Ulster Bank AIL Division 1A/1B previews
(2.30pm unless stated) TODAY
DIVISION 1A CLONTARF (6th) v BUCCANEERS (9th), Castle Avenue: Clontarf severely underperformed in last week’s 51-17 trouncing by Garryowen. A dose of home comforts should get them back on track this afternoon, but Buccaneers are no pushovers. The Pirates lost their grip on a 24-13 lead against Young Munster, their luckless threematch run not even netting them a bonus point. Flanker Dan Law is their main injury concern this week. Two of the top-flight’s leading try scorers will be on show at Castle Avenue — Matt D’arcy and Rory O’connor (three each) — and you would have to back rangy centre D’arcy to drive ’Tarf back to winning ways.
TERENURE COLLEGE (1st) v GARRYOWEN (3rd), Lakelands Park: A new season and it is very much a ‘new’ Terenure. Three straight wins, including last week’s derby victory over St Mary’s, has them already halfway to matching their 2016/17 total. James Blaney will have their feet firmly planted on the ground, though, as Garryowen are also in flying form. They put a combined 80 points on Buccs and Clontarf at home, but their task now is to win on their travels. Two players who have been crucial to these clubs’ strong starts are half-backs Mark O’neill, who has kicked 25 points for ’Nure and orchestrated some telling moves, and Neil Cronin whose 26-point haul for the Light Blues last Saturday gave a reminder of his versatile talent. YOUNG MUNSTER (7th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (10th), Tom Clifford Park: Buoyed by their second-half fightback against Buccaneers, which was crowned by a Gavin Coombes try, Young Munster will have revenge on their minds against Dublin University. Trinity were the only club to do the double over Munsters last year, but a combination of injuries and players moving on means their director of rugby Tony Smeeth is without a large chunk of that winning squad. The students are still capable of moments of magic — witness Michael Silvester’s 80-metre wonder try against Lansdowne last week — but the Cookies should have too much for them as they look to make it two wins from four. DIVISION 1B. BALLYNAHINCH (4th) v UL BOHEMIANS (6th), Ballymacarn Park: Ulster U19 captain Claytan Milligan, who made his senior debut for Ballynahinch last week, is to continue at hooker for the visit of UL Bohemians to Ballymacarn Park today. Tighthead Jonny Simpson, 27, is the elder statesman in a ’Hinch front five which also includes Campbell Classon, last year’s Wesley College skipper, and Ireland U20capped duo John Donnan and Jack Regan. Munster half-back James Hart made an immediate impact on his UL Bohemians debut last week and his availability could make or break Bohs’ bid for a third win over ’Hinch in the space of 12 months.
NAAS (2nd) v UCC (7th), Forenaughts: The ever-versatile Fionn Carr and Ross Bailey-kearney, who touched down twice against Banbridge, are set to pair up at centre for Naas’s round-4 match against UCC this afternoon. Following last week’s 42-35 loss at Bann, Naas player-coach Johne Murphy returns at out-half and Connacht prop Dominic Robertson-mccoy is set for some gametime off the bench. Winless UCC could do with a change of luck after being pipped by ’Belvo in the previous round. They will need a big shift from young half-backs James Taylor and John Poland, who come up against the wily Murphy and Max Whittingham. SHANNON (1st) v DOLPHIN (9th), Thomond Park: A second Munster derby for Shannon to finish off the league’s first block of fixtures, and with home advantage, they should make it four wins from four. Having won recently in Ballymena, Thomond Park will hold no fear for secondfrom-bottom Dolphin, who are always capable of negating home advantage, especially with Barry Keeshan and Munster prop Brian Scott in the team. Nonetheless, Tom Hayes’ table-topping Shannon side are a tough nut to crack when their confidence is up. Munster Academy scrum-half Jack Stafford and sub-academy lock Ronan Coffey are growing in influence.
TOMORROW. LANSDOWNE (2nd) v CORK CONSTITUTION (4th), Aviva Stadium back pitch: Division 1A’s third Leinster v Munster club clash of the weekend has been moved to tomorrow afternoon to accommodate today’s big Guinness PRO14 derby at headquarters. Cork Constitution have developed a fondness for the Aviva Stadium’s all-weather back pitch, having won twice there last season, including the semi-final, on the way to becoming champions in May. Lansdowne will certainly feel that they owe Con one. They put eight tries on Trinity last time out and have the firepower, including the inaugural UBL try-of-the-month winner Daniel Mcevoy, to put an early dent in the Leesiders’ title defence.