Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# domestic matters
The new Ulster Bank League season starts this weekend and here are your big match previews
We take a closer look at the games in Division 1A and Division 1B.

Launch of the Ulster Bank League  Try Of The Month Competition Billy Stickland / INPHO Players from the Division 1A clubs at last week's season launch. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

All kick-offs Saturday 2.30pm unless stated 

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

Buccaneers v Lansdowne, Dubarry Park

Irish Rugby TV / YouTube

Buccaneers are back dining at the Ulster Bank League’s top table after a 10-year absence. With their Division 1B title-winning coach Brett Wilkinson taking up a job in Hong Kong, there is some continuity with his assistant Darin Claasen stepping up as Buccs’ new head coach. Retired Leinster and Ireland lock Mike McCarthy is in charge of the forwards.

Recent Ireland U20 captain and Connacht Academy newcomer Paul Boyle is poised to make his debut for the Pirates against his former club, while Peter Claffey, Conan O’Donnell and New Zealander Dan Law will strengthen their pack. Injury rules out Jordan Conroy, their 18-try hero last season.

Lansdowne did the hard work in topping the table in April but fell short in the play-offs.

Prop Ian Prendiville, who continues as club captain, said: “With the squad we have, they’re a year older and a lot of them needed that extra year. Hopefully now we can push on and be real contenders. The standard of coaching that Mike (Ruddock) brings is huge – he’s an international coach coaching at AIL level.”

Cork Constitution v Clontarf, Temple Hill

Irish Rugby TV / YouTube

The league’s last two champions meet in a repeat of the 2017 final, in which man-of-the-match Tomas Quinlan kicked 20 points for a victorious Cork Constitution. Captain Niall Kenneally feels Con are just as hungry for success this season, saying: “Guys get a taste of it and they want it again. Hopefully we can get off to a solid start.”

Clontarf have some new faces in the squad — including forwards Dylan Donnellan and Joe Roe and winger James McKeown — as well as a new backs coach in James Downey.

Skipper Ben Reilly said: “It’s great to have Jimmy back (at Clontarf), he’s a real clubman. The backs are enjoying the change there, he’s bringing in some really good stuff.”

The clubs’ two regular season meetings in 2016/17 produced a home win apiece. Ireland sevens squad member Shane Daly starred in Con’s 24-17 success at Temple Hill, before ‘Tarf — aided by two tries from fullback Rob Keogh — won the rematch at Castle Avenue on a 22-13 scoreline.

Dublin University v Terenure College, College Park

Angus Lloyd Ryan Byrne / INPHO Angus Lloyd will be back in DU colours tomorrow. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Dublin University begin the new league campaign against the team they defeated to stay up in mid-April. That 27-25 victory over Terenure, crowned by a stunning last-minute try from winger Tim Maupin who has since moved to St Mary’s, kept Tony Smeeth’s young guns in the top flight.

Although Trinity have lost some key players, Ulster and Munster-capped scrum-half Angus Lloyd returns in the number 9 jersey tomorrow. Strong-running centre Michael Courtney, who turned 22 yesterday, steps up as captain, Sam Pim, who returns from a successful stint playing for University of Queensland, starts at blindside flanker and Denis Buckley’s brother Maurice (21) gets the nod at hooker.

The family links continue as Terenure welcome back Joe Schmidt’s son, scrum half Tim, following an erasmus year in Toulouse.

The ‘Nure pack has been beefed up by South African hooker Schalk Jooste, Giorgi Turabelidze (from Portugal via Georgia) and former Ireland U20 and Ulster A lock Alex Thompson, while it will be interesting to see how American recruit Kalei Konrad fares in midfield.

St Mary’s College v Garryowen, Templeville Road

Ciaran Ruddock dejected after the game Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ciaran Ruddock captains Mary's this season. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It was a tough slog for both of these clubs last season with 11 defeats each. St Mary’s ended up just three points clear of the relegation zone, while Garryowen had to save their top flight status via playoff wins over Old Wesley and UL Bohemians.

