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Cookies aiming to make amends at Clontarf and all of the weekend's AIL previews

All of your Division 1A and 1B previews are right here.

Image: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Ulster Bank League

Saturday, 2:30pm kick-offs unless stated

AIL DIVISION 1A

Clontarf (4th) v Young Munster (6th), Castle Avenue

LANSDOWNE’S CLINICAL ATTACK was too much for Clontarf three weeks ago. How they bounce back from that stinging 38-8 defeat will tell a lot about ‘Tarf’s ambitions for the rest of the season. There is no need to panic, though.

Back-to-back home matches offer Andy Wood’s men an ideal opportunity to strengthen their position in the top four, although Young Munster will have other ideas. The Cookies will bring plenty of fire from the south, determined to avenge November’s 23-22 loss to ‘Tarf.

Their return to Castle Avenue will also bring back bad memories of last April’s semi-final when their team selection was hampered by a British & Irish Cup fixture clash. Hooker Ger Slattery remains a vital cog up front for the Limerick men, crossing for his fourth try of the campaign in their recent 25-0 derby win over Garryowen.

Mark Sutton and Gavin Ryan Mark Sutton and Gavin Ryan clash during last year's Division 1A semi-final between 'Tarf and Munsters Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Garryowen (5th) v Dublin University (8th), Dooradoyle

There were contrasting fortunes for these clubs in the last round, as Garryowen fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of Young Munster, and the return of Jack McDermott at out-half helped Dublin University overcome St. Mary’s on a 25-10 scoreline.

The Light Blues remain well in the hunt for a semi-final spot, and their capturing of the Munster Senior Cup title last week will certainly boost confidence levels. The next week is crucial for Garryowen’s league ambitions with both Trinity and leaders Lansdowne visiting Dooradoyle.

Losing four players to the Ireland U20 squad, including seven-try full-back Michael Silvester (the division’s joint-top try scorer), will really test Trinity’s strength in depth. However, if they can reach the heights they hit against Mary’s, the students could run Conan Doyle’s charges close.

St. Mary’s College (9th) v Cork Constitution (2nd), Templeville Road

Mary’s have some obvious aspects of their game to improve after their defence leaked three tries to Dublin University and gave away too many penalties. They entered the New Year with a 12-man injury list, including talismanic back rower Caelan Doris who has a serious hamstring injury.

On the positive side, Sean Kearns, Richie Halpin and Nick McCarthy are all showing good form as Mary’s look to regroup and move away from relegation trouble. In addition, they should have beaten tomorrow’s opponents, Cork Constitution, at Temple Hill in November.

In a dramatic finish, a last-gasp penalty from Tomás Quinlan rescued a 21-19 win for Cork Con that day, and they have maneuvered themselves into second place since then. Their number 8 Luke Cahill has impressed of late, scoring and setting up tries against Buccaneers in the league and also touching down against Armagh in the Bateman Cup.

Luke Cahill of Cork Con Con's Luke Cahill Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Terenure College (3rd) v Lansdowne (1st), Lakelands Park

The Lansdowne juggernaut rolls on to Lakelands Park where hosts Terenure College have posted four wins out of five so far this season. ‘Nure’s recent form has been up and down, but Sam Coghlan Murray’s third try in as many games helped them overhaul UCD 31-26 in the last round.

As their unblemished 11-match record shows, Lansdowne have been the top flight’s most consistent performers and they were close to their best when serving up a 30-point defeat to Clontarf. As ever, Scott Deasy shone brightly at out-half, and he has contributed 133 of the leaders’ 329 points to date.

Mike Ruddock’s men, who have also qualified for the Bateman Cup final, will know they are in for a tough test after November’s bruising encounter with Terenure. A controversially-awarded try from winger Daniel McEvoy while Lansdowne were down to 13 men halted ‘Nure’s momentum in a 21-13 win for the headquarters club.

UCD (7th) v Buccaneers (10th), Belfield

UCD’s current four-match losing run began with a 19-13 reversal away to Buccaneers, and with the Athlone outfit visiting tomorrow for the return fixture, Andy Skehan’s youngsters will give it their all in pursuit of revenge.

Going down 31-26 to Terenure last time out, College were held scoreless in the second half while leaking an alarming 24 points. Attack-wise, captain Jamie Glynn has led by example with four tries, while teenage out-half Harry Byrne has also caught the eye on the way to earning Ireland Under-20 selection.

Bottom side Buccs have had some encouraging results against UCD, doing the double on them in 2012/13 and emerging as 19-13 victors in Athlone in November. Rory O’Connor, with his seventh try of the campaign, and skipper Shane Layden both crossed the whitewash that day and will be key men if the Pirates are to prevail at Belfield.

