Ulster Bank League: Tonight’s action
(7.30pm unless stated)
CLONTARF (3rd) v LANSDOWNE (1st), Castle Avenue: With teams jockeying for position in the top four, this will be good early season indicator of where two of the perennial title challengers are at. Both Andy Wood and Mike Ruddock continue to nurture young talent and give them opportunities at his level, with Clontarf’s Sean O’brien and Cormac Daly and Lansdowne’s Harry Brennan and Jack O’sullivan all impressing in recent rounds.
There are important Ulster Bank League points as well as the Leinster Senior League Cup trophy on the line tonight. ‘Tarf won last season’s corresponding Division 1A fixture 12-3, but given their current form, Ruddock’s side will take some dislodging from the top spot.
GARRYOWEN (5th) v YOUNG MUNSTER (6th), Dooradoyle: Limerick bragging rights in the top flight are up for grabs as Garryowen, fresh from giving Lansdowne a tough test in the capital, host resurgent Young Munster. The Light Blues could have Munster’s David Johnston back from a dead leg, while experienced hooker Mike Sherry continues to get game-time as part of rejuvenated Garryowen pack. With two wins in the past fortnight, Young Munster are beginning to motor. Captain Ben Kilkenny, Gavin Coombes and Daniel Hurley have each scored three tries in the last four rounds.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (8th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (9th), Templeville Road: Mary’s have leaked a staggering 84 points to Lansdowne and Young Munster and fallen to eighth overall. Poor tackling and a lack of intensity was evident in their 55-7 loss to Munsters. Although Trinity were held try-less by Cork Constitution last Saturday, going down 28-3, they seem to be on an upward curve. They could face three former players in the Mary’s line-up - Tim Maupin, Jack Dilger and Nick Mccarthy, who captained the students in their promotion-winning 2015/16 campaign.
TERENURE COLLEGE (2nd) v UCD (7th), Lakelands Park: Even if they are not getting results currently, UCD are staying competitive with three losing bonus points earned in the last four rounds. Andy Skehan’s selection should be strengthened this week with no provincial or Ireland Sevens action. Second-placed Terenure would gladly take a repeat of last year’s 31-24 home win over the students. ‘Nure’s South African prop Schalk Jooste, Alex Thompson and Sam Coghlan Murray caught the eye in their latest Lakelands triumph against Buccaneers. Top scorer Mark O’neill (59 points) should come back in after sitting out last week’s game.
UCC (5th) v DOLPHIN (10th), the Mardyke: Two former Dolphin favourites, Cian Bohane and Ryan Murphy, will line out for UCC against their old club in this eagerly-awaited Cork derby. It was one away win apiece last season, but the students, under new coach Brian Walsh, look stronger this term with centres Bohane and Murray Linn scoring six tries between them.
Dolphin are missing Barbarians’ debutant Brian Scott in the front row. Although they have only posted one win to date, Barry Keeshan and company are always dangerous in a one-off battle for local bragging rights. BALLYMENA (7th) v BALLYNAHINCH (2nd), Eaton Park, 8pm: Second-placed Ballynahinch’s visit to Ballymena tops the bills as one of five Ulster derbies in the league this weekend. The Braidmen have yet to win at home, going down to Dolphin, Banbridge and UCC. Ulster’s Clive Ross and Marcus Rea will start in Ballymena’s back row tonight, with Ireland Under-18 Sevens captain Angus Kernohan - the scorer of two tries against UCC - joined by the experienced Alan Smyth back at centre. Ballynahinch, who return to Eaton Park for next week’s Ulster Senior Cup semi-final, look the stronger team on paper with Ulster’s Jonny Simpson, David Busby, Aaron Cairns, Johnny Mcphillips and Jack Regan set to be involved.
Words: Dave Mervyn