in mid-October, with talented half-back Brian Haugh scoring a try and kicking eight points in a 28-8 bonus point victory. ‘Rock have won three of their seven home games so far this season, overcoming Galwegians, Crescent and Dolphin.

Nenagh Ormond (8th) v UL Bohemians (5th), New Ormond Park, tonight, 8pm

UL Bohemians are back on the road after picking up six points at home to Navan and Blackrock. Robbie Bourke’s injury-time bonus point score in the latter game saw Bohs stay four points behind fourth-placed Queen’s University, with flying winger Marwin O’Sullivan chipping in with a quick-fire second half brace.

Nenagh also showed their battling qualities to claim a try bonus at Queen’s two weeks ago, Kevin O’Flaherty impressing with two tries and his charge-down set up fellow lock Kevin O’Gorman to score in the left corner. However, an early period of dominance could have seen them get more out of the game.

Dermot Dunne’s charges are chasing a season’s double against UL, with their head coach saying: “Results haven’t gone our way, but I feel that the players have felt their way into the league and they know what’s expected of them now. The commitment levels are very, very high and I just think they need to believe in their ability.”

Galwegians (10th) v Queen’s University (4th), Crowley Park

Galwegians finished just above the drop zone last season but a second relegation in three seasons now appears unavoidable. Brian McClearn’s young side have fought valiantly and even a miracle finish of three straight bonus point wins might not be enough to overhaul second-from-bottom Blackrock.

Worryingly, the Blues have lost their last three home games by a combined 85-5, and Queen’s had their measure in round three, winning 45-10 with all bar one of their eight tries scored by backs. Four wins in a row – and a maximum 20 points – have the Belfast students pushing hard for a promotion play-off place.

Derek Suffern’s young squad cannot afford to lose their concentration against struggling ‘Wegians. Their captain David Whitten, who played for the Ireland Students last month, continues to lead by example, switching from lock to blindside flanker and taking his try tally to five in as many games.

Highfield (1st) v Cashel (2nd), Woodleigh Park

Highfield’s destiny is in their own hands as the long-time leaders chase the win which would seal the Division 2A title and automatic promotion. They fell short via the play-off route the last two seasons, losing to Nenagh and City of Armagh, and player-coach Tim Ryan wants to get the job done as champions.

“It’s a huge game against Cashel. They’ll be gunning for us, it’s always a tough game against Cashel and we just beat them (17-12) in October,” he told Irish Rugby TV. “They had a man sent off after about five or ten minutes of that game, so we’re expecting a big challenge from them this weekend as they look to drive on for the rest of the season.”

Cashel, who have 10 points to make up on Highfield, are unbeaten in the last three rounds with head coach Denis Leamy saying: “At the start of the season finishing in the top four was a goal, and everything after that was a bonus. There’s a lot of good teams in the division and there’s still a lot to play for – it’s about teams getting the most out of games and teams holding their nerve.”

Old Crescent (6th) v Dolphin (7th), Rosbrien

Dolphin were held try-less by high-flying neighbhours Highfield in the only league game played last weekend. However, their two wins in the previous couple of rounds have moved them away from relegation trouble, with Tim Phelan, captain Daryl Foley and John Fitzgerald playing key roles in open play and on the scoresheet.

Larry Hanly’s late penalty guided Old Crescent past Navan last time out, keeping the Limerick men in the play-off hunt with fourth-placed Queen’s only six points away. Revenge is on their minds after losing 26-21 to Dolphin in the third round, their scores that day including Val McDermott’s Try of the Month award winner for October.

The fleet-footed McDermott continues to terrorise defences in the third tier, notching a first half brace at Navan to bring his enviable season’s haul to 13 tries. Dolphin will have to defend smartly in order to limit the prolific winger’s opportunities as they chase a season’s double over last year’s Division 2B champions.