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Table-toppers Lansdowne face Garryowen in classic clash and all of the weekend's AIL previews
All of your Ulster Bank League previews are right here.

Ulster Bank League

Saturday, 2.30pm kick-offs unless stated

AIL Division 1A:

Dublin University (9th) v Cork Constitution (6th), College Park

DUBLIN UNIVERSITY DIRECTOR of rugby Tony Smeeth has unsurprisingly kept faith with the vast majority of the side that overhauled Buccaneers last week with a strong two-try finish that netted their second successive win.

Billy O’Hora’s return on the left wing is the only change for the students. They should be prepared for an almighty scrap with the defending champions who are hurting from a last-minute loss to Young Munster – their third defeat in the only five rounds.

Cork Constitution won 30-10 when they visited College Park twelve months ago – current Munster prop Liam O’Connor was among their three try scorers that day. But head coach Brian Hickey will not be too concerned with the margin of victory tomorrow. He will just want a swift return a winning ways.

Lansdowne (1st) v Garryowen (3rd), Aviva Stadium back pitch

New leaders Lansdowne look the form team in the top flight at present, their 26 unanswered second half points against St. Mary’s a clear signal of their determination to win a third league title in six years.

Stephen Gardiner with Andrew O’Byrne Tommy Dickson; ©INPHO / Tommy Dickson/INPHO Action from last year's clash between Lansdowne and Garryowen. Tommy Dickson; ©INPHO / Tommy Dickson/INPHO / Tommy Dickson/INPHO

While Ireland Sevens international Adam Leavy scored two well-taken tries on his club debut, captain Ian Prendiville and fellow forward Charlie Butterworth both look back to their consistent best. They will be two key figures against a resurgent Garryowen whose improving scrum faces an acid test at headquarters.

The Light Blues will need big performances from the Johnston brothers, David and Bill, with Munster requiring the services of Alex Wootton and Sam Arnold tonight. Even with the latter pair, you would still fancy Lansdowne to do the business. Their defence has been granite-like, only conceding 44 points so far.

Terenure College (2nd) v Buccaneers (10th), Lakelands Park

Terenure were knocked off their perch by last week’s 29-17 reversal at Clontarf. On paper, this looks like the ideal game for ‘Nure to recover from that setback, but they will be wary of an injury-hit Buccaneers side who are desperate for points.

With plenty of early season woes in terms of injuries and player unavailability, new Buccs coaches Darin Claasen and Mike McCarthy have had a tough time of it. They are not helped this week by Jordan Conroy’s absence due to Ireland Sevens duty and lock Cian Romaine is suspended.

The Pirates have got to stop leaking points during the closing stages of games – an unanswered 10 last week allowed Trinity to win a tight contest in Athlone. Terenure are the second top scorers in the division – out-half Mark O’Neill has 59 points to his name – and should have too much firepower for Buccs.

UCD (5th) v Clontarf (4th), Belfield Bowl

Going down 27-20 to Garryowen is a result that UCD could rue come April. They had a one-man advantage for 50-plus minutes but could not put away the resilient Light Blues, with a lone Matthew Gilsenan penalty being their only second half score.

Matt Darcy Donall Farmer; ©INPHO / Donall Farmer/INPHO Matt D'arcy has been in terrific form for Clontarf so far this season. Donall Farmer; ©INPHO / Donall Farmer/INPHO / Donall Farmer/INPHO

Clontarf make the trip to the southside buoyed by their toppling of leaders Terenure. A first away win of the season would build further momentum for Andy Wood’s men, whose star centre Matt D’Arcy has already chipped in with five tries. Versatile back Jamie Glynn tops the UCD charts with three.

It is a big weekend for two of these clubs’ young stars, with Mullingar native Conor O’Brien, who helped ‘Tarf win their second league crown in 2016, making his debut in the Leinster midfield tonight, while UCD flanker Josh Murphy joins him as a replacement in Glasgow.

Young Munster (7th) v St. Mary’s College (8th), Tom Clifford Park

Having lost three of their first four games, Young Munster looked in further trouble when trailing 13-0 to Cork Constitution last Saturday. But a stunning team try scored by captain Ben Kilkenny, with their dynamic front row all involved, spurred them on to a gutsy 20-19 victory.

Despite a promising opening, St. Mary’s faded against Lansdowne and eventually lost 33-7. An all-action display from flanker Nick McCarthy earned him the man-of-the-match nod. Conor Dean’s cross-field kicks have become a valuable weapon, teeing up American winger Tim Maupin for his third try of the season.

Munsters must make Greenfields a fortress again after recent defeats to the two student sides. Last February’s meeting saw Mary’s pipped 20-18 having outscored the hosts by three tries to two. Centre Cian Bohane, who is now with UCC, broke their hearts with a late Cookies try.

