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Must-win clash at the bottom among highlights of AIL weekend

Elsewhere, table-toppers Cork Con face UCC.

ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: 21-22 February 

Kick-off Saturday at 2.30pm unless stated

cathal-oflatherty-2512020 Cork Con's Cathal O'Flaherty. (file pic.) Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

DIVISION 1A

CORK CONSTITUTION (1st) v UCC (8th), Temple Hill, tonight (Friday), 8pm

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cork Constitution: WWWWWWWWWWWW; UCC: WWWLLLLLLLLL

UCC have picked up three losing bonus points in the last four rounds, showing how close they are coming to breaking that losing streak. It now stretches to nine games, and they remain locked in a three-way battle to avoid automatic relegation.

November’s home clash with Cork Constitution also saw the students earn a bonus point, going down 10-6. Openside flanker John Hodnett, a Munster debutant seven days ago, will feature from the start as UCC look to reverse that result under the Temple Hill floodlights.

Brian Hickey’s Con side are heavy favourites to keep up their winning form on home soil. There seems to be no stopping former Munster and Aurillac lock Brian Hayes who, following his score against Ballynahinch, is now the division’s joint-top try scorer with seven tries.

Recent League Meetings – Friday 5 April, 2019: Cork Constitution 37 UCC 19, Temple Hill; Friday, 15 November 2019: UCC 6 Cork Constitution 10, The Mardyke

TERENURE COLLEGE (7th) v UCD (3rd), Lakelands Park, tonight (Friday), 8pm

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Terenure College: WWWLWLLLWLLL; UCD: LWWDWWWLWLLW

Two hard-earned points were ripped out of Terenure College’s grasp last week with the concession of a last-gasp drop goal at Garryowen. So there is a huge amount riding on tonight’s result, given that they have become detached from the play-off chasers.

Visitors UCD are four places and 10 points better off than ‘Nure, a team they overcame 30-20 in November thanks mainly to winger Jack Ringrose’s hat-trick of tries. Lining out on the wing tonight for the students will be Leinster duo Adam Byrne and Barry Daly.

Both sides are hoping for much-improved conditions after last Saturday’s Storm Dennis-affected weather. The lineout battle will be keenly contested once again as former Ireland underage team-mates, Peter Claffey and UCD captain Jonny Guy, go head-to-head.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 26 January 2019: Terenure College 49 UCD 21, Lakelands Park; Saturday, 16 November 2019: UCD 30 Terenure College 20, Belfield Bowl

dublin-university-and-terenure-college-forwards-contest-a-scrum File photo from a previous clash between Dublin University and Terenure. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

BALLYNAHINCH (10th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (9th), Ballymacarn Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: LLLLWWLLLWLL; Dublin University: LLWWLLLLLWLL

After missing out on Ireland U20 selection, Luis Faria returns to club duty as one of five changes to the Dublin University team that lost 21-9 at home to Young Munster. He pairs up with captain James Hickey in a strong midfield combination.

With both sides level on 18 points at the foot of the table, this is a must-win encounter for both Ballynahinch and Trinity. Brian McLaughlin’s men, who have Jack Regan, Marcus Rea, Zack McCall and Conor Rankin available again, will be all out to avenge November’s agonising 35-34 defeat.

Speedster Paddy Opperman gets the nod on the left wing for the students, who have also added Ben Nel and Reuben Pim to their tight five. Pim covers the Leinster-enforced absence of Jack Dunne, while Alex Soroka’s involvement with the Ireland U-20s sees Alan Francis come in at blindside flanker.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 30, 2016: Ballynahinch 9 Dublin University 18, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, November 16, 2019: Dublin University 34 Ballynahinch 35, College Park

CLONTARF (5th) v GARRYOWEN (2nd), Castle Avenue

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Clontarf: WLLWLLLWWLWL; Garryowen: LWLWWWWWLWWW

If fifth-placed Clontarf are to miss out on a semi-final spot, they will have a number of narrow losses to reflect on. Last week saw them pipped by Lansdowne right at the death, leaving them with a seventh losing bonus point in as many defeats.

