The All-Ireland League Division 1A title has been shared between Clontarf, Lansdowne and Cork Constitution for the last six years. The same heavyweight trio are in contention again, but this weekend’s play-offs have a new challenger in Tony Smeeth’s ever-entertaining Dublin University side.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, April 27
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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CLONTARF (2nd) v LANSDOWNE (3rd), Castle Avenue
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Clontarf: WWWWWWLLWWLLWWWWLW; Lansdowne: LLWWWWWWWWLWLWLWWL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Clontarf: Points: David Joyce 116; Tries: Matt D’Arcy 8; Lansdowne: Points: Scott Deasy 112; Tries: Peter Sullivan 15
Preview: The 2016 and 2018 champions go head-to-head in the Bull Ring, with home advantage for this semi-final decided by Clontarf’s surprisingly comprehensive 36-8 win at Lansdowne in the final round. Will two weeks have been enough time for Mike Ruddock to right the wrongs of that performance?
Ruddock’s men did manage to retain the Leinster Senior Cup last week, as Ireland Sevens internationals Adam Leavy and Foster Horan both returned with tries, and they will take encouragement from the fact that the top flight play-offs have produced three away semi-final victories in the last four seasons.
With a big backlash expected from the title holders, Clontarf know they will have to rescale the heights of that five-try display from a fortnight ago. Young lock Cormac Daly and two-try winger Sean O’Brien stood out for them that day, their title challenge this season notably boosted by players from fellow semi-finalists Dublin University – Michael Courtney, Connacht signing Angus Lloyd, Paddy Finlay and Tom Ryan.
Mullingar native O’Brien is on seven tries for the campaign, one behind ‘Tarf talisman Matt D’Arcy, but Lansdowne’s prolific 20-year-old winger Peter Sullivan is top of the tree with a club record 15 tries. As well as that threat out wide, the headquarters club are renowned for their set piece strength, although Clontarf’s control of play last time out meant there were few scrums.
Scrummaging power is something ‘Tarf also possess, especially with Ivan Soroka, Finlay and Royce Burke-Flynn in the starting XV. Former captain Ian Prendiville, who leads the Lansdowne front row, had not scored a try in 101 league appearances but now has six to his name having recently discovered his scoring touch.
Ruddock has made five personnel changes from the final round defeat to ‘Tarf, Horan and Tim Murphy slotting in at outside centre and scrum half respectively, with Jack O’Sullivan and Australian flanker Tom Murphy bolstering the back row and Jack Dinneen selected as the starting hooker.
Horan’s Ireland Sevens colleague Mick McGrath will start on the left wing for the semi-final hosts, O’Brien reverting to the centre where he partners D’Arcy. The latter’s twin brother, openside Adrian, is the only change in the pack as he rejoins skipper Michael Noone and Tony Ryan in a formidable back row unit.
Another fascinating out-half duel awaits with David Joyce and Scott Deasy directing the back-lines. Tullamore man Joyce has scored 11 points in each of ‘Tarf’s wins over Lansdowne this term. Castle Avenue was an early season fortress for the north Dubliners, but home losses to Cork Constitution, Trinity and Terenure College showed they can be vulnerable.
CLONTARF: Jack Power; Michael Courtney, Sean O’Brien, Matt D’Arcy, Mick McGrath; David Joyce, Angus Lloyd; Ivan Soroka, Paddy Finlay, Royce Burke-Flynn, Cormac Daly, Ben Reilly, Tony Ryan, Adrian D’Arcy, Michael Noone (capt).
Replacements: Declan Adamson, Tom Ryan, Niall Carson, Andrew Feeney, Conor Kelly, Cian O’Donoghue, Brian Deeny.
LANSDOWNE: Eamonn Mills (capt); Peter Sullivan, Foster Horan, Tom Roche, Daniel McEvoy; Scott Deasy, Tim Murphy; Martin Mulhall, Jack Dinneen, Ian Prendiville, David O’Connor, Jack Dwan, Jack O’Sullivan, Tom Murphy, Willie Earle.
