Naas and St. Mary’s College will give it their all in pursuit of the last promotion semi-final place in Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B. Meanwhile, either Banbridge or Malone will join Navan in the relegation play-off.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – MEN’S DIVISION 1B:
AS THINGS STAND:
Promotion Play-Off Semi-Finals (April 23): 1st (Old Wesley at home) v 4th (Naas or St. Mary’s College); 2nd (Highfield or Shannon at home) v 3rd (Shannon or Highfield)
Promotion Play-Off Final (April 30): Home advantage to highest-ranked team
Relegation Play-Off First Leg (April 23): 10th (Navan or Banbridge at home) v 9th (Banbridge, Malone or Navan)
Relegation Play-Off Second Leg (April 30): 9th (Banbridge, Malone or Navan at home) v 10th (Navan or Banbridge)
ROUND 18: Saturday, April 9
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
CITY OF ARMAGH (6th) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Palace Grounds
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: WWWLLWWLLLWDLLWLW; Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLLWLWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 114; Tries: Matthew Hooks, Kyle Faloon 5 each; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 104; Tries: Conor Field, Andrew Morrison 6 each
Preview: This Ulster derby comes at an opportune time for Banbridge as they try to bounce back from a brace of defeats, but avoiding the relegation play-off may prove beyond them. City of Armagh are destined to finish sixth.
Just two Adam Doherty penalties was a poor return for Banbridge at home to Shannon. Their head coach Mark McDowell said: “I know the spirit in the team is good, we’ll go to Armagh and give it a real go. But we know the chances are we’ll be meeting Navan home and away in the play-offs.”
Armagh boss Chris Parker wants another solid display from his squad to close out the campaign, noting: “These two good performances on the road (against Shannon and Old Belvedere) now need to be backed up with a home win to round off the season.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 11, 2020: City of Armagh 12 Banbridge 5, Palace Grounds; Saturday, October 2, 2021: Banbridge 10 City of Armagh 20, Rifle Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
NAAS (4th) v OLD BELVEDERE (7th), Forenaughts
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLWWWLWL; Old Belvedere: WLWLLLLWLLWLWLLWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 184; Tries: Donal Conroy 9; Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 122; Tries: Joe Horan 7
Preview: Two losses in the last three rounds have seen Naas wobble slightly, but crucially they remain in control of their own destiny. A win by any margin tomorrow would see them through, setting up a semi-final trip to Old Wesley.
Johne Murphy’s squad rotation sees Gary Kavanagh, Tim Murphy, John Sutton, Paddy O’Flaherty and Cillian Dempsey all come in to start for the Cobras. Ryan Casey switches to number 8 with Paulie Tolofua held in reserve.
Old Belvedere can finish no higher than seventh. Stung by last week’s 37-29 home defeat to Armagh, they make four personnel changes, including starts up front for Evan Tyndall, Dean Moore and Jack Breen. Joe Horan, their seven-try forward, reverts to hooker.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 25, 2020: Naas 39 Old Belvedere 12, Forenaughts; Saturday, October 2, 2021: Old Belvedere 16 Naas 13, Ollie Campbell Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
NAVAN (10th) v MALONE (8th), Balreask Old
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLLLWLLL; Malone: WLLLLWLLDDLDLLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 47; Tries: Paddy Fox 7; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 86; Tries: Aaron Sexton 9
Preview: After a third defeat on the trot, Navan cannot finish outside of the bottom two and must focus all their efforts on the two-legged relegation play-off. They are set to be at home first, facing either Banbridge or Malone, tomorrow’s visitors.
Malone will likely just need a single point to guarantee their safety, having ended their four-match losing streak with a brilliant 33-16 victory over top four side Naas. Ulster speedster Aaron Sexton ran in his ninth try of the league season.
Clogher Valley youngster Callum Smyton made his mark on his Malone debut, with the dual status back rower scoring the bonus point try. Head coach Wilbur Leacock commented: “A big positive is we are scoring points and we have had a few try bonuses and that gives us confidence.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 15, 2020: Navan 0 Malone 12, Balreask Old; Saturday, October 2, 2021: Malone 30 Navan 17, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win
SHANNON (3rd) v OLD WESLEY (1st), Thomond Park back pitch
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWLWWWWW; Old Wesley: WWWWWLWWWWWWWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Jake Flannery 75; Tries: Killian Dineen 7; Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 113; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 9
Preview: Shannon’s strong finish to the regular season has them challenging for a home semi-final. Pat O’Connor’s youngsters are definitely through to the play-offs, it is just a case now of whether they will entertain Highfield or travel to them.
Shannon forwards coach Stephen Keogh commented: “Our last home game, hopefully there’s a massive crowd out. It’s just another game, it’s an opportunity to go out there and play our best, enjoy it and we’ll see what happens from there.”
In-form winger Tommy O’Callaghan’s excellent chip-and-collect effort saw Old Wesley edge out St. Mary’s College to extend their winning run to 11 games. He is now the division’s joint-top try scorer, tied with three other players.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 15, 2020: Old Wesley 10 Shannon 17, Energia Park; Saturday, October 2, 2021: Old Wesley 23 Shannon 22, Energia Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (5th) v HIGHFIELD (2nd), Templeville Road
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWWLDDWWLLLWL; Highfield: WWWWWWWWLDLWLWWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 122; Tries: Myles Carey 9; Highfield: Points: James Taylor 63; Tries: Sam Burns 7
Preview: How costly will that late defeat at Wesley be for St. Mary’s? Whether they make it through or not, Mary’s are justifiably proud of Steven Hennessy’s young team who have overcome setbacks to improve their league placing from 2019 and 2020.
Hennessy is stepping down at the end of the season, with Leinster and Ireland hooker Sean Cronin taking the reins at Mary’s for 2022/23. Highfield are just a point ahead of Shannon in the race to claim that second home semi-final berth.
The Corkmen made one personnel change, bringing Colin O’Neill in on the right wing with Paddy O’Toole shifting to outside centre to cover the absence of James Taylor. The latter scored a try and kicked three conversions in Highfield’s 21-17 first round win over Mary’s.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 2, 2019: St. Mary’s College 11 Highfield 16, Templeville Road; Saturday, October 2, 2021: Highfield 21 St. Mary’s College 17, Woodleigh Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win