Buccaneers are on course to be Christmas number one in Division 1B, although Banbridge are hoping to derail them. Elsewhere, top four rivals Old Wesley and St. Mary’s College clash in the evening kick-off.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 1B – ROUND 8:
Saturday, December 3
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BUCCANEERS (1st) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Dubarry Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LWWWWWW; Banbridge: LWLLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Michael Hanley 48; Tries: Josh O’Connor 3; Banbridge: Points: James Humphreys 41; Tries: Ben Carson, Robin Sinton 3 each
Preview: Having held close challengers St. Mary’s College try-less, Buccaneers’ next task sees them hosting a Banbridge side battling to climb out of the bottom two. Captain Martin Staunton is set to return to the front row for Buccs.
Connacht’s Ciaran Booth could also be available again following injury. The Pirates can expect a tough battle in the back row given Banbridge are set to start Ulster duo David McCann and Greg Jones in the loose forwards.
Bann have had some notable changes off the pitch with Rob Logan their new head coach and Marc Eadie now director of rugby. Eadie commented: “It was always going to be a very tight league, but that win (over Naas) will have done the lads a power of good. I think we can look forward to more wins like last Saturday’s.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 13, 2018: Banbridge 24 Buccaneers 0, Rifle Park; Saturday, April 6, 2019: Buccaneers 20 Banbridge 24, Dubarry Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
CITY OF ARMAGH (2nd) v NAAS (8th), Palace Grounds
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: WLWLWWW; Naas: LLLWWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 45; Tries: James McCormick 5; Naas: Points: Andrew Osborne 35; Tries: Andrew Osborne 7
Preview: Another nail-biting finish could be in the offing, as there was only a point to spare on both occasions when City of Armagh and Naas traded away wins last season. The Cobras are chasing a much-needed victory after losing to St. Mary’s College and Bann.
Matt Stapleton, Sam Cahill, Oscar Cawley and Cillian Dempsey are back in the Naas starting XV, while Armagh pair Andrew Willis and Ulster’s Shea O’Brien together in midfield. Michael McDonald and Frank Bradshaw Ryan both start, with Ulster Academy hooker James McCormick held in reserve.
Although pleased with a run of three straight wins and their climb into second place, Armagh head coach Chris Parker said: “I feel there is still much more in us in terms of performance and we have plenty to work on this week to prepare for Naas.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 20, 2021: Naas 17 City of Armagh 18, Forenaughts; Saturday, February 19, 2022: City of Armagh 20 Naas 21, Palace Grounds
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win
HIGHFIELD (6th) v UCC (5th), Woodleigh Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WWLLLWL; UCC: WWWWLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Highfield: Points: Cian Bohane 29; Tries: Cian Bohane 5; UCC: Points: Daniel Squires 44; Tries: Sean Condon 5
Preview: A mouth-watering Cork derby and the first time for Highfield and UCC to meet in the All-Ireland League since October 2013. Both sides suffered defeat last week, with the Cork students’ Colours match not going to plan for them against Old Wesley.
Winger Sean Condon’s fifth try of the season was UCC’s highlight. Billy Kiernan is handed the reins at out-half for Saturday’s trip to Highfield, and Rory Duggan, Mark Bissessar and Jack O’Sullivan are the three changes to the pack.
Cian Bohane, Highfield’s leading points and try scorer this season, moves to out-half where he partners former captain Chris Banon. Like Banon, forwards Travis Coomey and Sean Garrett are also promoted from the bench. Munster’s James French lines out at tighthead prop.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 15, 2012: Highfield 9 UCC 14, Woodleigh Park; Friday, October 25, 2013: UCC 15 Highfield 7, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Highfield to win
OLD BELVEDERE (7th) v MALONE (10th), Ollie Campbell Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WLWLWLL; Malone: LLWLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Kale Thatcher 25; Tries: Kale Thatcher 5; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 52; Tries: Dan Kerr 3
Preview: Joe White, Ariel Robles and Josh Pyper combine in a freshened-up back-three for Old Belvedere. David Wilkinson reverts to the out-half role, and captain James Bollard returns to a ‘Belvo pack looking to bounce back from last week’s reversal at Armagh.
Ben Manion’s charges will be wary of a Malone side that accounted for Highfield last time out. They may be bottom of the table, but with Rory Campbell in reliable scoring form, the Belfast outfit will be hoping to take another step forward ahead of next week’s derby against Armagh.
Belvedere won both fixtures last season and their Kiwi number 8 Kale Thatcher will be gunning for more tries. Having taken his tally to five in seven rounds, he will be a marked man by Malone who have conceded an average of 31.7 points per game so far.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 16, 2021: Old Belvedere 32 Malone 10, Ollie Campbell Park; Saturday, March 26, 2022: Malone 29 Old Belvedere 42, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
OLD WESLEY (4th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (3rd), Energia Park, 5pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WLLWLWW; St. Mary’s College: LWLWWWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 55; Tries: David Poff, Alex Molloy 3 each; St. Mary’s College: Points: Mick O’Gara 77; Tries: Hugo Conway, Conor Hickey 5 each
Preview: Former skipper Tom O’Reilly slots in at tighthead prop in the only change to the St. Mary’s team that lost 23-9 to table toppers Buccaneers. This match-up brings together the division’s leading two scorers – Mary’s centre Mick O’Gara (77 points) and Old Wesley out-half Ian Cassidy (55).
With no fresh injuries, Old Wesley head coach Morgan Lennon has been able to name an unchanged matchday squad. They are chasing their third win on the trot after a three-try display away to former leaders UCC last Saturday.
Some of the division’s most dangerous backs will be hoping to dazzle under the Donnybrook floodlights. Wesley’s David Poff and Alex Molloy have run in three tries each so far, while Hugo Conway and Conor Hickey, with 10 tries between them, carry most of the threat in the Mary’s back-three.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 9, 2021: St. Mary’s College 18 Old Wesley 20, Templeville Road; Saturday, April 2, 2022: Old Wesley 22 St. Mary’s College 15, Energia Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win