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Lansdowne aim to return to form while revenge for Ballynahinch will keep them in top spot

Your AIL Division 1A and 1B previews.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE

DIVISION 1A: Saturday, February 17

Kick-off 2:30pm unless stated

Harry Brennan Harry Brennan (left) will be keen to see Lansdowne return to winning ways tonight Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

LANSDOWNE (1st) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (8th)
Aviva Stadium back pitch, tonight, 7.30pm

It will be interesting to see how leaders Lansdowne rebound tonight after losing their 12-match unbeaten record to Garryowen. A St. Mary’s side still scrapping for their Division 1A lives are a tough proposition.

26 points was the margin when these sides last met in October, and Lansdowne will be eager to get back into bonus point form with Harry Brennan and Daniel McEvoy – two of their four Ireland Club XV representatives – hungry for scores.

St. Mary’s captain Ciaran Ruddock and club-mates Tom O’Reilly and Darren Moroney, who are all pencilled in to start tonight, will also be on international duty against Scotland next week.

TERENURE COLLEGE (3rd) v CLONTARF (5th)
Lakelands Park, tonight, 7.30pm

It is difficult to split these sides on current form, with two wins and two defeats each in the last four rounds. Terenure struggled against bottom side Buccaneers but turned things around with three second-half tries.

Captain Robbie Smyth, one of five Terenure men in the Ireland Club squad, is chasing his third try in as many games and fifth across the season. Matt Byrne and Tim Schmidt are set to come in as changes to the back-line tonight.

With five rounds to go and ‘Nure three points better off, Clontarf need a big performance and result under the Lakelands floodlights if they want to stay in the hunt for a semi-final spot. Adrian D’Arcy returns at openside for the visitors.

DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (9th) v BUCCANEERS (10th)
College Park

There is a huge amount riding on the result of this basement battle. Bottom side Buccaneers could close the gap on Trinity to two or three points, whereas a win for the students would push the Pirates closer to automatic relegation.

Trinity really need to sharpen up in defence after leaking six tries at Cork Constitution two weeks ago and seven to Garryowen last Saturday. Martin Kelly and Tom Ryan come in at tighthead and number 8 respectively, in personnel changes.

Buccs can certainly take a lot of positives from their first half display against Terenure in an eventual 24-20 defeat. Tomorrow they welcome back top-scoring winger Rory O’Connor (seven tries), although impressive lock Peter Claffey misses out through injury.

UCD (7th) v GARRYOWEN (4th)
Belfield Bowl

Having beaten table toppers Lansdowne and Dublin University at home over in the last fortnight, Garryowen are now tasked with taking that enviable winning form on the road.

David Johnston, who bagged a brace of tries against Trinity last week, and Liam Coombes are neck and neck in the try-scoring stakes with seven each. UCD’s ten bonus points have kept them away from the relegation scrap, but they really need to find some consistency.

College have only beaten Trinity and Buccaneers at home so far this season, and Ireland Sevens training will impact on their selection this weekend. They are also without versatile back Ciaran Frawley who is poised to make his senior debut for Leinster against the Scarlets.

Neil Cronin kicks a conversion Neil Cronin starred in Garryowen's victory over Lansdowne Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

YOUNG MUNSTER (6th) v CORK CONSTITUTION (2nd)
Tom Clifford Park

Young Munster are back on home turf after road wins at Clontarf and St. Mary’s. A fifth straight victory would boost their play-off hopes further, while also denting Cork Constitution’s challenge for a home semi-final.

Second-placed Con will need no reminding that they have lost their last three matches against Munsters, including October’s meeting at Temple Hill where Shane Airey kicked a last-minute winner to make 20-19 and captain Ben Kilkenny scored a stunning try of the year contender.

This match-up brings together two of the top flight’s best defences, although their attacks are also shaping up well for the run-in with six tries each in the last round, including braces from Munsters centre Evan O’Gorman and Con winger Rob Jermyn.

DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 17

Kick-off 2:30pm unless stated

SHANNON (2nd) v UL BOHEMIANS (8th)
Thomond Park, tonight, 7.30pm

Completing a season’s double over UL Bohemians would be an ideal way for Shannon to bounce back from two winless outings in the league, which have seen them knocked off the top of Division 1B.

