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Lansdowne face battle in Clontarf to remain top and all of the weekend's AIL previews

There’s a Limerick derby in Dooradoyle while fourth-place Con face a tricky trip to Athlone.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ulster Bank League 

Friday, 7.30pm kick-offs unless stated

AIL Division 1A

Clontarf (3rd) v Lansdowne (1st), Castle Avenue, Friday, 7.30pm

WITH TEAMS JOCKEYING for position in the top four, tonight’s tussle at Castle Avenue 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 fixture 12-3, but given their current form, Ruddock’s side will take some dislodging from top spot.

Ian Prendiville dejected after the game Ian Prendeville laments Lansdowne's defeat in the same fixture last year Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Garryowen (5th) v Young Munster (6th), Dooradoyle, tonight, 7.30pm

Limerick bragging rights in the top flight are up for grabs tonight as Garryowen, fresh from giving Lansdowne a tough test, 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 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, but expect defences to be on top in a battle royal at Dooradoyle.

St. Mary’s College (8th) v Dublin University (9th), Templeville Road, tonight, 7.30pm

IT HAS BEEN a chastening couple of weeks for St. Mary’s, who have leaked a combined 84 points to Lansdowne and Young Munster and fallen to eighth overall.

Poor tackling and a lack of intensity was evident in Mary’s 55-7 loss to Munsters, but tonight’s floodlit tie gives them an ideal opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Although Trinity were held try-less by Cork Constitution last Saturday, going down 28-3, they do 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.

A general view of St. Mary's College RFC St. Mary's College RFC Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Terenure College (2nd) v UCD (7th), Lakelands Park, tonight, 7.30pm

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 and Ireland Sevens action. Second-placed Terenure would definitely 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.

Buccaneers (10th) v Cork Constitution (4th), Dubarry Park, Saturday, 2.30pm

Picking up their first league point at Terenure was a small victory for Buccaneers, giving them a foot on the ladder ahead of the visit of defending champions Cork Constitution.

The Buccs pack could be bolstered tomorrow by Cian Romaine, who is back from suspension, Dan Law and Paul Boyle, while the form of top scorers Luke Carty (38 points) and Rory O’Connor (4 tries) enhances the Pirates’ chances of springing a surprise.

However, with ex-Bucc Conor Kindregan in their engine room, Cork Con will be well aware of what lies ahead in Athlone. The Leesiders beat Buccs in the 2015 and 2017 Bateman Cup semi-finals, and were 47-7 winners in the clubs’ last league encounter at Temple Hill back in January 2009.

Conor Kindregan Con's Conor Kindregan lines out against his former side in Athlone Source: James Crombie/INPHO

DIVISION 1B:

UCC (5th) v Dolphin (10th), the Mardyke, tonight, 7.30pm

TWO FORMER DOLPHIN favourites, Cian Bohane and Ryan Murphy, will line out for UCC against their old club in an eagerly-awaited Friday Night Lights derby in Cork.

It was one away win apiece last season, but the students, under new head coach Brian Walsh, look stronger this term with centres Bohane and Murray Linn scoring six tries between them so far.

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, tonight, 8pm

Second-placed Ballynahinch’s visit to Ballymena tops the bill as one of five Ulster derbies in the league this weekend. The Braidmen are 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 side on paper with Ulster’s Jonny Simpson, David Busby, Aaron Cairns, Johnny McPhillips and Jack Regan set to be involved.

Aaron Cairns celebrates his try Ballynahinch's Aaron Cairns Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Naas (6th) v Shannon (1st), Forenaughts, Saturday, 2pm

Shannon are sitting pretty, armed with a seven-point lead at the top of the table, but this could be a close encounter tomorrow if Naas manage to find top gear again.

Johne Murphy’s men were devastated to come away with nothing from Ballynahinch last week, having had the lion’s share of possession and territory. A frustrating fourth defeat in a row.

With a fine rendition of ‘There is an Isle’ afterwards, Shannon were near pitch-perfect in dismissing Banbridge 33-14. 20-year-old out-half Conor Fitzgerald is emerging as the division’s most consistent scorer (78 points), while their maul – with Munster’s Duncan Casey at the helm – takes some stopping.

Banbridge (3rd) v Old Belvedere (4th), Rifle Park, Saturday, 2.30pm

FOR THIS TOP-four meeting between Division 1B’s two newcomers this season, Banbridge welcome back captain Ian Porter and his brother John, fit-again winger, into the back-line.

Bann’s first league defeat since January – a 19-point reversal at Shannon – is unlikely to unsettle them, but Old Belvedere, who are unbeaten in four games, will target the maul and look to get the best out of Daniel Riordan and Shane McDonald out wide.

Bann boss Daniel Soper, who has the likes of Ulster’s Robert Lyttle and Greg Jones available again this week, said: “We’re still in a good position, one that we’re delighted to be in at this stage. Our back-line will probably be the strongest it’s been all season, on Saturday.”

Shane McDonald with Shane Daly Shane McDonald of Belvo in action away to Cork Con last year Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

UL Bohemians (9th) v Old Wesley (8th), University of Limerick 4G pitch, Saturday, 2.30pm

These sides played out two very entertaining, high-scoring matches last season, with home wins for both. Sitting ninth and eighth in the table is certainly not where either want to be, currently.

UL Bohemians can take positives from their second half performance against Old Belvedere. Flanker James Ryan has been doing his best to inspire them with four tries in his last five outings.

Old Wesley are looking to back up their maiden victory of the campaign against Dolphin. Jack Maybury and Tommy O’Callaghan were two of their try scorers last Saturday – the back-three pair have now touched down three times in as many games.

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