DIVISION 1B:

Naas (6th) v Old Belvedere (4th), Forenaughts, Friday, 7.30pm

This is a key fixture for both clubs, with Naas winless in the last two rounds and slipping into the bottom half of the table, while Old Belvedere’s back-to-back home wins over Ballymena and Banbridge have them in the top four.

Tim Foley’s late drop goal sealed a gritty comeback victory over Bann for Eddie O’Sullivan’s side, who had prop Omar Dahir sent off for punching before they came out on top in the final quarter. They will need to show that resilience again tonight.

Naas were well-beaten by ‘Belvo (28-10) back in November and Johne Murphy’s men will be hungry for revenge. They have been boosted by international recognition with prop Jordan Duggan included in the Ireland Under-20 squad and Paulie Tolofua and Fionn Higgins are both involved with the Ireland Club international panel.

Ballymena (8th) v Shannon (1st), Eaton Park

Having played for Ulster ‘A’ last week, Ireland international Luke Marshall is set to get further game-time tomorrow with Ballymena. Returning from an achilles injury, he is due to line out in the centre alongside Callum Patterson.

The Braidmen certainly need a boost after losing two games on the trot and the bottom two are now snapping at their heels. Ulster’s Andrew Warwick will also the strengthen their front row this weekend, although Brett Herron, Rodger and Adam McBurney are ruled out through injury.

Table-toppers Shannon, whose out-half Conor Fitzgerald continues to top the division’s scoring charts with 125 points, will have changes of their own. Their Ireland U20 call-up Ronan Coffey is unavailable this weekend, while former Munster hooker Duncan Casey, who has scored four tries this season for Shannon, has departed for pastures anew in France.

Conor Fitzgerald Shannon out-half Conor Fitzgerald in B&I Cup action for Munster A Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ballynahinch (2nd) v UCC (5th), Ballymacarn Park

Ballynahinch trail leaders Shannon by just four points and they will want to make it six matches unbeaten at home when they host fellow promotion hopefuls UCC, who sit just a point outside of the top four at present.

‘Hinch will have some notable absentees tomorrow with top scorer Johnny McPhillips (83 points) and Peter Browne not released by Ulster, while Jack Regan and Aaron Hall are with the Ireland U-20s. However, Aaron Cairns, Zack McCall and Rory Butler will feature after helping Ulster ‘A’ through to the British & Irish Cup quarter-finals.

UCC started 2018 with a body-blow, losing their derby clash with Dolphin 12-9. Head coach Brian Walsh will have his troops primed for a stronger showing up north, particularly in attack as they have only scored one try in their last 160 minutes of rugby.

Aaron Cairns celebrates his try Aaron Cairns will feature for 'Hinch this weekend Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Banbridge (3rd) v Old Wesley (7th), Rifle Park

Banbridge boss Daniel Soper will demand a full 80-minute performance from his side after their failure to put 14-man Old Belvedere away last time out. Their third defeat of the campaign saw them lose ground in the promotion race.

Bann, who have club captain Adam Ervine back from injury and Mike Bentley out of retirement, face Dublin opposition again tomorrow with Old Wesley their round 12 visitors. Only a point separated the sides when they met at Donnybrook in November – Jack Maybury’s 11-point kicking haul proved crucial for Wesley in a 21-20 victory.

However, Morgan Lennon’s men are in the midst of a three-match losing streak and are a full 12 points behind the top four. This is a must-win game if they are to reel in the clubs currently above them. Two of the division’s leading try scorers will take to the pitch tomorrow – Bann centre Andrew Morrison and Wesley winger Tommy O’Callaghan have both touched down six times so far.

UL Bohemians (9th) v Dolphin (10th), University of Limerick 4G pitch

This is a hugely significant clash for these relegation-threatened Munster rivals. They both began 2018 on a winning note, with UL Bohemians edging out Old Wesley 17-15 in the capital, while Barry Keeshan booted all 12 points – including two drop goals – in Dolphin’s derby success at home to UCC.

Bohs gave a very good account of themselves in last week’s Munster Senior Cup final against Garryowen, and the final scoreline of 18-3 was not a true reflection of a closely-fought game. Christy Neilan’s side will have to lift themselves again for this must-win league tie.

Dolphin won the corresponding fixture 16-10 last season but were beaten 13-6 at home by UL in November. Another tight tussle looks likely here and it may come down to the respective boots of Robbie Bourke and Dolphin assistant coach Keeshan, whose All-Ireland League record now stands at an incredible 1684 points.

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