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

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

St. Mary's College and Banbridge will lock horns again in a crunch Division 1B tie at Templeville Road

Top four rivals Naas and Highfield do battle, while bottom side Navan face leaders Old Wesley as we enter the final rounds of an enthralling Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B campaign.

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

ROUND 16: Saturday, March 26

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

MALONE (9th) v OLD BELVEDERE (7th), Gibson Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLLLLWLLDDLDLLL; Old Belvedere: WLWLLLLWLLWLWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 64; Tries: Aaron Sexton 8; Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 110; Tries: James McKeown, John McKee, Joe Horan 5 each

Preview: Having fallen into the bottom two and suffered a big Ulster Senior Cup defeat to Queen’s University, Malone need to regroup and show their mettle as they try to get out of relegation trouble.

Malone head coach Wilbur Leacock, who welcomes back Under-20 Grand Slam winner Adam McNamee to the second row, commented: “This is a crucial game for us. We have to step up and give a performance that reflects the badge on our jersey.”

Old Belvedere, who at home to Shannon last time out, are still no clear of danger with Malone only six points behind. Peter O’Beirne comes in at scrum half and there are starts up front for Joe Horan and Colin Mallon, who anchors a rejigged back row.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 22, 2020: Malone 21 Old Belvedere 16, Gibson Park; Saturday, October 16, 2021: Old Belvedere 32 Malone 10, Ollie Campbell Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win

NAAS (4th) v HIGHFIELD (2nd), Forenaughts

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLWWWL; Highfield: WWWWWWWWLDLWLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 161; Tries: Donal Conroy 8; Highfield: Points: James Taylor 63; Tries: Paul Stack 6

Preview: Naas head coach Johne Murphy has made two changes for the visit of second-placed Highfield. Seven points separate the sides in the table with the Cobras losing ground last time out, going down 29-19 to leaders Old Wesley.

Sam Cahill returns for Naas on the left wing and Paul Monahan gets the nod in the back row, the latter’s inclusion seeing Sallins man Ryan Casey move to the openside flanker.

Highfield, who are hunting for their third straight victory, have strengthened their pack by bringing in James Rochford, Fintan O’Sullivan, Ryan Murphy and current Ireland Under-20 international Ronán O’Sullivan. Luke Kingston also starts out wide.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: Highfield 38 Naas 20, Woodleigh Park; Saturday, October 16, 2021: Highfield 38 Naas 3, Woodleigh Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

NAVAN (10th) v OLD WESLEY (1st), Balreask Old

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLLLWL; Old Wesley: WWWWWLWWWWWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 45; Tries: Paddy Fox, Evan Dixon, Sean McEntagart 5 each; Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 96; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 7

Preview: Navan are always capable of running one of the leading clubs close, but Old Wesley, on current form, show have too much in their armoury. Wesley were 33-5 winners when they last visited Balreask Old two years ago.

Ray Moloney’s men still have a shot at climbing out of the bottom two, but need to do as well as they can against the bottom two before defeating Malone at home on the final day. Other results will also need to go their way.

If this was not a Covid-19-affected season, Wesley would be on course to lift the trophy as outright winners. Instead, their route to the title is through a four-team knockout play-off where home advantage could be crucial for them.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 29, 2020: Navan 5 Old Wesley 33, Balreask Old; Saturday, October 16, 2021: Old Wesley 45 Navan 7, Energia Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

SHANNON (3rd) v CITY OF ARMAGH (6th), Thomond Park back pitch

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWLWWW; City of Armagh: WWWLLWWLLLWDLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: John O’Sullivan 66; Tries: Killian Dineen 7; City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 99; Tries: Andrew Willis, Kyle Faloon, Matthew Hooks, Jack Treanor 4 each

Preview: These teams’ first meeting at the Palace Grounds back in October was one of the games of the season in Division 1B – City of Armagh won it late, triumphing 23-20 – so the rematch definitely has the potential to be another cracker.

Shannon forwards coach Stephen Keogh commented: “We had three wins from three in the last block. The lads have been playing well, they’ve really enjoyed it and put a massive effort in. Armagh kicks off this final block, it’s another big challenge but we’re really looking forward to it.”

Having beaten St. Mary’s College 21-10 in the last round, Armagh have stuck mostly with that winning formula. Their only alterations are Evin Crummie in the centre and James Crummie and James Hanna in the pack. Ryan O’Neill shifts to number 8.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 29, 2020: City of Armagh 18 Shannon 0, Palace Grounds; Saturday, October 16, 2021: City of Armagh 23 Shannon 20, Palace Grounds

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (5th) v BANBRIDGE (8th), Templeville Road

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWWLDDWWLLL; Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLLWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 100; Tries: Myles Carey 9; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 93; Tries: Conor Field, Andrew Morrison 6 each

Preview: St. Mary’s promotion bid has come off the rails slightly with three defeats in a row. They now have four points to make up on fourth-placed Naas, with Conor Dean and Colm Reilly hoping to get their attack back firing on all cylinders.

Banbridge, who have won two of their last three games, will have Ben Carson starting again at centre, fresh from winning the Under-20 Grand Slam with Ireland. Ulster’s David McCann also features at openside flanker.

Bann boss Mark McDowell commented: “Mary’s were one of the most impressive sides we’ve played. But we’re a much different outfit compared to earlier in the season. We’ll go down there not just looking to get something out of the game, but determined to get the win.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 22, 2020: Banbridge 22 St. Mary’s College 24, Rifle Park; Saturday, October 16, 2021: Banbridge 17 St. Mary’s College 29, Rifle Park

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