Cork Constitution certainly have the wind in their sails. Last Saturday they made it six games unbeaten with an eye-catching win away to former league leaders Terenure. Half-backs Gerry Hurley and Tomas Quinlan scored the decisive tries, and while Con head coach Tom Tierney praised the pair he also said: “Defence wins games in Dublin and that’s exactly what did it for us.”
They will need plenty of defensive grit to unsettle a Ballynahinch side who can be formidable opposition at home. Derek Suffern’s men picked up a losing bonus point in Cork in September, and should gain four at their Down fortress.
The match of the weekend. Lansdowne may have opened up a seven-point lead at the top, but they were fortunate to squeeze past Old Belvedere last time out. Luck was on their side too when they beat Clontarf 9-6 in September, with ‘Tarf’s David Joyce missing two penalties. But the north Dubliners seem in much better form now, scoring 68 points in their last two outings. Joyce has since passed the 100-point mark for the season and his kicking duel with Lansdowne’s Scott Deasy will be crucial.
There was joy at last for bottom side Dolphin when they secured their first win of the league campaign last week, edging out Young Munster 12-11. They are at home for the second week running, but it is difficult to see them lowing the colours of UCD who have beaten them in their last three encounters — scoring 109 points in the process.
Both could do with a New Year fillip. St. Mary’s have lost their last three matches, while Old Belvedere are on a four-game losing streak. The visitors have a bad habit of losing tight games, amassing seven losing bonus points. St. Mary’s fell away in closing quarter against Clontarf, going down 44-15 in the end. They really need a result here as they face four play-off chasing sides in the next four rounds.
Terenure have fond memories of facing Young Munster who were hammered 42-0 at Lakelands Park in September. However, ‘Nure’s recent form though is a concern — including last week’s 21-7 home loss to Cork Constitution.
They certainly have the players to turn things round. The same is true of Young Munster who, on paper, have the squad depth to challenge for the play-offs.
Belfast Harlequins may be bottom, but sixth-placed Malone are just five points better off. Add in the fact that September’s encounter at Gibson Park went right down to the wire with ‘Quins edging it 20-19, and you have the makings of a classic derby. Two Paul Jackson tries helped Malone begin 2015 with a 27-11 win over Corinthians. Another four-point return is likely if they can keep hosts’ Ulster backs Rory Scholes and Michael Heaney quiet.
Two defeats in their last three games have seen Buccaneers slip behind the top four and can ill-afford another reversal. Strangely enough, the Pirates have won on the road more than at home this season, with their away successes including September’s 27-17 victory over Shannon at Coonagh. With experienced back David O’Donovan increasing his influence, Shannon have definitely improved since then. Beating table-topping Galwegians was a big statement of intent, but Buccs are tipped to take the spoils here.
Five points separated the sides when they met at Dooradoyle in September, and Garryowen should complete a season’s double when they pay Corinthian Park a visit. The third-placed Light Blues are bubbling with confidence, especially out-half Jamie Gavin who is comfortably top of the scoring charts with 105 points. Corinthians las outing against Malone — a 27-11 defeat — showed how inconsistent Pat Cunningham’s charges can be.
A crunch clash for two sides who are right in the mix for promotion to the top flight. Although more experienced, Ballymena will be way of a Trinity side that is enjoying the fruits of an eight-match unbeaten run. Ballymena are the division’s top scorers at present, with last week’s try scorers Stephen Mulholland (4 tries) and Jordan Foster (3 tries) both hitting good form.
A testing time for Galwegians whose surprise 18-3 loss to Shannon marked the first occasion they were held try-less this season. Their lead at the top of the table has been cut to just one point and they head south to Limerick seeking their first win in three league games. Bohs were well beaten by high-flying Trinity last week, and are struggling to finish off scores — as evidenced by their reliance on Shane Airey (88 points) and Ian Condell (4 tries).