On early season evidence, Garryowen have bolstered their squad with some canny acquisitions. Their scrum is much improved with Trinity prop Andy Keating now on board. Behind him, Darren Ryan, Aaron McCloskey and Sean Rennison have moved across from Young Munster and number eight Mark Rowley returns from Old Wesley.

Led by new captain Ciaran Ruddock, St Mary’s have had an encouraging early season with wins over UCD and Old Belvedere, although a second half slump saw them beaten 31-20 by Lansdowne last Saturday.

They will be eager to retain the Shay Deering Trophy and give new head coach Peter Burke a winning start in Division 1A.

Young Munster v UCD, Tom Clifford Park

Jimmy O'Brien Gary Carr / INPHO Jimmy O'Brien will line out for UCD after pre-season appearances for Leinster. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Back to full fitness after shoulder and ankle injuries, 22-year-old back rower Ben Kilkenny from Tipperary will captain Young Munster this term as they target a fourth successive Division 1A semi-final and, with it, a long-awaited shot at the league title.

There have been a number of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ in the off-season, the Cookies recruiting Trinity number eight Tom Ryan, versatile Galwegians and Connacht Eagles forward Marc Kelly, Kiwi centre Ben Swindlehurst from Naas and 19-year-old Munster Academy newcomer Daniel Hurley.

UCD will want to build some momentum ahead of next week’s home clash with Trinity. They ran Saturday’s opposition close (37-31) on their last visit to Greenfields and certainly have the personnel to trouble them. Their Ireland sevens contingent, including lively centre Jimmy O’Brien, ran Old Belvedere ragged in a 43-5 Leinster Senior League win last Saturday.

Ulster Bank League Division 1B

Dolphin v Naas, Musgrave Park

Dolphin dug their heels in to hold onto their Division 1B place in April, coming through two tough playoff games against Malone and Nenagh Ormond. Talismanic players-turned-coaches, Chris Rowe and Barry Keeshan, will be relishing their first full season at the helm.

Starting his third year as Naas player-coach, Johne Murphy will play at out-half tomorrow with Donal Droney, an experienced campaigner, and Ross Bailey-Kearney paired together in midfield. The 22-year-old Bailey-Kearney returns from a spell playing in England with Bury St Edmund’s.

Former Tullamore and Banbridge lock Philip Jordan starts in the second row for the Kildare men, who lost 15-10 to Dolphin in last year’s corresponding fixture before triumphing 30-8 in the return match. A tough one to call but Dolphin should shade it.

Old Belvedere v Ballynahinch, Anglesea Road

Eddie O'Sullivan James Crombie / INPHO Old Belvo head coach Eddie O'Sullivan. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Eddie O’Sullivan and Brian McLaughlin, who operated as skills coach during O’Sullivan’s Ireland tenure, will look to outfox each other when their Old Belvedere and Ballynahinch teams face off at Anglesea Road.

O’Sullivan, who assisted Paul Cunningham for the final three months of last season, has replaced him in ‘Belvo hot-seat. The Dubliners were relegated as Division 1A’s bottom-placed side, so O’Sullivan and fellow coaches Andy Dunne (backs) and Fergal Walsh (forwards) have a lot of rebuilding to do.

McLaughlin worked his magic as a coaching consultant at Armagh. Now returning to ‘Hinch in a similar position, he is aiming to revive the fortunes of a squad that was only three points away from trouble last season.

Player/backs coach Tom Rock and Nigel Brady, who will coach the front five forwards, are assisting McLaughlin whose team is strengthened this weekend by Ulster’s Peter Browne, Aaron Cairns, David Busby and Academy newcomer Jack Regan.

