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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019
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Limerick derby the highlight fixture of the All-Ireland League weekend

There are a number of interesting ties in Division 1A on Friday and Saturday.

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

Lansdowne v Terenure College, Aviva Stadium back pitch, Friday 7.30pm 

THE LANSDOWNE JUGGERNAUT was gathering some speed before the break in fixtures, with captain Eamonn Mills’ two-try salvo at Young Munster making it three wins on the trot.

Mike Ruddock Lansdowne head coach Mike Ruddock. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Last season they did the double over Terenure College who have lost all but one of their games so far.

Scott Deasy and Harry Brennan, who was away with the Ireland Sevens squad, are set to come back into the Lansdowne back-line tonight, with Greg McGrath and Joe O’Brien returning up front and the versatile Willie Earle reverting to the second row.

Terenure head coach James Blaney, whose side have been averaging just 12 points per match, said: “We’re a team in somewhat of a transition. Having said that, we’ve a lot of really good young talent coming up through the ranks and getting opportunities to play. The season has been a struggle so far but we’re hopeful of improving and getting more consistent results.”

Garryowen v Young Munster, Dooradoyle, Friday 8pm

Another big crowd is expected at Dooradoyle for the top flight’s second Limerick derby of the season.

Young Munster were well beaten by Shannon (23-10) in the first of them and will not want to give an inch to Garryowen, especially given their current positions in the table.

Liam Coombes Garryowen have Liam Coombes in their ranks tonight. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Both sides have struggled for results in the last three rounds, suffering five defeats between them, but Garryowen are boosted tonight by the inclusion of the Munster academy’s Liam Coombes, who top-scored with 11 tries in Division 1A last season, and Ben Healy in the back-line. Captain Dean Moore also slots back into the second row.

It is hard to judge Young Munster given their up-and-down form, but they do have the division’s joint-top try scorer in Darragh O’Neill (4 tries) and second leading points scorer in out-half Clayton Stewart (46 points).

If the Cookies can win the set-piece battle, a much-needed victory looks likely here.

Dublin University v Shannon, College Park

Dublin University and Shannon have been two of the best teams to watch during the opening five rounds. Out-half James Fennelly, the division’s top scorer with 53 points, has marshalled a potent Trinity back-line which includes Jack Kelly, who is on Leinster’s bench tonight.

The absence too of Michael Silvester sees Liam Turner switch to fullback, while there are six personnel changes from the students’ 25-8 success at Terenure, including the additions of Giuseppe Coyne, Dan Sheehan and James McKeown in the pack.

Liam Turner Trinity's Liam Turner. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Shannon make the trip having won three of their last four games, topped off by a Conor Fitzgerald-inspired 31-20 bonus point victory over UCC.

Repeating that feat on the road will be tough but head coach Tom Hayes said: “We were in a good place after the first block of games and we want to launch ourselves into this next block as quickly as we can.”

UCC v Clontarf, The Mardyke

Home losses to Cork Constitution and Terenure by two and one points respectively were UCC’s most frustrating results of the opening block. The Cork students remain without a win but have been very competitive throughout their fixtures.

They will not be daunted by the sight of unbeaten leaders Clontarf who make their second trip of the campaign to Munster.

Angus Lloyd Former Munster scrum-half Angus Lloyd in action for Clontarf. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A late Mick McGrath try saw them edge a thrilling contest at Shannon and they had 11 points to spare at home to UCD last time out.

Number eight Ryan Murphy’s return to full fitness is a big boost for UCC, who also bring in winger Adam O’Connor and forwards Cian Barry and Brian O’Mahony.

Two Munster-capped scrum-halves are set to clash with John Poland, who has already scored four of UCC’s tries this season, and Clontarf summer signing Angus Lloyd on duty.

UCD v Cork Constitution, Belfield Bowl

Following his side’s 17-6 reversal at the hands of Clontarf, UCD head coach Andy Skehan has made four changes with Rob Keenan and Stephen Murphy selected in the backline and Bobby Sheehan and Ben Murray starting at hooker and blindside flanker respectively.

The students have been difficult opponents for Cork Con at Belfield, with the Leesiders needing five tries to see them off last March (39-27) and UCD took the spoils, 17-3, when the sides met in the capital in January 2017. Centre Murphy was a try scorer that day.

Andy Skehan UCD head coach Andy Skehan. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Constitution have kept up their canny knack of winning games without truly hitting top gear. They came from behind to beat Highfield 22-16 in last week’s Munster Senior Cup semi-final and should have too much grunt up front for the students tomorrow, especially with the lock pairing of Conor Kindregan and Brian Hayes in situ. 

