After knocking out the top two, Shannon and Naas meet to decide who will be promoted to the top flight for next season. Division 1B’s relegation trap door is opening for either Navan or Banbridge.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – MEN’S DIVISION 1B:
Saturday, April 30
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
SHANNON (3rd) v NAAS (4th), Coonagh
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWLWWWWWWW; Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLWWWLWLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Jake Flannery 97; Tries: Killian Dineen, Kelvin Brown 7 each; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 219; Tries: Donal Conroy, Gary Kavanagh 11 each
Preview: Shannon and Naas go to the the well one more time following two emotionally-draining performances last week to reach the promotion play-off final. Coonagh is the venue due to Ed Sheeran’s upcoming concerts at Thomond Park.
Naas certainly grabbed the headlines after holding on in nail-biting fashion to defeat 14-man Old Wesley. Gary Kavanagh and Donal Conroy weighed in with their 11th tries of the campaign and prolific captain Peter Osborne now has 219 points to his name.
Shannon come into the decider on the back of seven straight wins, including their hard-earned 25-19 semi-final victory at Highfield. Their defence was just as important as their attack in that game, particularly at the breakdown in the dying minutes.
Ian Leonard is Shannon’s only change at scrum half where he partners an Ulster-bound Jake Flannery, who has averaged 11 points across the last three games and is on the cusp of breaking the 100-point barrier for the season.
The hosts’ bench could also be a crucial factor, with Munster forwards Declan Moore and Daniel Okeke both included along with Ethan Coughlan and Darragh McSweeney, who were part of the Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam-winning squad.
Shannon forwards coach Stephen Keogh commented: “It’s a massive game for these guys, they put a lot of work into it. They were really happy (after winning at Highfield) and they’re really looking forward to the final.
“These sort of things don’t happen too often and I think if the Shannon crowd or the Limerick crowd come out and support the team – I’m sure people from other clubs will be there – it would be great to see the Limerick people out firstly.
“And secondly, obviously see the Shannon people out. It means a lot to these guys to get into a final, they put a lot of effort in. It would be nice to see a big crowd out there just to show their appreciation, which I’m sure they will.”
With only bumps and bruises from that epic semi-final success, Naas travel down with an unchanged matchday squad. Former Connacht back Craig Ronaldson continues in the centre alongside Kavanagh.
The Cobras can take confidence from their two meetings with Shannon during the regular season, which saw them win 35-29 on Thomond Park’s back pitch – Osborne scored 20 points that day – before triumphing 38-29 at Forenaughts in late January.
“We’re the furthest we’ve ever been which is a fantastic achievement in itself,” said Naas head coach Johne Murphy. “But we’re realistic in that we know what challenge awaits us. We’ll go down there and we’ll put in a good performance and let’s see how it goes.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot in it to be honest. It’s going to be very difficult down there in Coonagh, but I have the belief that my lads can do it.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 27, 2021: Shannon 29 Naas 35, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, January 29, 2022: Naas 38 Shannon 29, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
RELEGATION PLAY-OFF SECOND LEG:
BANBRIDGE (25) v NAVAN (17), Rifle Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLLWLWLLWW; Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLLLWLLLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 118; Tries: Conor Field 7; Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 59; Tries: Paddy Fox, Sean McEntagart 7 each
Preview: Sean McEntagart’s seventh try of the season and a 12-point kicking haul from Mark Farrell were not enough for Navan last week, as Ben Carson’s last-gasp try means Banbridge begin the second leg with an eight-point buffer.
Alex Weir impressed off the bench for Bann, stepping up after Ulster’s David McCann was forced off with an early injury. Bann head coach Mark McDowell said: “Navan will still be dangerous, but the lads know they are the better team and I think this Saturday they will prove that without doubt.”
Weir is rewarded with a start at blindside flanker, Matthew Laird reverts to lock and Stuart Cromie comes into the Ulster side’s front row. Navan will need to be at their most clinical to pull this off. They did win at Armagh earlier in the season and a similar performance could give them a shot.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 30, 2021: Navan 30 Banbridge 20, Balreask Old; Saturday, March 5, 2022: Banbridge 29 Navan 15, Rifle Park; Saturday, April 23, 2022: Relegation Play-Off First Leg – Navan 17 Banbridge 25, Balreask Old
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
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