‘Tarf are craving the consistent set of results that Garryowen have produced, the Light Blues’ canny knack of winning tight contests evident again against Terenure. The availability tomorrow of Munster pair Alex Wootton and Sean O’Connor would be another welcome boost for the second-placed side.

It was a low-scoring affair when these clubs met at Dooradoyle back in November. A Diarmuid Barron-piloted lineout maul did the damage in the 51st minute, earning a penalty try and a yellow card in a hard-fought 13-10 victory for Garryowen.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 23 March 2019: Garryowen 12 Clontarf 29, Dooradoyle; Saturday 16 November 2019: Garryowen 13 Clontarf 10, Dooradoyle

jack-lyons-clears-the-ball Young Munster's Jack Lyons. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

YOUNG MUNSTER (6th) v LANSDOWNE (4th), Tom Clifford Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Young Munster: LLLDLWWWLLWW; Lansdowne: WLLLLLWWWWWW

Lansdowne have become specialists at snatching one-point wins – they have won all of their last four games by the minimum margin. Backs Harry Brennan and Peter Sullivan return to the starting line-up tomorrow, along with lock Cian O’Dwyer.

Young Munster will relish this shot at a seasonal double, having seen off the division’s bottom two with eight tries scored during their last 180 minutes of rugby. Out-half Evan Cusack’s excellent cross-field kick set up the last of them for Luke Fitzgerald at a rain-soaked Trinity.

Cusack’s opposite number Craig Ronaldson is also in terrific form for Lansdowne. The former Connacht back notched 19 points against ‘Tarf to move ahead of Eric Elwood as Lansdowne’s second leading All-Ireland League points scorer of all-time (402 points).

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 2 March 2019: Lansdowne 25 Young Munster 24, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Saturday 16 November 2019: Lansdowne 0 Young Munster 7, Aviva Stadium back pitch

DIVISION 1B

BANBRIDGE (4th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (9th), Rifle Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LLLWWLWWWLWL; St. Mary’s College: WLLLWWWLWLLL

Right winger Joseph Finnegan is bumped up from the bench as Banbridge’s only change to the team that lost 17-14 to Old Belvedere. Hooker Peter Cromie touched down for the seventh straight match, making him the division’s second top try scorer.

Ahead of the visit of St. Mary’s College, Bann head coach Mark McDowell commented: “They’ve had a couple of results go against them and now they find themselves second-from-bottom in the table, so that will certainly make them dangerous opponents.”

Mary’s have lost four of their last five games, three of them by five points or less. They are hoping that two recent training sessions with Joe Schmidt will help them to turn a corner. A repeat of November’s 16-10 victory over Banbridge would certainly lift confidence levels.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 26 January 2019: Banbridge 18 St. Mary’s College 16, Rifle Park; Saturday, 16 November 2019: St. Mary’s College 16 Banbridge 10, Templeville Road

HIGHFIELD (1st) v NAVAN (10th), Woodleigh Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WWWWWWWLWLWW; Navan: LLLLLLLWLLLL

A collective clean bill of health allows Highfield player-coach Tim Ryan to name an unchanged team for this clash with struggling Navan. Their back-three have been finishing well, with Sam Burns and Ben Murphy scoring two tries each in the last two rounds.

This is Highfield’s first time to face Navan in five years, as the Meath men were unable to play their home fixture in November due to a mumps outbreak. The division’s bottom side are still searching for their second win after prevailing at Naas in December.

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They were unable to capitalise on breaks by Riaan van der Vyver and captain Conor Ryan during last week’s 12-0 loss to Malone. It should be an interesting individual tussle tomorrow between respective number eights Ryan and Miah Cronin, brother of Munster and Ireland prop James Cronin.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 21 February 2015: Navan 3 Highfield 31, Balreask Old; Saturday 16 November 2019: Navan v Highfield (walkover win), Balreask Old

MALONE (6th) v OLD BELVEDERE (5th), Gibson Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: LLWWLLWLWWLW; Old Belvedere: WWWLLWLLLWLW

Determined to make it four victories in five rounds, Malone welcome back top-scoring out-half Jack Milligan as one of four back-line changes. With Stewart Moore on the Ulster bench, Gary Andrews and Nathan Brown link up in the centre.

