Four clubs can still join Division 1B leaders Old Wesley in the promotion play-offs, while it is still tight at the bottom between Navan, Malone and Banbridge.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – MEN’S DIVISION 1B:
ROUND 17: Saturday, April 2
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BANBRIDGE (8th) v SHANNON (3rd), Rifle Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLLWLWL; Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWLWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 98; Tries: Conor Field, Andrew Morrison 6 each; Shannon: Points: John O’Sullivan 73; Tries: Killian Dineen 7
Preview: Banbridge captain Michael Cromie will lead the team out on the occasion of his 150th All-Ireland League appearance. Avenging October’s 32-10 defeat to Shannon could go a long way to securing their Division 1B status.
A bout of yellow card fever – they were down to 12 men at one stage – undid Bann’s hopes of mounting a comeback against St. Mary’s College. Shannon, on the other hand, have found a consistent streak at just the right time.
Four straight wins have the Limerick men just a point off second place. Shannon head coach Pat O’Connor commented: “We’re expecting a very tough encounter. Banbridge are a very good side, we’ll have to be a lot better than we were against Armagh.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 2, 2019: Banbridge 34 Shannon 14, Rifle Park; Saturday, October 9, 2021: Shannon 32 Banbridge 10, Thomond Park back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
HIGHFIELD (2nd) v NAVAN (10th), Woodleigh Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WWWWWWWWLDLWLWWL; Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLLLWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Highfield: Points: James Taylor 63; Tries: Paul Stack 6; Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 47; Tries: Evan Dixon, Sean McEntagart 6 each
Preview: With Shannon snapping at their heels, Highfield need a strong finish to the regular season in order to earn home advantage in the promotion play-offs. As things currently stand, Highfield would host Shannon at the semi-final stage.
For their live-streamed clash with Navan, Highfield bring in Paddy O’Toole, to the back-three, and openside flanker Cathal Gallagher. O’Toole scored a try off the bench during their 27-22 loss to Naas last week.
Navan have leaked 79 points in their last two games so shoring up that defence is top of the agenda. Reliable backs Evan Dixon and Sean McEntagart both picked up their sixth tries of the campaign in a heavy reversal at the hands of Old Wesley.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 22, 2020: Highfield 38 Navan 12, Woodleigh Park; Saturday, October 9, 2021: Navan 17 Highfield 42, Balreask Old
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win
MALONE (9th) v NAAS (4th), Gibson Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLLLLWLLDDLDLLLL; Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLWWWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 78; Tries: Aaron Sexton 8; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 173; Tries: Donal Conroy 9
Preview: Malone face their second successive home game, clinging on to ninth place after four deflating defeats. Taking on fourth-placed Naas looks a tough ask, especially with the visitors’ captain Peter Osborne (173 points) in prolific form.
The Cregagh Red Sox have been scoring well – they are the highest scorers in the bottom half of the table – but their discipline and defence let them down against Old Belvedere. Zach Devine and Ricky Greenwood come into the tight five.
Naas showed their promotion credentials again by outlasting Highfield last Saturday, with winger Donal Conroy crossing for his ninth try of the season. Connor Johnson and Will O’Brien are set to start up front in their only changes.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 2, 2019: Naas 27 Malone 38, Forenaughts; Saturday, October 9, 2021: Naas 41 Malone 24, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
OLD BELVEDERE (7th) v CITY OF ARMAGH (6th), Ollie Campbell Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WLWLLLLWLLWLWLLW; City of Armagh: WWWLLWWLLLWDLLWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 122; Tries: Joe Horan 6; City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 99; Tries: Matthew Hooks 5
Preview: Old Belvedere are without their leading scorer Justin Leonard (122 points) for the visit of City of Armagh. Leinster Academy hooker John McKee is back to start, with Joe Horan redeployed to the openside flanker berth.
Jack Gilheany is added to Belvedere’s midfield with Tommy Whittle slotting in at out-half. Leonard and David Wilkinson are both absent. Armagh are one place and three points better off than the Dubliners.
A bruising battle with Shannon did not go Armagh’s way, but it was a resilient performance from Chris Parker’s side who are guaranteed to finish away from relegation trouble. Winger Matthew Hooks, a former Ulster underage player, ran in his fifth try of the campaign.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: City of Armagh 26 Old Belvedere 28, Palace Grounds; Saturday, October 9, 2021: City of Armagh 32 Old Belvedere 18, Palace Grounds
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
OLD WESLEY (1st) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (5th), Energia Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWWWWLWWWWWWWWWW; St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWWLDDWWLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 106; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 8; St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 117; Tries: Myles Carey 9
Preview: Like Old Belvedere, Old Wesley will live stream their final home fixture of the regular season. It is a tasty south Dublin derby against St. Mary’s College as they seek their eleventh victory in a row.
It looks like Morgan Lennon’s men will host either Naas or St. Mary’s in the play-off semi-final. Mary’s have three points to make up on Naas in the final two rounds, having lost three of their last four matches.
Former Ireland Under-20 international Conor Dean played a pivotal role as Mary’s kept their promotion hopes alive with a 34-10 success against Banbridge. He top-scored with 17 points, while back rower Nick McCarthy has made a welcome return from injury.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: Old Wesley 26 St. Mary’s College 16, Energia Park; Saturday, October 9, 2021: St. Mary’s College 18 Old Wesley 20, Templeville Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win