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Top-of-the-table clash the highlight of this week's AIL fixtures

It’s first against second, as Clontarf take on Lansdowne.

The Clontarf team huddle (file pic).
The Clontarf team huddle (file pic).
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

Updated at 21.30

RUGBY:
ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE PREVIEWS -

Saturday, February 26:

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated -

DIVISION 1A:

LANSDOWNE (2nd) v CLONTARF (1st), Aviva Stadium back pitch, tonight, 7.30pm

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Lansdowne: WWWLWLWWWWLWW; Clontarf: WWWWLWWWWWWWW

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Lansdowne: Points: David Hawkshaw 58; Tries: Dylan Donnellan 11; Clontarf: Points: Evan Cusack 105; Tries: Conor Hayes 9

Table-toppers Clontarf pay a visit to their closest rivals Lansdowne, keen to exact revenge for a 22-5 home defeat from early November. That has been the only blemish so far on ‘Tarf’s copybook for 2021/22.

Conor Kearns slots back in at out-half for the north Dubliners, with tighthead prop Ben Griffin their only change up front. 21-year-old Leinster Academy winger Andrew Smith has been added to the bench.

Lansdowne, who have six points to spare over third-placed Terenure College, bring Eamonn Mills, James Reynolds, Corey Reid and James Kenny into the backs, while Connacht’s Greg McGrath dons the number 3 jersey.

Recent League Meetings – Friday, February 14, 2020: Lansdowne 29 Clontarf 28, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Friday, November 5, 2021: Clontarf 5 Lansdowne 22, Castle Avenue

BALLYNAHINCH (9th) v UCD (8th), Ballymacarn Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: LLLLLLLLLLLLW; UCD: LLLWWLLLLLWLD

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: David Hawkshaw 58; Tries: Dylan Donnellan 11; UCD: Points: Evan Cusack 105; Tries: Conor Hayes 9

After doing the business against UCC, Ballynahinch have another student hurdle to negotiate as they continue their fight against relegation. Another win here could see them cut the gap to UCD to six or seven points.

Third-from-bottom College can test any top-flight team on their day, as shown last week against defending champions Cork Constitution. They were 42-17 winners when they hosted ‘Hinch in early November.

Current Ireland U20 international Shane Mallon is on the bench for UCD tomorrow. Ross Deegan, Richie Fahy, Diarmuid Mangan, Jack Gardiner and Cian Reilly all come in as starters, with Simon Burke switching to number 8.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: Ballynahinch 20 UCD 23, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, November 6, 2021: UCD 42 Ballynahinch 17, UCD Bowl

CORK CONSTITUTION (4th) v GARRYOWEN (7th), Temple Hill

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cork Constitution: LLLWWWWWLLWWD; Garryowen: WWWWLLLLLLWLL

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Cork Constitution: Points: David Hawkshaw 58; Tries: Dylan Donnellan 11; Garryowen: Points: Evan Cusack 105; Tries: Conor Hayes 9

This Munster derby could be season-defining for both of these teams. Garryowen need a change in fortunes to reach the play-offs, as they now trail fourth-placed Cork Constitution by 13 points with five rounds remaining.

Cork Con, who won 23-21 at Dooradoyle in November, are unbeaten in three games and need to keep winning to stay in title contention. Hooker Max Abbott’s impressive scoring form continued at UCD with his third try in as many games.

Munster’s Liam Coombes starts again for Garryowen tomorrow, Jack Delaney’s switch to out-half seeing Dave McCarthy come in at inside centre. Roy Whelan and Des Fitzgerald are the two changes up front for the Light Blues.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 5, 2019: Cork Constitution 14 Garryowen 13, Temple Hill; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Garryowen 21 Cork Constitution 23, Dooradoyle

TERENURE COLLEGE (3rd) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (6th), Lakelands Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Terenure College: WLLLWWWWWWWWW; Dublin University: LWWLLWWLWWLWL

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Terenure College: Points: David Hawkshaw 58; Tries: Dylan Donnellan 11; Dublin University: Points: Evan Cusack 105; Tries: Conor Hayes 9

Can Terenure College make it 10 league wins in a row? Their enviable run of results all started with Caolan Dooley’s last-gasp penalty which guided them to a dramatic 16-15 triumph at College Park.

