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Energia Community Series: Men’s Conference 1 Previews

Energia Community Series: Men’s Conference 1 Previews

Garryowen make the short trip to Munster Conference 1 leaders Young Munster in the third round of the Energia Community Series ©Liam Coughlan

The latest edition of the Garryowen-Young Munster rivalry tops the bill in the Energia Community Series this weekend. We preview the local derbies in Connacht and the top Conferences in Leinster, Munster and Ulster.

ENERGIA COMMUNITY SERIES – THIRD ROUND: Saturday, October 10

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

CONNACHT CONFERENCE

Ballina (5th) v Sligo (1st), Heffernan Park

It does not get any easier for Ballina as unbeaten Connacht Conference leaders Sligo pay them a visit. JP Walsh’s youngsters have been playing well but faltered late on in both of their opening games, the final try which Buccaneers produced last Saturday being particularly deflating.

Hooker Billy McVann and centre Ronan Molloy (2) have contributed three of Ballina’s four tries so far. Sligo’s own attack has been very sharp in the early rounds, racking up 58 points and eight tries. Their Scottish out-half Euan Brown has led the way with 26 points.

Sligo did the double over Ballina in Division 2B last season, including a thumping 38-0 victory at Heffernan Park in January. The battle between the back-lines should be particularly interesting as former Sligo player Gavin Foley coaches the Ballina backs.

Galwegians (4th) v Galway Corinthians (2nd), Crowley Park

Match cancelled – 0-0. Both teams are awarded two points.

Buccaneers – Bye

LEINSTER CONFERENCE 1

Clontarf (2nd) v Naas (6th), Castle Avenue

Clontarf are champing at the bit after sitting out last week’s action. They opened their campaign with some fine tries at St. Mary’s – number 8 Michael Noone’s galloping team score being the best of the lot – but there are some areas to tidy up for this first home game at the Bull Ring.

It is a third week on the trot for Johne Murphy’s Naas to face Division 1A opposition. They have more than held their own so far, defeating Terenure College before running Dublin University close last Saturday when try-scoring lock Paul Monahan and flanker Ryan Casey stood out in the forwards.

There is potential for a great match-up at inside centre where Clontarf captain Matt D’Arcy will be looking to get the better of Craig Ronaldson, Naas’ new backs coach. The pair played against each other last February when Ronaldson’s 19-point haul from the tee proved crucial in a Lansdowne win over ‘Tarf.

Old Wesley (5th) v Old Belvedere (9th), Energia Park

Old Wesley are another team clearly relishing the opportunity to test themselves against top-flight clubs. They were a missed conversion away from drawing at Lansdowne, just seven days on from claiming the scalp of UCD. This is the first of back-to-back home matches for Morgan Lennon’s side.

New back rower Sam Pim, son of former Wesley captain Chris, has quickly made his mark in the lineout and the loose, and the forwards battle is sure to be intense this weekend when Old Belvedere run out on the all-weather surface for a much-anticipated Dublin 4 derby.

Wesley beat Belvedere 11-10 last November thanks to flanker Conor Barry’s late maul try. For the rematch they will have to keep close tabs on ‘Belvo’s Sligo-born centre David Butler, who celebrated his 29th birthday last Saturday with a superb defence-carving try from the edge of the UCD 22.

St. Mary’s College (8th) v Lansdowne (4th), Templeville Road

Both of these clubs have had one Leinster Conference 1 outing each to date, with St. Mary’s narrowly missing out on a losing bonus point against Clontarf, while Lansdowne made a winning debut last Saturday when tries from James and Danny Kenny, Paddy Nixon (2) and Henry Godson edged them past Old Wesley.

A youthful Lansdowne will want to improve their discipline as a high penalty count allowed Wesley to pare down a 15-point half-time deficit. Mary’s, who are now captained by hooker Richie Halpin, last hosted the headquarters club in Division 1A three years ago when they fell to a 33-7 defeat.

They will attach much more pertinence to their 34-19 home win over Lansdowne in a warm-up game last month. Blindside David Aspil bagged a brace of tries that day, and the back row remains an area of strength for Mary’s with ex-Lansdowne forward Jack Dilger, Ronan Watters and Nick McCarthy also part of the squad.

Terenure College (7th) v Dublin University (1st), Lakelands Park

Terenure College welcome the province’s pacesetters, Dublin University, to Lakelands Park where they were due to play St. Mary’s last week. Unfortunately the latest ‘Battle of Dublin 6W’ was rubberstamped with a Covid-19 cancellation, leaving Terenure with ground to make up on their Leinster Conference 1 rivals.

Rob Russell has been a real points-scoring machine for Trinity so far in the Community Series, his 35-point tally including a brace of tries against Naas. There have also been big shifts put in by Kilkenny man Reuben Pim, who has shown his leadership qualities from the back row, newcomer Harry Sheridan and tighthead Thomas Connolly.

‘Nure, who have former Ireland Under-20 internationals Alex Thompson and Harrison Brewer back at the club, have not had much of a chance to shine in the early season. So they will want to make the most of this week’s home advantage ahead of upcoming trips to Old Wesley and Old Belvedere.

UCD – Bye

MUNSTER CONFERENCE 1

Cork Constitution (2nd) v Cashel (3rd), Temple Hill

With both of their second round fixtures suffering Covid-19 cancellations, there is sure to be some extra oomph in the early tackles between Cork Constitution and Cashel. The Division 2A Tipperary club laid down a significant marker with that bonus point win at Shannon.

One man who is very familiar with the Temple Hill surroundings is Cashel player-coach Darragh Lyons, who was a vital cog in the Cork Con back-line – at out-half or full-back – for a number of years. Cashel centre Alan McMahon is chasing his third try of the competition.

