Terenure will have been targeting this game since their surprise home defeat to UCD on December 20, which knocked them off the top of the table.
It is second against third at Lakelands, with ‘Nure desperate to get back on track. They certainly have the firepower to do so — including the league’s top try scorers, Kyle McCoy and Harry Moore (6 each).
After a poor start to the campaign, Cork Constitution are now unbeaten in five games and will be itching for a run-out due to the postponement of the Munster Senior Cup final. Still, it is hard to see past a home win.
A win would be vital for either side, particularly Dolphin who have been languishing at the bottom of the table since September. Head coach Steve Ford will have been emphasising the New Year offers the Corkmen a clean slate as they continue to chase a first league victory. Munsters will want to banish memories of a 30-6 defeat at Ballynahinch. They already beat Cork Con away in November and will be confident of a second Leeside success.
These two would probably have wanted to play through Christmas given their recent form — UCD and Ballynahinch have both beaten the top two already this season. ‘Hinch defeated the students home and away last season, but Derek Suffern’s charges have not won on their travels this term with four losses in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Both sides lie in mid-table and home advantage could be enough to edge UCD back into the top four.
Two Ulster rivals who have had contrasting results, with Ballymena posting seven wins before Christmas and Belfast Harlequins suffering seven defeats. Harlequins did at least boost their hopes with a bonus point victory over UL Bohemians in the last round. Adam Larkin called it ‘a great springboard’ towards this derby, and he will have Rory Scholes and probably Neil McComb available again. Ballymena have been near faultless at home — apart from a derby reversal to Malone — so Andy Graham’s men should have all bases covered as they look to do the double on ‘Quins.
Galwegians’ Christmas dinner will have been slightly soured by their 30-point hammering by in-form Trinity in the previous round. Hopefully for ‘Wegians sake, it was just an ill-timed blip. Matt Brown’s charges will want to quickly put that result to bed with a much-improved performance against Shannon, whom they beat 29-25 when the sides met in Limerick in September. Shannon scored three late tries that day to earn a losing bonus point, and they may have to hope for a similar return given that ‘Wegians have lost just one of their last 13 league matches at Crowley Park.
There was not much between these sides when they met in Athlone in September, scrum half Mark Dolan’s 65th-minute try proving crucial for Buccs in a 25-22 win. Garryowen have shown the better form since then, winning six of their next eight league games. Their latest success saw them beat local rivals Shannon, with impressive out-half Jamie Gavin boosting his tally for the campaign to 92 points. Buccs, who could have former Garryowen ace Alan Gaughan back at out-half, have lost just once away this season, but the Light Blues are favoured to start the New Year on a winning note.
The league table makes for disappointing viewing for Malone following four defeats on the trot. Sixth-placed Corinthians are two points better off following their draw with Ballymena. The one positive for Malone is that they seem to like playing the Galway side — they put 52 points on them last April and a late Josh Pentland penalty secured a losing bonus point at Corinthian Park in September. Winning on the road is vital if Corinthians are to get back in touch with the sides above them. There is a seven-point gap between them and Buccaneers, but hungry Malone should take the spoils in this Belfast encounter.
Dublin University certainly owe UL Bohemians one after two defeats at Sydney Parade last year, by seven and three-point margins respectively. These student derbies are always tight contests, but Trinity stand a good chance of prevailing if they can maintain their pre-Christmas form which produced six wins and a draw. With seven losses in their last eight outings, UL have noticeably struggled with injuries. They will be hoping for a good return from out-half Shane Airey in his kicking duel Jack McDermott. Between the pair, they accumulated 162 points in the previous 10 rounds.