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Ballymena (7th) v UCC (5th), Eaton Park

UCC are chasing their third league win on the trot after outlasting Old Wesley in a 58-point thriller last week. Young out-half James Taylor seems to be taking to Division 1B rugby like a duck to water, landing another six successful kicks to move his season’s haul to 54 points.

Ballymena had their own match-winning number 10 in Ulster’s Brett Herron, whose 14-point tally guided them past Naas. He is available again this week, but the Braidmen will miss the influence up front of Adam McBurney, Clive Ross and Matthew Rea who are in South Africa with Ulster.

Conor Barry makes a break Presseye / John McIlwaine/INPHO UCC did the double over Ballymena last season. Presseye / John McIlwaine/INPHO / John McIlwaine/INPHO

Marcus Rea and Stephen Mulholland still feature in a strong back row for the hosts, who have paired Michael Stronge, fresh from Ireland Sevens duty, with Herron at half-back. The Cork students achieved a season’s double over Ballymena in 2016/17, winning 18-17 at home and 26-24 at Eaton Park.

Ballynahinch (3rd) v Naas (6th), Ballymacarn Park

It was not a happy Halloween for either Ballynahinch or Naas, with the Co. Down outfit’s three-match winning run ended by Banbridge while Naas succumbed to their third straight defeat, their indiscipline allowing Brett Herron to kick Ballymena to victory.

Naas player-coach Johne Murphy, who continues at out-half tomorrow, will come up against another Ulster prospect in Johnny McPhillips, who bagged all 10 of ‘Hinch’s points at Bann. Murphy’s three personnel changes see Michael Skelton and Cathal Murtagh come into the back-line, with flanker Paul Monahan promoted from the bench.

The Kildare men won last season’s corresponding fixture with a sizzling six-try performance, triumphing 41-26 against a ‘Hinch side that contained future Ireland cap Jacob Stockdale. Flanker David McGuigan’s late converted try saw ‘Hinch gain revenge – 16-14 – on their April visit to Forenaughts.

Old Belvedere (4th) v UL Bohemians (8th), Anglesea Road

That was much more like it from Old Belvedere last week, winger Shane McDonald’s hat-trick of tries being the centre piece of an eye-catching 38-10 success away to Dolphin. Having vaulted into the top four, that is where Eddie O’Sullivan’s side need to stay.

Eddie O'Sullivan James Crombie; ©INPHO / James Crombie/INPHO Eddie O'Sullivan's side are in the top-four currently. James Crombie; ©INPHO / James Crombie/INPHO / James Crombie/INPHO

O’Sullivan is expecting a strong challenge from UL Bohemians who have lost four-out-of-five so far but put in ‘a huge performance’ against Shannon, according to head coach Christy Neilan. They really gave it socks in the second half of the Limerick derby, but a three-try salvo – including a third of the season for flanker James Ryan – was only enough for a losing bonus point.

If ‘Belvo continue on an upward curve, aided by top-scoring centre Tim Foley (56 points), then a losing bonus may be a decent outcome for Bohs who will fancy their chances of picking up the pace before Christmas with fixtures against the bottom two – Old Wesley and Dolphin – and a double header with UCC.

Old Wesley (9th) v Dolphin (10th), Donnybrook

Second-from-bottom Old Wesley are still without a win but they gave it a right good go away to UCC in round 5. Tommy O’Callaghan’s run-in from halfway earned them a late losing bonus point, with talented 21-year-old full-back Jack Maybury scoring the other 22 points, including five penalties.

Dolphin need a big performance to answer their critics after a 28-point walloping at home to Old Belvedere. They must create more scoring opportunities off set piece ball and in the loose, with hooker Caolan O’Flynn’s maul try the highlight of their disappointing day against ‘Belvo.

There is quite a Cork flavour to the Old Wesley squad, with a number of Leeside-born players in Morgan Lennon’s panel. Indeed, John Fitzgerald, a former captain, and Cillian Monahan both joined Wesley from Dolphin in the summer, with Monahan featuring at outside centre against UCC last week.

Shannon (1st) v Banbridge (2nd), Thomond Park back pitch

It may be only November, but already Shannon and Banbridge have emerged as serious promotion contenders. Bann boss Daniel Soper is not paying too much attention to the table, instead focusing on improving performance levels from week to week.

They travel to Limerick without their talismanic captain Ian Porter who is unavailable due to family commitments. That is a big blow as the goal-kicking scrum half has contributed 66 points so far. Josh Cromie will don the number 9 jersey with Adam Doherty coming in at out-half, while Ulster’s Robert Lyttle returns from illness at full-back.

We are nearly one-third of the way into the season and Shannon supremo Tom Hayes, despite his side’s table-topping exploits, is understandably focusing on one game at a time. Although noting that recently-promoted Bann are something of ‘a surprise package’, he said: “Banbridge certainly haven’t been rolling over or being apologetic about being in this division. They’re going hammer and tongs for it, so we have a game on our hands.”

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