Four Division 1B clubs head into the third round of Energia All-Ireland League action with unbeaten records. Two of them clash at the Palace Grounds where City of Armagh entertain second-placed Old Belvedere.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1B: Saturday, October 19
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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CITY OF ARMAGH (4th) v OLD BELVEDERE (2nd), Palace Grounds
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: WW; Old Belvedere: WW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Cormac Fox 18; Tries: Andrew Smyth, Andrew Willis, Nigel Simpson 1 each; Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 41; Tries: James McKeown 3
Preview: Out-half and captain Steve Crosbie has been in superb early-season form for Old Belvedere, racking up 41 points already. New centre James McKeown has also led the way with three tries so far.
Following last Saturday’s celebrations at the newly-named Ollie Campbell Park, they hit the road where Willie Faloon’s City of Armagh side are also two wins for two. Armagh won the corresponding fixture last season – 15-9 – thanks to second half tries from Tim McNiece and Peter Starrett.
Armagh’s defence was brilliant at times during last week’s 20-14 victory at St. Mary’s, and it could be the winning and losing of this game. The hosts’ only changes are in the front row where Eddie O’Hagan and Jonny Morton are brought in.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 24, 2018: City of Armagh 15 Old Belvedere 9, the Palace Grounds; Saturday, February 23, 2019: Old Belvedere 29 City of Armagh 5, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
HIGHFIELD (1st) v NAAS (7th), Woodleigh Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WW; Naas: LL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Highfield: Points: Shane O’Riordan 22; Tries: Colin O’Neill 4; Naas: Points: Fionn Higgins 10; Tries: Fionn Higgins 2
Preview: This is Highfield and Naas’ first All-Ireland League encounter in almost eight years, back when they were both in Division 2B. The ambitious Corkmen are now top of the second tier and seeking to protect their proud home record.
Highfield are set to field an unchanged team, including winger Colin O’Neill who starred with four tries at Banbridge. The groundwork for those scores continues to be laid by player-coach Tim Ryan and their ultra-physical pack.
Seventh-placed Naas will be steeling themselves for a big test up front, as they look to halt their losing start to the new season. Nippy full-back Fionn Higgins has been their danger man during the first fortnight with two tries.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 3, 2011: Highfield 21 Naas 12, Woodleigh Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win
SHANNON (5th) v NAVAN (9th), Thomond Park back pitch
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LW; Navan: LL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Pa Ryan 15; Tries: Pa Ryan 3; Navan: Points: Colm O’Reilly, Evan Dixon, Riaan van der Vyver 10 each; Tries: Evan Dixon, Riaan van der Vyver 1 each
Preview: Having returned to winning ways last week, Shannon are back on home turf to entertain the divisional newcomers. Navan’s discipline needs to be tidied up after five costly penalties helped Old Belvedere to get the better of them.
Three of the division’s in-form centres will lock horns tomorrow as Shannon’s Pa Ryan looks to add to his three tries so far, while Navan’s impressive duo Riaan van der Vyver and Evan Dixon are averaging a try per game.
The back row battle should be intriguing as Limerick native James O’Neill features again for the Meath men. Shannon will need former Ireland Under-20 international Kelvin Brown at his most effective at the breakdown and as a ball carrier.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Navan to win
MALONE (10th) v BANBRIDGE (8th), Gibson Park, 4pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: LL; Banbridge: LL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Callum Smith, Connor Spence 10 each; Tries: Ross Todd 1; Banbridge: Points: Stevie Irvine 10; Tries: Stevie Irvine 2
Preview: It has been a difficult start to the campaign for these two Ulster outfits. Tomorrow’s derby should bring out the best in them, with Banbridge’s pack boosted by the inclusion of Ulster ‘A’ pair Callum Reid and David O’Connor.
Malone’s new head coach Chris Henry has also been able to strength his starting line-up considerably. Ulster’s Angus Kernohan, Angus Curtis, Andrew Warwick, Matthew Dalton and Joe Dunleavy all come into the team.
Bann boss Mark McDowell said: “An Ulster derby is always going to have a bit of spice to it but (this one) probably even more now. The players have got stuck into training and we’ll try to put Malone under a bit of pressure.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 1, 2018: Banbridge 21 Malone 11, Rifle Park; Saturday, February 16, 2019: Malone 22 Banbridge 15, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
OLD WESLEY (3rd) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th), Energia Park, 4pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WW; St. Mary’s College: WL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 19; Tries: Conor Barry, Tommy O’Callaghan 1 each; St. Mary’s College: Points: Hugo Conway 10; Tries: Hugo Conway 2
Preview: The later kick-off in the capital sees Old Wesley aiming for three wins-out-of-three against St. Mary’s College. The well-travelled Ed O’Keeffe slots in on the left wing for Wesley after transferring back across from Sale Sharks.
The hosts’ four personnel changes for tomorrow are completed by out-half Tom Kiersey and forwards Conor Maguire and Donnchadh Phelan. St. Mary’s will be all out to right the wrongs of their frustrating 20-14 loss to Armagh.
Mary’s hooker Richie Halpin produced a man-of-the-match display six days ago, while Ryan O’Loughlin made an encouraging return from injury. Ex-Pres Bray captain Mick O’Gara has also adapted well in stepping up from schools rugby.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 15, 2019: Old Wesley 20 St. Mary’s College 9, Energia Park; Saturday, January 19, 2019: St. Mary’s College 15 Old Wesley 41, Templeville Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win