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

Ballynahinch v Banbridge, Ballymacarn Park

Having both ended the first block of games on a losing note, Ballynahinch and Banbridge will be doubly determined to get back to winning ways. Particularly ‘Hinch who lost three times in the league to Bann last season, including April’s 28-24 play-off reversal at Rifle Park.

Ulster prop Kyle McCall could make his return from an elbow injury in the ‘Hinch front row, while fellow provincial players Zack McCall and Peter Nelson may also feature. Ballynahinch assistant coach Tom Rock is expecting ‘a tough game from Banbridge who are a physical side with few weaknesses who play a good brand of rugby.’

Kyle McCall Ulster prop Kyle McCall could make his return from injury. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Robert Logan and Ian Porter are in charge of Bann this week following the birth of head coach Simon McKinstry’s baby son. Injuries and unavailability mean six personnel changes for the visitors, including the selection of half-backs Josh Cromie and Niall Armstrong, and both Dale Carson and David McCann in the back row.

City of Armagh v Old Belvedere, Palace Grounds 

Jonny Morton and Gareth McNiece have been promoted from the City of Armagh bench to start against Old Belvedere. Morton fills the hooker berth, with Nigel Simpson’s injury seeing McNiece start at openside flanker and James Hanna switch to the blindside.

Armagh boss Willie Faloon will have to carefully manage his squad as they are playing for the next ten weeks across the All-Ireland League and Bateman Cup, as well as two Ulster competitions. Simpson and Michael Hoey are on the injury list along with teenage flanker Ryan O’Neill (knee).

Connacht centre Peter Robb is set to get some game-time with Belvedere, replacing Ben Carty as the only chance to the team that defeated 29-24 last time out. Jack Keating, the division’s joint-top try scorer with five tries, will be looking to add to his tally from the right wing.

Malone v Naas, Gibson Park

A crunch encounter for both sides with Naas knowing that a win would add significant momentum to their promotion push. They won 25-8 on their most recent visit to Gibson Park in March 2016, with tries from Fionn Higgins, current captain Paulie Tolofua and Rob O’Connor.

Malone will be quietly confident of getting a result themselves, having matched Naas’ four victories so far. They dug deep to win at Buccaneers last time out and make three changes for tomorrow with Michael Shiels selected in the second row and Matthew Hadden and Dave Cave added to the back row.

James Connolly Connacht and Naas flanker James Connolly. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht flanker James Connolly is one of three changes to the Naas team that finished strongly to claim a 31-23 bonus point win at Old Wesley two weeks ago. Prop Jordan Duggan and Jordan Fitzpatrick, who joins player-coach Johne Murphy in midfield, are the other only alterations for the Cobras.

Old Wesley v Ballymena, Donnybrook 

With their game against Naas rescheduled, this is the second of third successive home matches for Old Wesley. They are yet to win at Energia Park this season, following a nine-all draw with Old Belvedere and that frustrating late loss to the Kildare men.

They are five points better off than bottom-placed Ballymena who will make a number of changes on the back of their disappointing Ulster derby defeat to Armagh. Bruce Houston and injured centre Glenn Baillie are missing from the back-line, with Rodger McBurney set to return at full-back and Ulster’s Clive Ross expected to start at blindside.

Speaking to Irish Rugby TV, Old Wesley head coach Morgan Lennon said: “We’ve obviously got two very tough home games coming up against Ballymena and Ballynahinch, which we know there will be contracted guys involved. The bottom line is every game is crucial in 1B. It’s so competitive and we want to compete at the top end.”

St Mary’s College v Buccaneers, Templeville Road

St Mary’s College and Buccaneers are both looking to rebound from narrow losses in the last round – five points and one point respectively. Behind an unchanged pack, Mary’s bring in Paddy O’Driscoll at scrum-half and Dave Fanagan and Hugo Conway in the back-three.

Both clubs were in Division 1A last season with last December’s 11-10 triumph at Templeville Road being one of Buccaneers’ two wins across the entire season. They broke their duck in Division 1B last month — at to Old Wesley — but had gone down to Ballynahinch and Malone since then.

Buccs are hoping to have club captain Shane Layden and Rory Grenham back after lengthy spells out with injury, and one of the early season positives for the Pirates has been the four tries registered by winger Darragh Corbett, all scored in the last three rounds. 

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