Here is your preview of the weekend’s AIL Division 1A and 1B action.
All-Ireland League, Division 1A
(Kick off 2.30pm unless stated)
THERE WAS NO disgrace in Shannon losing 27-7 to Cork Constitution on their return to the top-flight, in fact Tom Hayes’ youngsters performed much better than the scoreline suggests.
Local bragging rights are on the line tonight when they host Young Munster for the first time in the league since September 2012.
Keith Earls assisted at a Young Munster training session earlier in the week, with the Cookies’ back-line looking to fire after scoring just the one try against Terenure.
Kiwi signing Clayton Stewart starred with 17 points from the tee in their 22-5 win, and given the expected weather conditions, his reliable right boot could prove invaluable.
A lot will also rest on the shoulders of respective hookers Ty Chan and Billy Scannell, who comes in for his first start, at scrum and lineout time, while Young Munster’s new number eight John Foley, who helped Shannon win the Division 1B title last season, will be a marked man for the Lee Nicholas-led Shannon back row to seek out.
The second of the promoted clubs, UCC, get their first taste of Friday night lights action in the top-flight later.
UCC have claimed a number of scalps at their historic Mardyke ground in recent seasons and would love to add current table toppers Cork Constitution to that list.
Of course the students’ head coach Brian Walsh has a long association with Cork Con as both a player and coach.
It adds another level of intrigue with Walsh coming up against his former coaching colleague at Temple Hill, Brian Hickey, along with a potentially explosive midfield battle between Cian Bohane and Niall Kenneally, the former Munster ‘A’ team-mates.
Kenneally touched down twice in Con’s 20-point victory over Shannon, while impressive UCC out-half James Taylor weighed in with a try and four conversions in their defeat at UCD.
UCC were two minute away from beating Con in the Munster Senior Cup last month and they are likely to run Hickey’s men very close again.
A second successive college derby for UCD who opened with a 39-28 Dudley Cup-winning performance against UCC.
Their well-drilled lineout maul was the springboard for three of their five tries, with Leinster ‘A’ back rower Ronan Foley also chipping in with a classy 40-metre solo score.
Dublin University’s new-look squad have gelled really quickly on evidence of their 27-25 loss at Garryowen.
They put it up to the Light Blues in every facet — apart from the scrum — with out-half James Fennelly, who unfortunately missed a late conversion, and new captain Colm Hogan the leading lights.
There are minimal changes to the UCD line-up this week with Cillian Burke coming in at fullback and Brian Cawley added to the second row.
It was one win apiece in 2017/18, Trinity triumphing 11-10 most recently to win the Colours in April.
However, a mass exodus of players in the summer leaves Tony Smeeth’s side light on experience and that could be a telling factor on Saturday afternoon.
Defending champions Lansdowne have ground to make up after an opening night loss to Clontarf which saw them have four players sin-binned.
They also have uncharacteristic scrum and lineout issues to iron out, the latter not helped by the late withdrawal of new signing David O’Connor.
The scrummaging duel between former Connacht loosehead Denis Coulson and Garryowen tighthead Andy Keating looks significant in what will be a key area of this game, which will see the Six Nations and Triple Crown trophies on display at Dooradoyle.
Centres Peadar Collins (21) and David McCarthy (20) combined for 17 points against Trinity, and Conan Doyle will want more of the same from the young duo.
Previewing the trip to Limerick, Lansdowne supremo Mike Ruddock said: “We only lost two games last season and one of those was down in Garryowen, so we know how tough it’s going to be. They’ll be looking for some revenge after losing to us in the semi-final, so there’s plenty of rivalry there.”
Running out in front of a large home crowd comes at just the right time for Terenure who have lost to Lansdowne 42-5 (Leinster Senior League Cup final) and Young Munster 22-5 in the past fortnight.
Beaten semi-finalists last season, they face into back-to-back games at Lakelands and a potential momentum-building phase.
However, Clontarf were one of the best performing sides last weekend and look in rude early-season health with their new signings, Michael Courtney and Angus Lloyd in particular, hitting the ground running.
Head coach Andy Wood sounded some words of caution, saying ‘it’s only a start’.
Wood will need no reminding that ‘Tarf were pipped 19-18 at Lakelands last February, a tight tussle decided by flanker Harrison Brewer’s 73rd-minute converted try.
Terenure are always capable of turning it on at home, but Clontarf, if they can back up their efforts in keeping Lansdowne try-less last week, should stay on the winning trail.
All-Ireland League, Division 1B
(Kick off 2.30pm)
Ballynahinch are missing hooker Zack McCall, one of their try scorers from last week’s 37-27 defeat at St. Mary’s.
