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Tantalising rematch between Limerick's play-off rivals the pick of the AIL action this weekend

Shannon and Garryowen square off once more while leaders Cork Con travel to Young Munster and UCC entertain Lansdowne.

Updated Jan 25th 2019, 6:45 PM

All-Ireland League Division 1A
(Kick-off Saturday, 2.30pm unless stated)

A general view of Thomond Park ahead of the game The play-off race will heat up in the AIL this weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Shannon (5th) v Garryowen (4th), Thomond Park, tonight, 8pm

SHANNON HAVE COMPLETED a hard-earned double over UCD since being edged out by Garryowen in a nail-biting finish at Dooradoyle in early December. Winning this eagerly-awaited rematch would give a huge boost to their play-off ambitions.

They will be wary of a Garryowen side smarting from their own late loss to UCC last Saturday. Their maul continues to be a big weapon with Liam Cronin and Diarmuid Barron popping up with regular tries. Munster’s Alex Wootton, Liam Coombes and Jack Daly all come in as starters tonight.

This is Shannon’s first time to host the Light Blues in a league fixture since December 2014, and a big night for Ben Daly less than a week on from his senior debut at out-half. Ikem Ugwueru, Pa Ryan and Ger Finucane are the changes behind the scrum, with Sean Walsh and Luke Clohessy added to the pack.

Dublin University (7th) v Clontarf (3rd), College Park

James Hickey tackled by Matt D’Arcy Dublin University's James Hickey is tackled by Clontarf's Matt D'Arcy during the corresponding fixture. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

This is a tricky time for both of these clubs as players juggle provincial and international commitments. Promising second row Jack Dunne’s call-up to the Leinster bench this week is ‘an opportunity he’s worked extremely hard for and deserves’, according to Trinity captain Colm Hogan.

The students’ defence completely capitulated against Lansdowne, leaking an eye-watering 10 tries. They will dust themselves off to chase a prized double over Clontarf. Centre James Hickey, who impressed with his hard running last Saturday, scored their lone try in last month’s 16-12 defeat of ‘Tarf.

The north Dubliners have developed a nine-point lead over play-off rivals Garryowen in fourth, and will not want to let that slip. With three tries in the last four rounds, their former captain Matt D’Arcy is hitting good form ahead of the Ireland Club team’s clash with Scotland in Edinburgh next week.

Terenure College (10th) v UCD (6th), Lakelands Park

A view of a scrum Joy Neville oversees a scrum during Terenure's game with Dublin University earlier this season. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Joe Schmidt’s son Tim will start at fullback for Terenure College tomorrow afternoon, replacing their top try scorer Matthew Byrne (6 tries) as they look to halt their six-match losing streak. They take on UCD for the inaugural Eddie Thornton Memorial Trophy.

Two changes in the ‘Nure pack see Tiarnan Creagh and Matthew Caffrey added to the tight five, with the recently returned Harrison Brewer reverting to the back row. They were held try-less by the students when they met at Belfield last month.

Since that 31-3 victory, UCD have lost back-to-back games to Shannon with an aggregate margin of just five points. Half-backs Matthew Gilsenan and Paddy Patterson and flanker Jonny Guy return to the starting XV for this round 11 tie.

UCC (9th) v Lansdowne (2nd), the Mardyke

James Taylor celebrates scoring a try with Mark Bissesar UCC will be looking to fight their way out of the bottom two, but face a tough test in second-placed Lansdowne. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Having rested some players for their pre-Christmas encounter, UCC are back to near full-strength for Lansdowne’s first league trip to the Mardyke in seven years. Last week’s deserved win over Garryowen has the students on the cusp of breaking out of the bottom two.

Winger Michael Clune is promoted from the bench to replace Murray Linn in UCC’s only change. Their back row, led by captain Daire Feeney, is growing in influence as a unit, with number eight Ryan Murphy’s try tally now standing at six.

A fourth successive match against a student side for Lansdowne, who trounced Trinity 66-33 last Saturday and put 31 points on UCC last month. Tom Roche replaces Connacht call-up Tom Daly at inside centre, while Joe O’Brien slots back in at blindside flanker and Jack O’Sullivan covers Oisin Dowling’s absence in the second row.

Young Munster (8th) v Cork Constitution (1st), Liam Clifford Park

Luke Cahill celebrates Con's Luke Cahill celebrates after the Cork club's Munster Senior Cup success over Munsters in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Young Munster’s performance level was where head coach Gearoid Prendergast wanted it last Saturday, but the result eluded them at Clontarf. The concession of an intercept try and another from an opportunist kick let them down at Castle Avenue.

It has been seven rounds without a win for the Cookies and they have lost Calvin Nash and Gavin Coombes to the Munster bench tomorrow. They are joined in Newport by Cork Constitution front rowers Kevin O’Byrne and Liam O’Connor who impressed in last week’s 28-5 dismissal of Terenure.

