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Energia Men’s All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

Energia Men’s All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

St. Mary's College, who posted their first win away to Banbridge, host unbeaten City of Armagh in round four ©John Mullan/Banbridge RFC

A first win of the campaign is the prize on offer for Navan and Banbridge when they meet in the latest round of Energia Men’s All-Ireland League Division 1B.

ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – DIVISION 1B:

ROUND 4: Saturday, October 30

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

MALONE (8th) v HIGHFIELD (1st), Gibson Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLL; Highfield: WWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 29; Tries: Dave Cave, Claytan Milligan, Aaron Sexton, Sean Lynch, David McMaster, Stewart McKendrick, Andy Bryans 1 each; Highfield: Points: James Taylor 23; Tries: Paul Stack 3

Preview: Highfield signed off on the first block of games with an ultra-professional 38-3 dismissal of Naas. Conor Quaid’s men even overcame some unsettling early injuries, with Paddy O’Toole and Dave O’Connell seamlessly making positional changes.

Malone are back at home after two losing trips to Leinster, needing a greater level of composure to put away the chances they are creating. Ulster’s Aaron Sexton is a great strike runner but has been underutilised.

O’Connell reverts to the second row for Highfield, who have Ronan O’Sullivan slotting back in at openside flanker. Sam Burns and Shane O’Riordan come into the back-line, the latter at out-half for the injured James Taylor.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 7, 2018: Highfield 26 Malone 24, Woodleigh Park; Saturday, October 5, 2019: Highfield 27 Malone 6, Woodleigh Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win

NAAS (7th) v OLD WESLEY (2nd), Forenaughts

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: LWL; Old Wesley: WWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 34; Tries: Bryan Croke, Peter Osborne 2 each; Old Wesley: Points: Josh Miller 24; Tries: Alastair Hoban 2

Preview: This fourth round encounter brings back memories of an epic promotion/relegation play-off semi-final in April 2019 which Old Wesley won 20-17. A Josh Miller penalty split the sides after extra-time.

Tomorrow afternoon’s game in Forenaughts brings together two of the division’s best place-kickers in Naas captain Peter Osborne, the current second top scorer with 34 points, and Wesley out-half Miller (24).

Fionn Higgins, their first round drop goal hero, Matt Stapleton and Tim Murphy return to the Cobras’ back-line, with Naas native Connor Johnson promoted from the bench to start at hooker.

Recent League Meetings – Sunday, April 28, 2019: Play-Off Semi-Final – Old Wesley 20 Naas 17 (after extra-time), Energia Park; Saturday, October 12, 2019: Naas 10 Old Wesley 16, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

NAVAN (10th) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Balreask Old

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Navan: LLL; Banbridge: LLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Navan: Points: Liam McLoughlin 14; Tries: Sean McEntagart, Evan Dixon, Jack Nelson, Hardus van Eeden, Paddy Fox 1 each; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 22; Tries: Adam Doherty, Robin Sinton, Alex Thompson, Robert Mathers 1 each

Preview: Navan and Banbridge are both pointless and rooted to the bottom of the table. Bann boss Mark McDowell admitted heads were down following recent results, but he has been encouraged by the younger players pushing through.

Props Josh Chambers and Christian Trimble, coupled with try-scoring replacement Robert Mathers, drew praise for their efforts against St. Mary’s, particularly Trimble who made his AIL debut after taking up the game just seven years ago.

The corresponding fixture in 2019/20 was a real cracker, going right down to the wire as Banbridge prevailed 24-22. Navan blew a 15-point lead and had a last-gasp drop goal effort charged down.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 7, 2019: Navan 22 Banbridge 24, Balreask Old; Saturday, January 25, 2020: Banbridge 27 Navan 17, Rifle Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Navan to win

SHANNON (5th) v OLD BELVEDERE (4th), Thomond Park back pitch

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWL; Old Belvedere: WLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: John O’Sullivan 22; Tries: Daniel Okeke 2; Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 26; Tries: James McKeown, John McKee 2 each

Preview: Old Belvedere have reinforced their front row ranks for round four. James Bollard and Stewart Maguire both start, packing down either side of Leinster Academy hooker John McKee, who grabbed two tries against Malone.

Openside flanker Calum Dowling is the third and final change, while Shane O’Hehir, the former Sligo captain, is added to the bench as Belvedere look for a repeat of their 2019 win on Thomond Park’s back pitch.

Shannon head coach Pat O’Connor commented: “Our squad depth is getting better week on week, the younger players are getting exposed to AIL rugby. We’ve back-to-back home games now, so a win this weekend would give us good momentum.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 7, 2018: Old Belvedere 7 Shannon 12, Anglesea Road; Saturday, October 5, 2019: Shannon 20 Old Belvedere 22, Thomond Park back pitch

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th) v CITY OF ARMAGH (3rd), Templeville Road

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LLW; City of Armagh: WWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 17; Tries: Richie Halpin, Mark Fogarty, Matt Timmons 2 each; City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 36; Tries: Shea O’Brien 2

Preview: City of Armagh make their first trip of the season outside of Ulster, eager to extend their winning run which came under serious threat from Shannon before a dramatic late penalty try.

Their back row has excelled in recent rounds, with openside James Hanna hailed as ‘outstanding’ the last day by head coach Chris Parker. They did the double over St. Mary’s during the 2019/20 campaign.

Mary’s overcame some untimely injuries to open their win account at Bann. Tighthead Mick McCormack starred in the scrum and as a ball carrier, while Myles Carey is a centre of real quality. He is a potential game-breaker that Armagh will have to stop.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 9, 2019: City of Armagh 39 St. Mary’s College 21, Palace Grounds; Saturday, October 12, 2019: St. Mary’s College 14 City of Armagh 20, Templeville Road

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win