Scoring three tries away from home was certainly a positive but there was frustration with how ‘Hinch ended the game and left possibly two bonus points behind them.
Having picked up a point in their opener against Old Wesley, Armagh are relishing this first clash with one of their four Ulster rivals in the division.
Philip Fletcher is set to come into the front row, while Neil Faloon (shoulder) should be fit to start at number eight with winger Ryan Purvis’ availability dependent on a late fitness test.
Ballynahinch have hosted Armagh already this season, claiming a 24-7 victory in the SONI Ulster Premiership.
Neither side were at full strength that August day but Rhys O’Donnell, the former Ulster Senior Schools Cup-winning scrum-half with RBAI, caught the eye and he has taken that form into the All-Ireland League, touching down against Mary’s.
This is Banbridge’s first All-Ireland League outing at Rifle Park since their heartbreaking play-off final defeat to UCC last April.
After a sticky start, their efforts in claiming a late bonus-point try at Old Belvedere last week suggest that they can contend again for promotion.
With four league debutants on show against Naas, Buccaneers took heart from their depleted team’s performance.
The presence of assistant coach Aidan Wynne in a young back-line will see them develop as the rounds go by. Flanker Rory Moloney, also a former Connacht senior squad member, notably delivered a man-of-the-match display as Buccs captain.
Ruairi Byrne’s return will boost Buccs’ options up front for this first-ever meeting between the clubs.
The Pirates are still missing some key players, however, and Bann should profit especially if they get their lineout working.
It should improve with Ulster academy back rower David McCann getting more time with the squad.
In his testimonial year with Ulster, flanker Chris Henry is set to relive his youth with his first appearance for Malone in over a decade.
The 33-year-old member of the Malone coaching staff, who is coming back from a calf injury, is due to start at openside in place of unavailable captain Ross Todd.
The Cregagh Red Sox were very impressive 27-0 winners at Ballymena in the opening round, with two-try centre Josh Pentland running in an early Try of the Month contender. Tomorrow’s visitors, St. Mary’s, had their own star performer in out-half Sean Kearns who shone with 22 points against Ballynahinch.
That bonus point triumph augurs well for Mary’s, but they did cough up 27 points and need to cut down on the number of missed tackles and breakdown penalties.
Malone boss Paddy Armstrong wants his players to build on what they achieved last Saturday, with their preparations including some guidance from Ulster lock Alan O’Connor at training this week.
Naas player-coach Johne Murphy has made three personnel changes and three positional switches for the visit of Ballymena.
Murphy shifts to inside centre in a rejigged back-line that sees Peter Osborne revert to full-back and Richard Fahy come in at scrum half. Pierce Dargan and Ryan Casey are introduced in the pack.
The breakdown and discipline have been areas of focus for Ballymena following their disappointing opener against Malone.
They have a lengthy injury list, including lock David Whann who is a major doubt with a knee injury, but Glenn Baillie slots back in at scrum half after late changes saw him move to centre last Saturday.
Sam Millar will don the number 12 jersey on his league debut for the Braidmen whose head coach Andy Graham is expecting ‘a tough test’ from Naas.
He is hoping they can recapture the form which saw them do the double over the Kildare outfit last season, winning 19-13 at Forenaughts and 26-8 at home.
Two of the winning sides from the first round face off in a mouth-watering Dublin 4 derby.
Chief among the attacking threats will be Jack Keating, who scored a hat-trick on his league debut for Old Belvedere, and Old Wesley captain Paul Harte who bagged a brace against Armagh.
Tighthead Declan Lavery, the fulcrum of the ‘Belvo pack, made his 100th league appearance for the club in their 42-28 bonus point success against Banbridge.
Out-half Steve Crosbie, who was most recently playing for Connacht, marked his first outing as ‘Belvo’s player-backs coach and captain with 18 points.
That scoring power will have to be quelled by Wesley who are expected to start new signing Alan Gaughan at inside centre.
Back-to-back wins would be a significant improvement on the Donnybrook dwellers’ start to last season which saw them go five rounds within a victory.
All-Ireland League Division 2A fixtures
(Kick off 2.30pm unless stated)
All-Ireland League Division 2B fixtures:
(Kick off 2.30pm unless stated)
All-Ireland League Division 2C fixtures:
(Kick off 2.30pm unless stated)
5 Divisions. 50 Clubs. This is the AIL. This is rugby. This weekend.
Fixtures: https://t.co/NM8dgyuEvs#AIL #irishrugby #clubrugby pic.twitter.com/hKgHleOgCv
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