It was a nightmare finish for Dublin University who, following last week’s 20-15 defeat to Lansdowne, make three changes. Ronan Quinn, Liam McMahon and Leinster Academy hooker Lee Barron are all handed starts.

Terenure, who squeezed past Garryowen by a single point, has swapped in Sam Coghlan Murray on the right-wing. Captain Stephen O’Neill switches to the opposite flank, with Craig Adams, their leading try scorer, held in reserve.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 11, 2020: Dublin University 13 Terenure College 6, College Park; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Dublin University 15 Terenure College 16, College Park

YOUNG MUNSTER (5th) v UCC (10th), Tom Clifford Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Young Munster: WWWWWLLWWWLLL; UCC: LLLLLWLLLLLLL

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Young Munster: Points: David Hawkshaw 58; Tries: Dylan Donnellan 11; UCC: Points: Evan Cusack 105; Tries: Conor Hayes 9

Another difficult assignment for UCC who gave Young Munster as good as they got when the sides met at the Mardyke back in November. The power differential up front helped the Cookies claim a 19-9 victory.

Now with three defeats on the bounce, fifth-placed Munsters are in desperate need of a result against the students. They will be hoping to create more opportunities for Ireland Sevens speedster Conor Phillips out wide.

UCC came through an attritional defeat to Ballynahinch with a number of injury concerns. Some Munster player releases would give them a timely lift as they scramble to avoid the two-legged relegation play-off.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 19, 2019: Young Munster 14 UCC 20, Tom Clifford Park; Saturday, November 6, 2021: UCC 9 Young Munster 19, the Mardyke

DIVISION 1B PREVIEWS:

HIGHFIELD (2nd) v OLD BELVEDERE (7th), Woodleigh Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Highfield: WWWWWWWWLDLWL; Old Belvedere: WLWLLLLWLLWLW

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Highfield: Points: James Taylor 63; Tries: Paul Stack 6; Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 91; Tries: James McKeown, John McKee, Joe Horan 5 each

Winger James Daly and hooker Travis Coomey are the only changes to the Highfield side that struggled away to leaders Old Wesley. Worryingly, it was their third loss in five games since December.

The second-placed Corkmen are chasing a season’s double over Old Belvedere, who were beaten 24-20 at home in early November. A Miah Cronin brace of tries set Highfield on their way that day.

Leinster Academy hooker James McKee, who has five tries to his name, returns to Belvedere’s starting XV. He is the only change, although big second row Dean Moore is a welcome addition to the replacements bench.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 29, 2020: Old Belvedere 12 Highfield 17, Ollie Campbell Park; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Old Belvedere 20 Highfield 24, Ollie Campbell Park

MALONE (8th) v OLD WESLEY (1st), Gibson Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLLLLWLLDDLDL; Old Wesley: WWWWWLWWWWWWW

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 50; Tries: Aaron Sexton 7; Old Wesley: Points: Ian Cassidy 78; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 6

Malone remain winless in 2022 after going down 22-15 to Banbridge. They have three home matches remaining, and captain Dave Cave did manage to rescue a spirited late losing bonus point for them last week.

Old Wesley may be top of the table but Malone ran them close in November, and won their January 2020 encounter in Dublin, 12-9. For a similar result they will need a strong start and solid set-piece foundations.

