Highfield’s trip to leaders Old Wesley is the headline act in Division 1B this weekend, as the second tier of the Energia Men’s All-Ireland League continues to provide plenty of excitement and drama.
ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – DIVISION 1B:
ROUND 13: Saturday, February 19
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BANBRIDGE (9th) v MALONE (8th), Rifle Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLL; Malone: WLLLLWLLDDLD
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 84; Tries: Conor Field 6; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 48; Tries: Aaron Sexton 7
Preview: With Malone sitting five points better off, this is a vital game for Banbridge if they are to pull themselves out of the bottom two. Malone had a point to spare (22-21) when they hosted Bann in November.
After picking up a losing bonus point from their recent games against the top two, Banbridge’s Mark McDowell said: “The overall trend is in the right direction. The guys know what they’re capable of. I’ve every confidence that there are more wins coming in the next few weeks.”
It has been a stop-start 2022 for Malone so far, with their latest AIL fixture a Covid-19 cancellation. They are always a threat with seven-try full-back Aaron Sexton on the prowl, but home advantage just tips the balance in Bann’s favour.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: Malone 34 Banbridge 17, Gibson Park; Saturday, November 20, 2022: Malone 22 Banbridge 21, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
CITY OF ARMAGH (6th) v NAAS (4th), Palace Grounds
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: WWWLLWWLLLWD; Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 99; Tries: Andrew Willis, Kyle Faloon 4 each; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 133; Tries: Donal Conroy, Gary Kavanagh 7 each
Preview: Seven points separate these sides in the Division 1B standings, with City of Armagh hoping to reel fourth-placed Naas back in after their most recent league match was cancelled due to Covid.
Chris Parker’s men want to recapture the form they showed in beating Highfield last month, but they must do so without the injured Barry Finn and Ryan Morton, as well as Romain Morrow who could miss eight weeks due to a shoulder injury.
Naas have won five of their last six games, including a 38-29 triumph over Shannon last time out. Donal Conroy returns out wide, Craig Ronaldson moves to out-half in a rejigged back-line, and David Benn slots back into the second row.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 5, 2019: City of Armagh 13 Naas 7, Palace Grounds; Saturday, November 20, 2021: Naas 17 City of Armagh 18, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win
OLD BELVEDERE (7th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (3rd), Ollie Campbell Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WLWLLLLWLLWL; St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWWLDDWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 82; Tries: James McKeown, John McKee 5 each; St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 82; Tries: Myles Carey 8
Preview: Unbeaten in four rounds, St. Mary’s College head to Anglesea Road for a local derby against Old Belvedere. Mary’s were 24-21 winners of their November clash, relying on some strong defence late on.
Following his brace away to Navan, Mary’s centre Myles Carey is now the division’s top try scorer with eight. Padraig Dundon had a solid first AIL start at tighthead, but they hope to have Mick McCormack back from a broken finger.
Every time Old Belvedere have registered a win this season, they have followed it up with a loss. Having lost at Old Wesley in the last round, captain Connor Owende and his team-mates are doubly determined to win on home soil.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 11, 2020: Old Belvedere 15 St. Mary’s College 10, Ollie Campbell Park; Saturday, November 20, 2021: St. Mary’s College 24 Old Belvedere 21, Templeville Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win
OLD WESLEY (1st) v HIGHFIELD (2nd), Energia Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWWWWLWWWWWW; Highfield: WWWWWWWWLDLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 70; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 5; Highfield: Points: James Taylor 60; Tries: Paul Stack 6
Preview: Old Wesley are livestreaming this top of the table encounter on YouTube, with their full focus on avenging November’s 20-7 defeat to Highfield. It would be quite a statement heading towards the promotion play-offs.
Wesley have embarked on a six-match winning run since that day in Cork, whereas Highfield have stuttered slightly with two losses and a draw in the last four rounds.
A cracking contest looks in prospect, with Highfield winger Paul Stack chasing his seventh try of the season. He should have an interesting individual duel with Wesley’s top scorer Tommy O’Callaghan, who is on a run of three tries in as many games.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 25, 2020: Highfield 26 Old Wesley 13, Woodleigh Park; Saturday, November 20, 2021: Highfield 20 Old Wesley 7, Woodleigh Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
SHANNON (5th) v NAVAN (10th), Thomond Park back pitch
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWL; Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: John O’Sullivan 53; Tries: Lee Nicholas 5; Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 43; Tries: Paddy Fox, Evan Dixon 5 each
Preview: Bottom side Navan visit mid-table Shannon, with both teams eager to bounce back from losing performances last time out. They both scored four tries but still ended up with disappointing defeats.
Shannon head coach Pat O’Connor commented: “It was too many errors (against Naas), backed up with errors. We didn’t mentally turn up on the day, which will cost you at this level. We just need to cut out those errors.”
With a Covid-19 cancellation in November, this is Navan’s first clash with Shannon since losing 16-3 in Limerick back in October 2019. Former Shannon out-half Ben Daly is now a key member of Navan’s back-line.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: Shannon 16 Navan 3, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, November 20, 2021: Navan v Shannon, Balreask Old (Covid-19-affected match cancelled – 0-0. Both teams are awarded two points)
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win