In-form St. Mary’s College travel to Naas tonight to kick off the round eight fixtures in Division 1B, before unbeaten leaders Highfield host City of Armagh in a top-four clash.
ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – DIVISION 1B:
ROUND 8: Saturday, December 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
NAAS (6th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (3rd), Forenaughts, tonight, 8pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: LWLLWLW; St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 87; Tries: Bryan Croke, Peter Osborne 4 each; St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 47; Tries: Myles Carey 4
Preview: Targeting a sixth straight win, St. Mary’s College are without injured captain Richie Halpin – Steven O’Brien deputises at hooker – but welcome back out-half Conor Dean who was a late withdrawal last week.
Sixth-placed Naas will want to keep Ronan Watters quiet, as the nifty Mary’s number 8, who takes over the captaincy tonight, has bagged three tries in two games.
A terrific 29-point first half display helped the Cobras win at Shannon last week. 19-year-old scrum half Connor Halpenny, who notched his first AIL try in Limerick, is growing with each appearance.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 29, 2019: Naas 10 St. Mary’s College 16, Forenaughts; Friday, February 14, 2020: St. Mary’s College 15 Naas 25, Templeville Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win
HIGHFIELD (1st) v CITY OF ARMAGH (4th), Woodleigh Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WWWWWWW; City of Armagh: WWWLLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Highfield: Points: James Taylor 39; Tries: Miah Cronin 5; City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 75; Tries: Andrew Willis 4
Preview: The midpoint of the league campaign is in sight and Highfield are still unbeaten. They showed their ruthless streak against Banbridge, but were breathing hard by the finish with only seven points in it.
Ben Murphy replaces Paddy O’Toole at outside centre for the visit of City of Armagh. Ian McCarthy, Ronan O’Sullivan and leading try scorer Miah Cronin are the changes to the Highfield pack.
With Shea O’Brien and Evin Crummie paired together at centre and Nigel Simpson returning on the blindside, Armagh boss Chris Parker said: “These next two matches are against first and second in the table. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to test ourselves.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 30, 2019: Highfield 21 City of Armagh 13, Woodleigh Park; Saturday, February 15, 2020: City of Armagh 10 Highfield 15, Palace Grounds
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win
MALONE (8th) v SHANNON (5th), Gibson Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLLLLWL; Shannon: LWLWLDL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 46; Tries: Andy Bryans, Aaron Sexton 3 each; Shannon: Points: Jake Flannery 29; Tries: Killian Dineen 3
Preview: Malone’s half-time changes saw them come from 20 points down to earn a losing bonus point in Armagh. Half-backs Conor Spence and Shane Kelly, in particular, are pushing hard to start.
Malone’s lengthy injury list at this stage of the season is a concern, but they will not be lacking in motivation as Shannon beat them 32-13 when the sides last met in Belfast back in October 2019.
Shannon had a slow start against Naas, although they did fight back for two bonus points. “The lads put in a good fight in the second half, and those points could be important come the end of the season,” said forwards coach Stephen Keogh.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 12, 2019: Malone 13 Shannon 32, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
OLD BELVEDERE (7th) v NAVAN (9th), Ollie Campbell Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WLWLLLL; Navan: LLLWWDL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 50; Tries: James McKeown 5; Navan: Points: Evan Dixon 20; Tries: Evan Dixon 4
Preview: Losing the Dublin 4 derby to Old Wesley was a bitter pill for Old Belvedere to swallow. Tightening up their defence is top of the agenda this week after leaking six tries to their near neighbours.
A second successive home fixture gives the Ray Monaghan-coached ‘Belvo an immediate chance to respond. However, Navan are a much better team that their ninth-place positioning suggests.
Former Shannon out-half Ben Daly is bedding in well into the Navan side, with centre Evan Dixon leading their try scoring with four so far. South African back rower Hardus van Eeden is just one behind him.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 12, 2019: Old Belvedere 39 Navan 17, Ollie Campbell Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
OLD WESLEY (2nd) v BANBRIDGE (10th), Energia Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWWWWLW; Banbridge: LLLLLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 31; Tries: Alastair Hoban, Nathan Randles, Tommy O’Callaghan, Reuben Pim, Ben Murphy, David Poff, Charlie O’Regan 2 each; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 44; Tries: Conor Field 3
Preview: Second-placed Old Wesley cannot afford to be complacent with a four-point gap to make up on leaders Highfield. Banbridge may be bottom but they are more than capable of an upset.
Bann head coach Mark McDowell, whose side have claimed three losing bonus points to date, said: “Mental errors at key moments are costing us. That’s on myself, the coaching group and the players to sort out once and for all so they stop hurting us in games.”
22-year-old number 8 Reuben Pim, a former Trinity regular, is one of Wesley’s most impressive forwards. He was a try scorer against Old Belvedere last week, along with his cousin and fellow back rower, Josh Pim.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 2, 2019: Old Wesley 22 Banbridge 0, Energia Park; Saturday, October 5, 2019: Old Wesley 13 Banbridge 3, Energia Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win