Old Wesley v Ballymena, Donnybrook

Clive Ross Craig Watson / INPHO Flanker Clive Ross will be in action for Ballymena. Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

Old Wesley did the double on Ballymena last season, running out 30-points winners at their Donnybrook base. Fourth place finishers in 2016/17, Morgan Lennon’s men are more than capable of pushing even harder for promotion in the coming months.

Ballymena centre Callum Patterson will face a late fitness test as he looks to join four of his Ulster colleagues in the visitors’ starting line-up tomorrow — half-backs Brett Herron and David Shanahan, hooker Adam McBurney and flanker Clive Ross.

Not much can be read into the clubs’ early season form, Wesley dispatching Wanderers and Navan in the Leinster Senior League as expected, scoring 72 points along the way, while the Braidmen accounted for City of Derry 45-12 but lost to Armagh 38-27 at home last week while experimenting with different combinations.

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UCC v Shannon, the Mardyke 

Cian Bohane James Crombie / INPHO Cian Bohane is returning to UBL rugby after he retired from the professional game. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The Mardyke is where Tom Hayes will begin his first full league season as Shannon head coach. He replaced Marcus Horan in the position last January — duly guiding the Limerick club to safety — and there are more grounds for positivity after last week’s battling performance against Cork Constitution in the Munster Senior Cup.

Eight points was the gap between eighth-placed Shannon and UCC, in fifth, last term. Ireland U20 out-half Conor Fitzgerald kicked 10 points in Shannon’s March win (20-14) over the Cork students, who were 17-9 victorious on their own patch five months previously. Centre Kevin Slater’s 72nd-minute try proved decisive that day.

If they can begin to string together results, UCC look well set up to mount a challenge for promotion. Brian Walsh is now their head coach and recently-retired Munster centre Cian Bohane and 20-year-old scrum half John Poland, who won the league’s top prize with Cork Con in May, are two exciting additions to the back-line.

UL Bohemians v Banbridge, UL 4G pitch

Nick Timoney tackled by Patrick Kelly and Ben Robbins Dan Sheridan / INPHO Nick Timoney is in line for his Banbridge debut. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland sevens international and Ulster academy member Nick Timoney will debut for Banbridge as they make the leap up to Division 1B. There is also a first start for Ireland Club international prop Eric O’Sullivan who has joined from Trinity.

Daniel Soper’s side face a stern test of their second tier credentials when they visit UL Bohemians who finished third in the table in April. However, Bohs struggled for consistency in their two recent outings against Nenagh Ormond. Robbie Bourke played a pivotal role in last week’s Munster Senior Cup at Nenagh, scoring a try, setting one up and kicking two closing penalties.

It will be an occasion to remember for Bann in Limerick tomorrow, but spare a thought for their club captain Adam Ervine who will miss the first few weeks of the campaign after breaking a bone in his hand during his second game back from a similar injury.

Ulster Bank League Division 2A fixtures:

All 2.30pm kick off

  • Cashel v Galwegians, Spafield
  • City of Armagh v Greystones, Palace Gardens
  • Galway Corinthians RFC v Queens University, Corinthian Park
  • Highfield v Blackrock College RFC, Woodleigh Park
  • Nenagh Ormond v Malone, New Ormond Park

Ulster Bank League Division 2B fixtures:

All 2.30pm kick off

  • Belfast Harlequins v Navan RFC, Deramore Park
  • Dungannon v Skerries, Stevenson Park
  • MU Barnhall v Sundays Well, Parsonstown
  • Rainey OB v Old Crescent, Hatrick Park
  • Wanderers v City of Derry, Aviva Stadium

Ulster Bank League Division 2C fixtures:

All 2.30pm kick offs unless stated 

  • Malahide v Bective Rangers (Friday, 7.30pm), Estuary Road
  • Bangor v Tullamore, Upritchard Park
  • Bruff v Omagh, Kilballyowen Park
  • Midleton v Seapoint, Towns Park
  • Thomond v Sligo, Liam Fitzgerald Park


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