Replacements: James Rael, Ntinga Mpiko, Greg McGrath, Joe O’Brien, Aaron Conneely, James Kenny, Harry Brennan.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, October 5, 2018: Clontarf 16 Lansdowne 3, Castle Avenue; Saturday, April 13, 2019: Lansdowne 8 Clontarf 36, Aviva Stadium back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win
CORK CONSTITUTION (1st) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (4th), Temple Hill, Sunday
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cork Constitution: WWWLWWWWWWWWLWWLWW; Dublin University: LDLWWWLWLLWWWWLWWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Cork Constitution: Points: Aidan Moynihan 144; Tries: JJ O’Neill 7; Dublin University: Points: James Fennelly 119; Tries: Ronan Quinn 6
Preview: These are heady days for Dublin University – historic qualification for Division 1A semi-final, back-to-back Colours titles, and also the retention last week of the Fraser McMullen Cup at Under-20 level. Many wrote off their senior team this year given the players who left, but their replacements have delivered in spades.
However, Cork Constitution’s consistency was unrivalled during the league phase, with 15 wins and 12 try-scoring bonuses producing a record 73 points overall. They are 1/5 favourites to end the students’ race and reach their fourth straight league final. They should be fresh after resting some players in the final round against Shannon.
Swashbuckling Trinity upset Con 37-13 at College Park a month ago, the standout result of their impressive seven wins-out-of-nine post Christmas. Two of their Ireland U-20 contingent, Rob Russell and Giuseppe Coyne, touched down that day along with a brace from former Ireland U-18 Sevens captain Ronan Quinn, who has emerged as their leading try scorer with six.
Quinn has been squeezed out of the matchday squad with captain Colm Hogan recovering from injury to start on the right wing and Leinster Academy talents Michael Silvester and Jack Kelly completing the back-three. The students may have lost promising lock Ryan Baird to the Leinster bench in Belfast, but the highly-rated Jack Dunne is available and set for a battle royale with Brian Hayes.
Trinity director of rugby Tony Smeeth said: “We’ve had exams all week which is not ideal. Hopefully we can give a good account of ourselves. Con are a great team and we know it’s going to be tough down there. I don’t think we did ourselves any favours beating them a few weeks ago when they were down a few players. But it’s semi-final rugby and anything can happen.”
Despite Smeeth’s back row of Johnny McKeown, Max Kearney and Niall O’Riordan being one of the most effective units across the division this year, Constitution’s enviable strength-in-depth means talismanic number 8 Luke Cahill will have quality around him no matter Brian Hickey’s selection.
The students’ 40 minutes of live scrummaging every Tuesday will undoubtedly be tested by Con’s well-oiled set piece. Trinity cannot afford to give up scoring opportunities to the division’s second top scorer, out-half Aidan Moynihan (144 points) who had a metronome right boot. Seven-try winger JJ O’Neill is the finisher in a back-line which has included either Munster’s Alex McHenry or Shane Daly in recent rounds.
It has been confirmed that the Division 1A final will take place next Sunday (May 5) at the Aviva Stadium with a 3pm kick-off. If Dublin University upset the odds and make it through, they will be the first club outside of the ‘big three’ – Cork Con, Clontarf and Lansdowne – to contest the decider since Old Belvedere back in 2011.
CORK CONSTITUTION: Liam O’Connell; Sean French, Shane Daly, Niall Kenneally (capt), Rob Jermyn; Aidan Moynihan, Jason Higgins; Gavin Duffy, Vincent O’Brien, Dylan Murphy, Brian Hayes, Evan Mintern, Joe McSwiney, Kevin Sheahan, Luke Cahill.
Replacements: Patrick Casey, Brendan Quinlan, James Murphy, Alex McHenry, Ross O’Neill, Duncan Williams, Jonathan Wren.
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY: Michael Silvester; Colm Hogan, James Hickey, Philip Murphy, Jack Kelly; Micheal O’Kennedy, Rowan Osborne; Giuseppe Coyne, Dan Sheehan, Dylan Doyle, Reuben Pim, Jack unne, Johnny McKeown, Max Kearney, Niall O’Riordan.
Replacements: Joe Horan, Aziz Naser, Bart Vermeulen, Arthur Greene, Conor Lowndes, James Fennelly, Rob Russell.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 20, 2018: Cork Constitution 24 Dublin University 13, Temple Hill; Saturday, March 23, 2019: Dublin University 37 Cork Constitution 13, College Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win