Promotion and relegation matters will be sorted out in Division 2A on Saturday, as long-time leaders Queen’s University battle it out with Buccaneers. Nenagh Ormond and Rainey Old Boys will cross swords again in Lisatunny.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – MEN’S DIVISION 2A:
Saturday, April 30
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY (1st) v BUCCANEERS (3rd), Dub Lane
Can Buccaneers knock Queen’s University off their stride? Queen’s put 82 points on Ballymena last week and with the experienced Ritchie McMaster and Ulster Academy scrum half Conor McKee directing the back-line, they are on the cusp of playing Division 1B rugby for the first time.
It is not just their backs, the Belfast students have an impressive all-court game with captain David ‘Dizzy’ Whitten and Gary Dillon leading a dynamic set of forwards. Flanker Lorcan McLoughlin, returning from his Grand Slam win with the Ireland Under-20s, has also made an impact.
Strength in depth was a key factor in Derek Suffern’s charges topping the table this season, with Ulster Academy out-half James Humphreys and Jonny Hunter, a regular try scorer, featuring on the bench for Saturday’s showdown.
Queen’s completed a home and away league double over Buccs this season, but assistant coach DJ Creighton knows recent form will count for little as the Pirates have already demonstrated they can go on the road and win after toppling Cashel last week.
“It is going to be an incredible difficult game, Buccaneers are a really well renowned side and they have had a brilliant season,” said Creighton.
“We won’t be underestimating what Buccaneers will be bringing to the Dub. They are very strong and formidable team and we’ll have to be at our very best if we are going to come out on the right side of the result.
“Any time we play Buccs it is a close fixture and I don’t expect anything different this Saturday. It is going to be really tight but like last week we’ll just focus on ourselves and try not to look too much into them.”
Buccaneers have made one change to the side that secured a 25-17 victory at Cashel. Veteran prop Martin Staunton comes in for Charlie Ward in the front row, with the Pirates able to travel with a near full-strength squad.
Kolo Kiripati’s men are very difficult to beat when they turn in a full 80-minute performance, and if they can tidy up the errors from their two encounters with Queen’s during the regular season, then they should be right in the hunt.
They have six Connacht Academy players in the starting XV – Declan Adamson, Ciaran Booth, Oisin McCormack, Darragh Murray, Josh O’Connor and Will Reilly – as well as promising Connacht prop Sam Illo and experienced campaigners Shane Layden, Danny Qualter and skipper Evan Galvin.
Layden, who is partnered by Stephen Mannion in the centre, said Buccs gained confidence from that vital eight-point win on the road last Saturday as ‘Spafield is a difficult place for visiting sides’.
On their final opponents, the former Connacht player commented: “Queen’s like to throw the ball around and go wide. They like to come out to play. It should be a fast, lively game and a highly entertaining one to watch.
“Promotion is massively important not only for Buccaneers but also for Connacht to have a team playing Division 1 rugby. Having been there before is where we aspire to be again. The higher level would be beneficial all round.
“The age profile of players is very young with many showing great promise. It’s a strong foundation for years to come. Win or lose against Queen’s, it has been a very successful season for Buccaneers.”
RELEGATION PLAY-OFF SECOND LEG:
NENAGH ORMOND (17) v RAINEY OLD BOYS (17), New Ormond Park
Nenagh Ormond appear to be in the box seat here with home advantage to come. Yet, Rainey Old Boys came back at them hard during the second half last week, erasing a 14-point deficit with a Connor Smyth brace and crucial kicks from Scott McLean.
Patrick Scully and Niall O’Gorman are promoted from the bench for Nenagh, slotting in on the left wing and at tighthead prop. Peter Coman switches to full-back and Kevin O’Flaherty joins his brother, captain John, in the second row.
McLean is moved to out-half by Rainey boss Ian McKinley, who brings in Michael O’Neill at full-back as his only personnel change. The Derry side boast a powerful tight five, driven on by former Ulster prop Tommy O’Hagan and the McCusker brothers, John and Ronan.
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