Buccaneers face another top of the table clash in Division 1B as St. Mary’s College, who have top points scorer Mick O’Gara in their arsenal, are next up to try and knock Eddie O’Sullivan’s men off their perch.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 1B – ROUND 7:
Saturday, November 26
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BANBRIDGE (10th) v NAAS (8th), Rifle Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LWLLLL; Naas: LLLWWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: James Humphreys 31; Tries: Ben Carson 3; Naas: Points: Andrew Osborne 35; Tries: Andrew Osborne 7
Preview: Two of the losing teams from the last round meet at Rifle Park, with the pressure on bottom side Banbridge to close the current seven-point gap to Naas, in eighth place. The Cobras won both of last season’s meetings.
Bann did have an improved defensive display against City of Armagh a fortnight ago, leaking just one try. Their changes this week are wingers Jamie Mullan and Cameron Millar, together with Josh Chambers, Ryan Emerson and Alex Thompson in the tight five.
Naas head coach Johne Murphy has opted for some rotation, bringing Fionn Higgins, Jack Sheridan and Bryan Croke into the back-line. Patrick O’Flaherty also starts in the second row, while in-form winger Andrew Osborne, the division’s top try scorer with seven, is on the bench.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 6, 2021: Banbridge 22 Naas 28, Rifle Park; Saturday, February 26, 2022: Naas 43 Banbridge 21, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
CITY OF ARMAGH (4th) v OLD BELVEDERE (7th), Palace Grounds
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: WLWLWW; Old Belvedere: WLWLWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 34; Tries: James McCormick 4; Old Belvedere: Points: Kale Thatcher, Joe White 15 each; Tries: Kale Thatcher, Joe White 3 each
Preview: Centre and captain Tim McNiece returns to the City of Armagh starting XV, with scrum half Jack Hughes and Ulster Development player Shea O’Brien also added to the back-line. James Crummie replaces Nigel Simpson at blindside flanker.
Armagh’s director of rugby John Lennon said their forwards were ‘immense’ in their narrow derby victory over Bann. They will need more of the same from the likes of Ulster’s Frank Bradshaw Ryan and James McCormick, who has scored four tries so far.
Old Belvedere, who lost by 14 points on their most recent visit to the Palace Grounds, have bounced back from defeats with a winning performance twice already this season. Their only change from the Highfield match sees Will McDonald replace Darragh O’Callaghan at blindside flanker.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 9, 2021: City of Armagh 32 Old Belvedere 18, Palace Grounds; Saturday, April 2, 2022: Old Belvedere 29 City of Armagh 37, Ollie Campbell Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win
MALONE (9th) v HIGHFIELD (6th), Gibson Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: LLWLLL; Highfield: WWLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 42; Tries: Dan Kerr 3; Highfield: Points: Cian Bohane 25; Tries: Cian Bohane 5
Preview: Malone have some ground to make up after failing to pick up a point from their last block of three league matches. They have been boosted this week by the availability of Ulster’s David Shanahan, Declan Moore and Gareth Milasinovich.
All three start, with Malone head coach Josh Pentland, who also brings in James McAlister, Jack McMurtry and Nathan Brown, saying: “In all those recent games we arguably should have got something, but that’s 1B rugby and we’re aware of the need to fix these (areas of concern) fast.”
Highfield won 20-17 in Belfast thirteen months ago, and they make the return trip on the back of a winning display against ‘Belvo. Head coach Conor Quaid has selected an unchanged squad, including the five-try Cian Bohane at outside centre.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 30, 2021: Malone 17 Highfield 20, Gibson Park; Saturday, March 5, 2022: Highfield 29 Malone 13, Woodleigh Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (2nd) v BUCCANEERS (1st), Templeville Road
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LWLWWW; Buccaneers: LWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Mick O’Gara 68; Tries: Hugo Conway, Conor Hickey 5 each; Buccaneers: Points: Michael Hanley 48; Tries: Josh O’Connor 3
Preview: Another big test of both teams’ title credentials. Table toppers Buccaneers make the trip on the back of five straight wins, and Sean Cronin’s ever-improving St. Mary’s outfit are not far behind with four in the last five rounds.
Ronan Foley returns at number 8, with captain Ronan Watters reverting to blindside flanker, in an otherwise unchanged Mary’s line-up. Buccaneers last visited Templeville Road for a league clash four years ago, when two penalty tries helping Mary’s to triumph 34-32.
The Pirates have lost hooker Shane Delahunt to the Connacht bench, but they still have a strong provincial contingent to call on. They were ruthless in attack and watertight in defence against UCC, high standards that Eddie O’Sullivan will want to maintain.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 24, 2018: St. Mary’s College 34 Buccaneers 32, Templeville Road; Saturday, February 23, 2019: Buccaneers 24 St. Mary’s College 17, Dubarry Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
UCC (3rd) v OLD WESLEY (5th), the Mardyke, 3pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: UCC: WWWWLL; Old Wesley: WLLWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: Daniel Squires 39; Tries: Sean Condon 4; Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 45; Tries: David Poff 3
Preview: This is a repeat of the 2019 promotion play-off final, which UCC won 41-19 to stay in the top flight. Michael Bradley’s current crop are itching to right the wrongs of two disappointing performances in losing to both Naas (26-21) and Buccaneers (29-0).
Emeka Asiegbu, who played underage rugby at Cobh Pirates with Munster’s Edwin Edogbo, steps up for his All-Ireland League debut on the left wing. There are three changes to the UCC pack with Luke McAuliffe, Dan McCarthy and Sam O’Sullivan getting the nod.
Openside flanker Will Fay is promoted from the bench as Old Wesley’s only change from their three-try triumph over Malone. Former UCC players Alex Molloy and Eoin Monahan are returning to the Mardyke in Wesley colours.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 17, 2018: Old Wesley 19 UCC 22, Donnybrook; Saturday, May 4, 2019: Promotion Play-Off Final – UCC 41 Old Wesley 19, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win