Ricky Greenwood and Conor McMenamin swap in from the bench to rejoin the tight five, while 20-year-old Ulster Academy ace Azur Allison features at number eight this week. Old Belvedere are just one bonus point ahead of Malone in the current standings.

Fifth-placed ‘Belvo are set to field an unchanged starting XV as they chase their third triumph in four rounds. Five-try winger James McKeown and Ariel Robles provide the threat out wide, and Balbriggan RFC product Dean Moore doubles up as captain and a talisman up front.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 9 March 2019: Old Belvedere 15 Malone 12, Anglesea Road; Saturday 16 November 2019: Old Belvedere 26 Malone 21, Ollie Campbell Park

OLD WESLEY (2nd) v CITY OF ARMAGH (7th), Energia Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWWWWWWLWLLL; City of Armagh: WWLWLLLWLWWL

Old Wesley head coach Morgan Lennon keeps the changes to a minimum, adding Galway native Donnchadh Phelan to the engine room as they look to recapture the form they showed in November’s impressive 40-13 dismissal of City of Armagh.

Successive defeats to Malone, Highfield and Shannon have dented Wesley’s promotion bid, at the same time that Armagh have enjoyed back-to-back Ulster derby wins before picking up a losing bonus point last week against table-topping Highfield.

With Shannon paying them a visit next week, Armagh assistant coach Chris Parker commented: “It’s a difficult block of games, but if you can come out of it picking up points and wins then you’ll be in a really good place.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 13 April 2019: Old Wesley 31 City of Armagh 10, Energia Park; Saturday 16 November 2019: City of Armagh 13 Old Wesley 40, Palace Grounds

SHANNON (3rd) v NAAS (8th), Thomond Park back pitch

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: LWWLWLLWLWWW; Naas: LLLLLWLWLWWW
Shannon and Naas have both strung together three wins on the bounce, so something will have to give on Thomond Park’s back pitch. Their mid-November encounter was a close one, winger Fionn Higgins’ injury-time try guiding Naas to their first victory of the season (16-14).

Fit-again Shannon prop Tony Cusack will be pushing for more game-time after his successful return against Old Wesley last week. Now out of the bottom two, Naas are in very good scoring form with out-half Bryan Croke gunning for his third try in as many games.

Delighted with the tenacity shown late on against Wesley, Shannon assistant coach Pat Brown told SRTV: “It was a great performance in terrible conditions, we really dug deep. It was a real old-school AIL game. We’re starting to build a bit of momentum at the minute and it really showed at the end.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday 6 January 2018: Shannon 25 Naas 3, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday 16 November 2019: Naas 16 Shannon 14, Forenaughts

DIVISION 2A:

Cashel v Ballymena, Spafield
Dolphin v Nenagh Ormond, Irish Independent Park
MU Barnhall v Queen’s University, Parsonstown
Old Crescent v Rainey Old Boys, Rosbrien
UL Bohemians v Buccaneers, University of Limerick 4G pitch

DIVISION 2B:

Ballina v Galwegians, Heffernan Park
Belfast Harlequins v Malahide, Deramore Park
Dungannon v Galway Corinthians, Stevenson Park (match postponed due to an unplayable pitch)
Sligo v Greystones, Hamilton Park
Wanderers v Blackrock College, Merrion Road

DIVISION 2C:

Bangor v Skerries, Upritchard Park
Bruff v Omagh, Kilballyowen Park
City of Derry v Tullamore, Craig Thompson Stadium
Enniscorthy v Clonmel, Alcast Park
Midleton v Sunday’s Well, Towns Park

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