Although Con were not at their best in that game, their enviable ability to turn it on and score at will saw them canter clear. Their Ireland Club XV contingent, including newly-announced captain Niall Kenneally, will want to sign off on a winning note ahead of the start of the Dalriada Cup series with Scotland.

All-Ireland League Division 1B
(Kick-off Saturday, 2.30pm unless stated)

Ballynahinch (6th) v Ballymena (10th), Ballymacarn Park

Two of the losing sides from the last meet with most of the pressure on Ballymena, who have fallen to bottom spot after losing at home to Buccaneers (20-16). Including a pre-season friendly, this will be their fifth meeting with Ballynahinch of the current season.

They can take confidence from recent wins over ‘Hinch in both the league (18-10) and Ulster Senior Cup (22-20), but they need to cut down on the handling errors and set piece issues which cost them against Buccs. Stephen Mulholland comes in for Ulster’s Clive Ross at number 8.

Zack McCall, Aaron Hall and Jack Regan are among the provincial contingent at ‘Hinch’s disposal. They have been getting the best out of Ross Adair in midfield, with the former Ulster back gunning for his fourth try in five rounds and a return to winning ways.

Banbridge (4th) v St Mary’s College (7th), Rifle Park

That was much more like it from Banbridge in last week’s 32-15 win at City of Armagh, with Robert Lyttle, who is on Ulster’s bench this weekend, to the fore. They also received positive news regarding top scorer Adam Doherty’s groin injury.

Robert Lyttle Robert Lyttle wearing Ireland U20 colours in 2017. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

St Mary’s slipped from first to seventh, having gone down heavily to Old Wesley (41-15). Things unravelled before half-time with a costly yellow card followed by the concession of two tries. Hugo Conway came off the bench to score his third try of the campaign.

Craving a consistent run, Bann boss Simon McKinstry said: “We were solid across the pitch (against Armagh) and hopefully we’ll start producing a few more performances like that. We’re going to have to match that display if we’re to stay in contention in what is an unbelievably tight league.”

Buccaneers (9th) v Old Belvedere (8th), Dubarry Park

Back-to-back wins have proven beyond Buccaneers so far, but they are beginning to play with more consistency and sharpness. Last week’s 20-16 success at Ballymena was a confidence booster for Peter O’Donnell’s Pirates, lifting them off the bottom rung in the process.

They have unfinished business with Old Belvedere after Luke Carty’s last-minute missed drop goal saw the Dubliners triumph 11-10 in December’s first meeting. Although Joe Maksymiw is required by Connacht, Buccs should field a strong side with captain Shane Layden hunting his fourth try in three matches.

Former Buccs Ben Carty and Daniel Riordan are part of the travelling Belvedere squad, who had pacy winger Jack Keating back on the scoresheet last week with his sixth and seventh league tries. Winger Fergus Flood and scrum half Peter O’Beirne are the two changes to the side that lost 20-18 to Naas.

Naas (3rd) v City of Armagh (5th), Forenaughts

Injuries to their centres and a poor lineout return hampered City of Armagh against Banbridge. They head to Forenaughts determined to bounce back, with backs Evin Crummie and Chris Cousens their only personnel changes.

Chris Cousens lines up a kick City of Armagh's Chris Cousens. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

As the table shows, any team is capable of taking points on the road in this division, and third-placed Naas will be doing their utmost to avoid a third straight home defeat. Last week’s narrow win at ‘Belvo saw centre Andy Ellis notch his seventh try of the campaign.

Versatile back Peter Osborne also started the calendar year in terrific kicking form, landing five penalties to take his league haul to 89 points. As the race for promotion continues to hot up, the boots of Osborne and Armagh out-half Cormac Fox will becoming increasingly important.

Old Wesley (2nd) v Malone (1st), Energia Park, Donnybrook

Only scoring difference separates Malone from Old Wesley at the top of the table. This visit of the Cregagh Red Sox to the capital gives in-form Wesley the opportunity to add to their four previous wins over Ulster opposition.

Those results include last month’s 16-12 success at Gibson Park, while Morgan Lennon’s men kicked off 2019 with a dominant 41-15 victory at St Mary’s. Reliable fullback Rory Stynes’ 16 points from the tee make him the division’s top scorer currently with 93 points.

Malone returned to winning ways at home to ‘Hinch – 15-8 – and make three changes up front for the Dublin clash, bringing in forwards Ben Halliday, Ross Kane and Matthew Dalton with the latter two boosting their Ulster contingent in the starting XV to six.

Just over a week out from the 2019 Six Nations openers, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look at Ireland’s bid for another Grand Slam:


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