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

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

Highfield remain the team to beat in Division 1B, following their eighth win of the campaign against City of Armagh ©Highfield RFC

Friday Night Lights rugby returns to Balreask Old as Navan host Leinster rivals Naas, while Shannon and Highfield take centre stage on Saturday for their Munster derby.


ROUND 9: Saturday, December 11

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

NAVAN (9th) v NAAS (5th), Balreask Old, tonight, 8pm

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Navan: LLLWWDLL; Naas: LWLLWLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Navan: Points: Ben Daly 21; Tries: Evan Dixon, Paddy Fox 4 each; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 102; Tries: Bryan Croke, Peter Osborne, Donal Conroy 4 each

Preview: Despite being winless in the last three rounds, Navan are at least playing much better rugby. Dangerous backs Evan Dixon and Paddy Fox have four tries each, and new out-half Ben Daly has quickly made an impact.

The Meath men make three changes, adding Liam Carroll and Shane Faulkner to the pack and bringing Ben McEntagart back in. McEntagart’s direct opponent on the wing tonight is Donal Conroy, who has run in three tries in Naas’ last four games.

A third win on the trot is the Cobras’ goal, heading into the Christmas break. Player-backs coach Craig Ronaldson resumes at inside centre. There are starts also for Tim Murphy, Connor Johnson, Paul Monahan and Ryan Casey.

Recent League Meetings – Friday, December 13, 2019: Naas 12 Navan 15, Forenaughts; Saturday, January 11, 2020: Navan 10 Naas 19, Balreask Old

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

BANBRIDGE (10th) v OLD BELVEDERE (7th), Rifle Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LLLLLLLL; Old Belvedere: WLWLLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 53; Tries: Conor Field 3; Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 60; Tries: James McKeown 5

Preview: Banbridge, who had nothing to show for a solid effort against Old Wesley, are planning to use the coming weeks to turn their season around. The spectre of relegation is hanging over them unless things change.

Bann head coach Mark McDowell commented: “There’s not enough time to make drastic changes before Belvedere. I truly believe we can beat Belvedere. But once we get this game out of the way, we’ll use the Christmas period and the AIL break as effectively as we can to develop our game further.”

‘Belvo ended their four-match losing run with an enjoyable 32-12 triumph at home to Navan. Dean Moore and Colin Mallon return to the pack tomorrow, with Fionn McWey switching to the openside flanker position.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 30, 2019: Banbridge 28 Old Belvedere 27, Rifle Park; Saturday, February 15, 2020: Old Belvedere 17 Banbridge 14, Ollie Campbell Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win

CITY OF ARMAGH (4th) v OLD WESLEY (2nd), Palace Grounds

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: WWWLLWWL; Old Wesley: WWWWWLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 85; Tries: Andrew Willis, Kyle Faloon 4 each; Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 33; Tries: David Poff 3

Preview: Captain Tim McNiece pairs up with Evin Crummie in a new-look centre pairing for City of Armagh. Speedster Shea O’Brien switches to the left wing for this top-four duel.

James Hanna and Ryan Finlay are Armagh’s changes up front, with full-back Kyle Faloon (85 points) already closing in on a century of points for the season. He has scored three tries in his last four appearances.

Second-placed Old Wesley have tallied up 10 tries in the last fortnight, with two each from Ben Murphy and David Poff. They won 40-13 on their last visit to the Palace Grounds, but this should be a much closer contest.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 16, 2019: City of Armagh 13 Old Wesley 40, Palace Grounds; Saturday, February 22, 2020: Old Wesley 14 City of Armagh 12, Energia Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

SHANNON (6th) v HIGHFIELD (1st), Thomond Park back pitch

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWLWLDLW; Highfield: WWWWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Jake Flannery, John O’Sullivan 29 each; Tries: Killian Dineen 3; Highfield: Points: James Taylor 45; Tries: Miah Cronin 5

Preview: A controversially-awarded late penalty try saw Shannon get back to winning ways at Malone. It was a battling performance in Belfast, but much more will be needed against unbeaten leaders Highfield.

Pat O’Connor’s men are notably without talented teenage back rower Daniel Okeke, who starts at number 8 for Munster against Wasps. Cathal Gallagher returns to Highfield’s back row tomorrow.

Paddy O’Toole and David O’Sullivan combine in the centre for the Corkmen, who move Ben Murphy out to the right wing. Highfield’s finishing has been clinical in tight games, particularly off their ever-reliable lineout.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 14, 2019: Highfield 19 Shannon 10, Woodleigh Park; Saturday, January 11, 2020: Shannon 31 Highfield 13, Thomond Park back pitch

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (3rd) v MALONE (8th), Templeville Road

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWWL; Malone: WLLLLWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 47; Tries: Myles Carey, Ronan Watters 4 each; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 46; Tries: Aaron Sexton 4

Preview: St. Mary’s College were left cursing a poor start against Naas, as their five-match winning streak came to an end. Number 8 Ronan Watters scored his fourth try of the season and led by example as stand-in captain.

A costly penalty try from a scrum ruined Malone’s hopes at home to Shannon, but they did manage two well-crafted tries themselves, Stewart McKendrick with his third of the campaign and Aaron Sexton his fourth.

The two fixtures between these clubs in 2019/20 both produced away wins. Mary’s prevailed 13-8 at Gibson Park, tighthead Mick McCormack scoring their only try and Ruairi Shields kicking the other points in the biting wind and rain.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 9, 2019: Malone 8 St. Mary’s College 13, Gibson Park; Saturday, February 29, 2020: St. Mary’s College 7 Malone 19, Templeville Road

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win