Cork Con’s long unbeaten run was ended by Young Munster recently in the Munster Senior Cup, but they have not lost at home in 11 league and cup matches. Their most recent reversal at Temple Hill was back in February 2019 when UCD were 27-22 winners on Leeside.

Shannon (7th) v Highfield (6th), Coonagh, 2pm

In a keenly-contested rivalry in Division 1B last season, it was one home win apiece as Highfield posted a 19-10 victory at Woodleigh Park before Shannon, with Eathon Moloney running in two tries, bounced back with a 31-13 bonus point success on Thomond Park’s back pitch.

Both sides come to Coonagh searching for their first Energia Community Series win. Now coached by Conor Quaid, Highfield drew plenty of encouragement from earning a share of the spoils with Garryowen in the opening round. Paddy O’Toole and Chris Banon pilot the Corkmen behind a trademark powerhouse pack.

Speaking about the coaching changes this season at Shannon, captain Lee Nicholas told SRTV:

Derek Corcoran has come in as a player-coach, he’s looking after our skills and we’ve really enjoyed working with him so far. Sean McCarthy is now an assistant forwards coach as well as being a player. As well as the expertise he shows on the pitch and his leadership skills, he’s using those in a coaching capacity this year.”

UCC (4th) v Old Crescent (8th), the Mardyke

UCC were well and truly back in the groove last Saturday with a runaway 61-17 win over Shannon’s youngsters. While they didn’t get on the scoresheet, Louis Kahn, Harry O’Riordan and flanker Lee McSherry had some key contributions in setting up scores for the students.

It was the ideal riposte to UCC’s heavy first round defeat to Young Munster. Old Crescent are hoping to do likewise having gone down by 47 points to the Cookies in round two. Improving their maul defence and sharpening up their scrum are two musts for this weekend.

Crescent backs Daniel Hurley, Cathal Monaghan and Jack O’Mahony have run in a try each so far in the series, and it should be a tasty tussle between the back-threes with the UCC trio led by attack-minded full-back Rob Hedderman.

Young Munster (1st) v Garryowen (5th), Tom Clifford Park

Will Garryowen be able to knock Young Munster off their perch in this match of the round? The top-flight Limerick rivals meet seven months on from Munsters’ hard-earned 11-7 league victory at Dooradoyle where winger Jack Harrington touched down and Evan Cusack and Alan Tynan kicked penalties.

The Light Blues had won nine of the sides’ last 10 league clashes before that, but Gearoid Prendergast’s Cookies – on current form and armed with home advantage – look well placed to continue their strong start to the Energia Community Series.

Garryowen will need big performances from the likes of tighthead Corrie Barrett and captain Kevin Seymour up front, with the latter coming up against Young Munster’s new second row pairing of Sean Rigney and Danny Qualter, the former Connacht and Nottingham forward.

ULSTER CONFERENCE 1

Ballynahinch (2nd) v Queen’s University (3rd), Ballymacarn Park

A disappointing finish, which included two yellow cards and the concession of a crucial try, saw Ballynahinch lose by a single point to table-topping City of Armagh. They will attempt to put last week’s reversal behind them when hosting third-placed Queen’s University.

A Covid-19 cancellation meant Queen’s could only play a friendly away to Banbridge last Saturday afternoon. They registered a 31-7 win thanks to a brace of tries each from Gary Dillon and Graham Curtis, with their maul also helping hooker Alexander Clarke over the line.

Former Ulster scrum half Aaron Cairns scored a hat-trick of tries in ‘Hinch’s 38-27 Ulster Senior Cup victory over the students last season. The County Down outfit were also 20-10 winners when the clubs met in the Ulster Rugby Premiership – out-half Greg Hutley scored 15 points.

City of Armagh (1st) v Banbridge (4th), Palace Grounds

Having retained top spot last week, City of Armagh return home to face neighbours Banbridge with head coach Chris Parker looking for much-improved discipline and accuracy from his side. Reflecting on the Ballynahinch game, he said that ‘the error count and number of penalties conceded was horrendous’.

“We still need to improve in quite a number of areas. On a positive note, the boys that stepped up performed well (against Ballynahinch) and showed great spirit fighting to the final whistle for the win,” said the new Armagh boss, who has had out-half Cormac Fox in top-scoring form with 35 points so far.

With Banbridge’s second round clash with Rainey Old Boys cancelled, they played a friendly match against Queen’s instead. Head coach Mark McDowell commented:

Armagh will be a significant challenge, but sometimes being presented with those challenges brings out the best in players. I think we have a squad that relishes playing against Armagh – we’ve had a few good battles with them the last couple of seasons.”

Rainey Old Boys (6th) v Malone (5th), Hatrick Park

It has been a stop-start beginning to the Energia Community Series for both of these teams. They were both sidelined by Covid-19 cancellations last week, with Rainey Old Boys missing out on the chance to right the wrongs of their 63-14 first round loss to Armagh.

Rainey’s back row currently has quite a South African flavour to it with Teigan Erasmus joining his friend Brad Roberts in the loose forwards. The Magherafelt club can always bank on a powerful pack, and both of their tries in the Armagh match were scored by props (Fintan Quinn and Deaglan McErlean).

William Leacock’s Malone make a quick return to Hatrick Park where they won a friendly 19-7 last month. Two late tries sealed the result for the Cregagh Red Sox, who are now captained by versatile forward Dave Cave, a cousin of former Ulster and Ireland centre Darren.

Energia Men’s Community Series – Fixtures/Results/Tables

Friday: Energia Men’s Community Series Previews for Leinster 2, Munster 2 and Ulster 2

Friday: Energia Women’s Community Series Previews for Leinster, Munster 1 and Ulster