Tony Cusack and Ronan Coffey, who made his Ireland Under-20 debut recently against France, are the two changes in the Shannon pack tonight. Captain Lee Nicholas reverts to the back row, with Kieran Dunne – a try scorer last time out against Banbridge – switching from wing to centre.

Bohs, who lost their home game with Shannon 27-22 in October, are unbeaten in 2018 with three wins from three. Their 34-19 dismissal of Old Belvedere last time out was particularly impressive, flanker James Ryan scoring his fifth try of the campaign. He is part of an unchanged Bohs packs this evening, with Adrian Enright and Matt McDonald added to the back-line.

Joe Murray UL Bohs scrum-half Joe Murray Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

BALLYMENA (9th) v NAAS (6th)
Eaton Park

A series of late cry-offs weakened the Ballymena selection considerably for their trip to UCC a fortnight ago and they ended up leaking eight tries and 58 points in a humbling defeat to the students.

Lying second from bottom, the Braidmen are set to be boosted tomorrow by the inclusion of Ulster’s Callum Patterson, David Shanahan, Marcus Rea, Clive Ross and Ross Kane for this must-win encounter with Naas. Rodger McBurney and Stephen Mulholland face late fitness tests.

There are four changes in personnel to the Naas side that lost 27-24 to new leaders Ballynahinch. Player-coach Johne Murphy returns in midfield, while Stephen Lackey, Warren Larkin and Paulie Tolofua – one of their three call-ups to the Ireland Club squad – all start in the pack.

BALLYNAHINCH (1st) v BANBRIDGE (3rd)
Ballymacarn Park

This Ulster derby looks like one to savour, with both sides very much still in title contention and pushing for automatic promotion to Division 1A. Ballynahinch have hit the summit following Richard Reaney’s late drop goal in a 27-24 victory at Naas.

‘Hinch will want to return the favour after losing 20-10 to Banbridge in October, and the Ulster contingent of Peter Browne, Peter Nelson, Aaron Cairns and Zack McCall could all see action in tomorrow afternoon’s rematch.

Talismanic captain Ian Porter is absent for Bann, and with Josh Cromie nursing a season-ending injury, Jason Gribben will get a rare start at scrum half. Young centre James Hume makes a welcome return following a six-month spell out with injury, while Conor Field is also back on the wing and Ulster have released forwards Eric O’Sullivan and Caleb Montgomery to get game-time.

James Simpson with Edward Kelly Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

OLD BELVEDERE (5th) v DOLPHIN (10th)
Anglesea Road

Old Belvedere have fallen out of the top four after disappointing losses on the road to Naas and UL Bohemians, leaking eight tries and over 60 points in the process.

Bottom side Dolphin will want to pounce on any further defensive lapses if ‘Belvo do not improve that aspect of their game. A repeat of October’s 38-10 bonus point win over the Cork club would do nicely for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men.

However, Dolphin, who drew with Old Wesley last time out, have picked up points in all bar one round since that ‘Belvo defeat before Halloween. Their survival hopes will hinge on improving their try-scoring rate – only twice have they scored more than one try in a game so far in the campaign.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 28, 2017: Dolphin 10 Old Belvedere 38, Irish Independent Park

OLD WESLEY (7th) v UCC (4th)
Donnybrook

Paul Kiernan UCC centre Paul Kiernan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A crunch fixture for his Old Wesley side before Morgan Lennon coaches the Ireland Club XV against Scotland at Dubarry Park next Friday night. Having lost their grip on a 13-6 lead at Dolphin two weeks ago, Wesley are now winless in the last five rounds.

Lennon’s charges have fallen back towards the relegation-threatened sides and must make the most of three home matches in the closing rounds, beginning with this visit of Brian Walsh’s UCC outfit.

The Cork students ran riot against an under-strength Ballymena side, getting back to winning ways in fine style with out-half James Taylor nabbing a try and 23 points in all. Another profitable afternoon in attack from standouts such as Paul ‘Chip Bai’ Kiernan would keep them on course for the play-offs.

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