However, there will only be one result if Wesley maintain the form that saw them put 30 points on Highfield. In-form winger Tommy O’Callaghan took his try tally to six, four of them coming since the turn of the year.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 11, 2020: Old Wesley 9 Malone 12, Energia Park; Saturday, November 6, 2o21: Old Wesley 16 Malone 11, Energia Park

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NAAS (4th) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Forenaughts

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: LWLLWLWWWWLWW; Banbridge: LLLLLLLLWWLLW

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 139; Tries: Donal Conroy, Gary Kavanagh 7 each; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 89; Tries: Conor Field 6

Naas’ first-ever victory over City of Armagh was typically hard-fought, a Will O’Brien brace — coupled with some gritty defence late on — seeing them prevail by a single point and stay on course for the play-offs.

Tomorrow’s visitors, Banbridge, returned to winning ways by overcoming Malone in a feisty Ulster derby. They targeted their opponents’ lineout, with second rows Chris Allen and Alex Thompson impressing on their return to the team.

Bann boss Mark McDowell commented: “We’ve gone from desperately looking for a win to not being totally satisfied with one (having missed out on the bonus point). But it’s a case of backing up that win with another one at Naas and then obviously Navan.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 29, 2020: Naas 3 Banbridge 6, Forenaughts; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Banbridge 22 Naas 28, Rifle Park

NAVAN (10th) v CITY OF ARMAGH (6th), Balreask Old

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Navan: LLLWWDLLLLLLL; City of Armagh: WWWLLWWLLLWDL

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Navan: Points: Mark Farrell 43; Tries: Paddy Fox, Evan Dixon 5 each; City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 99; Tries: Andrew Willis, Kyle Faloon, Matthew Hooks 4 each

Chris Colvin and Peter Lamb are both promoted from the City of Armagh bench to start against bottom side Navan. Replacing Ross Taylor, Colvin combines in midfield with captain Tim McNiece.

Navan are looking to right the wrongs of last week’s deflating 62-0 defeat at the hands of Shannon. Getting out of the bottom two remains possible, with third-from-bottom Malone just six points ahead of them.

With senior debutant Dylan Poyntz adding to their scrum efforts, Armagh head coach Chris Parker commented: “Our decision making on a few occasions let us down in the Naas game, and we need to eradicate the errors before this tricky trip to Navan.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 2, 2019: Navan 0 City of Armagh 19, Balreask Old; Saturday, November 6, 2021: City of Armagh 13 Navan 18, Palace Grounds

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (3rd) v SHANNON (5th), Templeville Road

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LLWWWWWLDDWWL; Shannon: LWLWLDLWWDWLW

Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 82; Tries: Myles Carey 9; Shannon: Points: John O’Sullivan 66; Tries: Lee Nicholas, Killian Dineen 5 each

A massive game for both teams here, particularly St. Mary’s College after their failure to put Old Belvedere away. Three tries, including centre Myles Carey’s ninth of the campaign, were not enough.

They will be wary of a Shannon side that put 62 unanswered points on Navan. The Limerick men also won on their most recent visit to Templeville Road, taking a 28-25 verdict thanks to a fine four-try display.

This is the first of back-to-back trips to the capital for Shannon, who have just two points to make up on Mary’s in third spot. However, Mary’s are unbeaten in five home matches since being pipped by Wesley in October.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 25, 2020: St. Mary’s College 25 Shannon 28, Templeville Road; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Shannon 17 St. Mary’s College 21, Thomond Park back pitch

DIVISION 2A:

Cashel v Queen’s University, Spafield
Dolphin v Old Crescent, Musgrave Park
MU Barnhall v Ballymena, Parsonstown
Nenagh Ormond v Rainey Old Boys, New Ormond Park
UL Bohemians v Buccaneers, UL Arena

DIVISION 2B:

Ballina v Sligo, Heffernan Park
Belfast Harlequins v Galwegians, Deramore Park
Blackrock College v Greystones, Stradbrook
Galway Corinthians v Wanderers, Corinthian Park
Malahide v Dungannon, Estuary Road

DIVISION 2C:

City of Derry v Bruff, Judge’s Road
Enniscorthy v Skerries, Alcast Park
Midleton v Clonmel, Towns Park
Omagh Academicals v Bangor, Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
Tullamore v Sunday’s Well, Spollanstown

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