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

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

Energia Park will play host to Saturday's eagerly-awaited promotion play-off semi-final between Old Wesley and Naas ©Ken Richardson/Old Wesley RFC

Two mouth-watering provincial derbies will decide the promotion play-off finalists in Division 1B, while Navan and Banbridge clash in the opening leg of their relegation shootout.


Saturday, April 23

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –


OLD WESLEY (1st) v NAAS (4th), Energia Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWWWWLWWWWWWWWWWWL; Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLWWWLWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 113; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 9; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 202; Tries: Donal Conroy, Gary Kavanagh 10 each

Preview: Old Wesley and Naas have built up quite a rivalry in recent years. Who could forget the 2019 play-off semi-final at Energia Park, the hosts advancing as 20-17 extra-time winners before missing out on promotion at UCC.

This time Morgan Lennon’s men will have home advantage if they can make it through to another decider. Thirteen changes have them back to full strength to face Naas, with Ian Cassidy and Ben Murphy at half-back and JJ O’Dea re-joining captain Iain McGann at lock.

Former professional Craig Ronaldson is set to be Naas’ only change, coming in at inside centre. “We haven’t been happy with our two performances against Wesley this year,” said second row Paul Monahan. “Between us it’s always close. We have every bit of belief that we’ll come out on the right side of it.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 30, 2021: Naas 20 Old Wesley 36, Forenaughts; Saturday, March 5, 2022: Old Wesley 29 Naas 19, Energia Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

HIGHFIELD (2nd) v SHANNON (3rd), Woodleigh Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WWWWWWWWLDLWLWWLWW; Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWLWWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Highfield: Points: James Taylor 63; Tries: Sam Burns 8; Shannon: Points: Jake Flannery 87; Tries: Killian Dineen, Kelvin Brown 7 each

Preview: These Munster rivals played out two defence-dominated encounters during the regular season. Highfield lost 6-0 in Limerick before drawing the return game nine-all in January, with out-half James Taylor missing a late penalty.

Ben Murphy returns on the right wing for the Corkmen, who also give starts in the pack to prop Cillian Buckley and lock Eoin Keating. Shannon, meanwhile, bring in winger Josh Costello, fresh from his Ireland Under-19 debut.

Jack O’Donnell also features out wide in a Jake Flannery-led back-line, and Conor Glynn and Jordan Prenderville are set to start in the front row. Munster forwards Declan Moore and Daniel Okeke will provide impact off the visitors’ bench.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 11, 2021: Shannon 6 Highfield 0, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, January 15, 2022: Highfield 9 Shannon 9, Woodleigh Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win


NAVAN (10th) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Balreask Old

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLLLWLLLL; Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLLWLWLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 47; Tries: Paddy Fox 7; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 108; Tries: Conor Field, Andrew Morrison 6 each

Preview: Banbridge’s 28-18 final round victory in Armagh was not enough to keep them out of the relegation play-off, but head coach Mark McDowell wants a repeat of that performance which saw them erase an early 10-point deficit.

“I know only too well that Navan will be equally determined to retain their status,” he said. “But the lads showed what they’re capable of against Armagh. If we can reproduce that then what has been an incredibly difficult season can end on a high.”

Despite some heavy recent losses, Navan’s home wins over Armagh and Banbridge – 30-20 back in October – show the threat they can carry. Ben Daly and Evan Dixon strengthen the back-line, with captain Conor Farrell one of five changes up front.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 30, 2021: Navan 30 Banbridge 20, Balreask Old; Saturday, March 5, 2022: Banbridge 29 Navan 15, Rifle Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win