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It's a big weekend in the Ulster Bank League as we reach the semi-final stage

Lansdowne, Garryowen, Terenure and Cork Con are all still in the hunt for domestic glory.

THERE ARE THREE former champions in the line-up for the Ulster Bank League Division 1A semi-finals on Saturday, with Terenure College, who host defending champions Cork Constitution, the odd ones out.

Garryowen are gunning for their first final appearance since 2008, tackling Bateman Cup winners Lansdowne.

Lansdowne v Garryowen, Aviva Stadium, 2.30pm

Martin Mulhall, Greg McGrath, Tyrone Moran, James Rael and Ntinga Mpiko celebrate with the trophy after the game Lansdowne lifted the Bateman Cup earlier this month. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Garryowen will attempt an ambush of Lansdowne’s Ulster Bank League and Cup double bid, and captain Neil Cronin could be the man to knock Mike Ruddock’s men off their perch.

Goal-kicking scrum-half Cronin, who has earned a one-year deal with Munster beginning in the summer, is a talismanic figure for Garryowen, leading them to Munster Senior Cup glory this season and their first Division 1A semi-final since 2009.

The light blues beat Lansdowne 24-16 at Dooradoyle in early February when Cronin kicked 14 points and helped to set up winger Liam Coombes’ clinching try — but doing it on the Aviva Stadium’s main pitch tomorrow is the acid test.

With his hat-trick last time out against St. Mary’s, Munster academy ace Coombes is the division’s top try scorer with 11 tries, while Ireland U20 hooker Diarmuid Barron and ex-Trinity tighthead Andy Keating — probably the best signing of the season — have starred up front.

“Once you’re in a semi-final, anything can happen” is Cronin’s view, and certainly the pressure will be on Lansdowne to maintain their table-topping form and back up last Saturday’s Bateman Cup final success.

Bookmakers have priced Garryowen (minus Munster’s Bill Johnston) at 4/1, while Ruddock’s powerful Lansdowne side, who have some unsung heroes up front in Josh O’Rourke and Willie Earle, are 1/7 favourites to progress to their first league decider since 2015.

Ruddock, who hopes to have skipper Ian Prendiville back from injury, said: “It’s a short turnaround to an immensely difficult game against Garryowen, who were one of only two teams we lost to in the league. So, feet on the ground, do our analysis and rack up for the semi-final.”

Terenure College v Cork Constitution, Lakelands Park, 3pm

Alex McHenry Cork Con's Alex McHenry. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Terenure College will draw another bumper crowd to Lakelands for their first Division 1A semi-final appearance since 2015, with opponents Cork Constitution doubly determined to hold onto their league crown after losing the Bateman Cup final.

Terenure came through a sticky patch in the lead up to Christmas when losing four out of six games, and they look to have recaptured their early season form with an average of 35 points scored during the last four rounds.

Former Leinster winger Sam Coghlan Murray and Jake Swaine sit on eight tries each, with fellow back-three regulars, Matthew Byrne and James O’Donoghue, also impressing in the scoring stakes. A new second row pairing this season, Michael Melia and Alex Thompson, have been so effective that they earned Ireland Club International honours together.

James Blaney’s ‘Nure had two tight tussles with Cork Con during the regular season, winning 39-35 at home and losing 30-27 away (just three weeks ago), with Con out-half Tomas Quinlan landing the decisive penalty in the latter game on Leeside.

Twelve months ago, Constitution won an away semi-final at Lansdowne and their abundant experience of playoff games is an obvious advantage in this match-up. Players like Brian Hayes, Luke Cahill, captain Niall Kenneally and Gerry Hurley need to produce big performances.

Asked about lifting his side for the Lakelands clash, Con boss Brian Hickey, who is without Munster call-up Shane Daly, said: “The thing about this time of the year is all the injuries are mounting up, the ground is a lot harder. So, it’s just a question of refocusing and trying to be right for Terenure.”

Division 1B promotion playoff:

  • Banbridge v UCC, Rifle Park, 2.30pm

Division 2A promotion playoff:

  • City of Armagh v Nenagh Ormond, Palace Grounds, 1.30pm

Division 2A/2B promotion playoff:

  • Rainey OB v Navan RFC, Hatrick Park, 2.30pm

Division 2B/2C promotion playoff:

  • Belfast Harlequins v Omagh, Deramore Park, 2.30pm

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