Galwegians v Cork Constitution, Crowley Park.
A huge test for Galwegians on their return to the top flight. Matt Brown’s men know good home form will be crucial in maintaining their Division 1A status.
Former captain Brian McClearn, now coaching NUIG, is one of a number of Galwegians to move on, but Connacht Academy recruits Ed O’Keeffe (ex-Young Munster) and Cormac Brennan - both talented backs - have linked up with the Blues. Cork Constitution won the Cork Charity Cup recently and had 23 points to spare against Shannon in a friendly last weekend. Young place-kicker Tomas Quinlan and flanker Sonny Dwyer are two exciting players to watch.
Garryowen v Ballynahinch, Dooradoyle.
Conan Doyle’s second season in charge of Garryowen begins with a home clash against Ballynahinch, as the Light Blues make their return to Division 1A. Doyle will hope that their surprise Limerick Charity Cup defeat to Old Crescent was an early season blip, and that players like Alex Wootton, new captain Josh Hrstich and Aaron McCloskey inspire them to a solid start.
However, Ballynahinch will fancy their chances of winning in Limerick. They finished only two points short of a semi-final place last season, and skipper Paul Pritchard leads their fearsome forwards.
Lansdowne v Young Munster, Aviva Stadium.
Arguably the match of the weekend in Division 1A as champions Lansdowne host Young Munster in a repeat of last season’s thrilling semi-final. Tyrone Moran’s extra-time try saw Lansdowne prevail 23-19 that day.
Hooker Moran, since moved to London Scottish, is one of six forwards missing from Lansdowne’s title-winning pack.
It is something of a transitional period for Mike Ruddock’s men, but he should get a good return from new backs Matthew D’Arcy and Eamonn Mills, who are noted league operators.
It will be interesting to see how Young Munster go under the guidance of new boss Anthony Mathison, the former Queensland Reds and Australia ‘A’ prop. Backs Darragh O’Neill and Mark Doyle have returned to strengthen the Cookies’ depth.
Ballymena v Belfast Harlequeins, Eaton Park
Nothing like a super-charged Ulster derby to give some early season pointers. Ballymena and Belfast Harlequins both come in on the back of provincial victories, against Queen’s (48-7) and Dungannon (35-20) respectively.
Ulster prospects Jacob Stockdale and Frankie Taggart could have big says in Harlequins’ campaign along with club captain Neil McComb, while ex-Malone scrum half John Creighton has already impressed in his first few weeks with the Braidmen. Andy Graham’s Ballymena side triumphed 22-14 and 17-13 when these Ulster rivals met last term, and they should make home advantage count this afternoon.
Buccaneers v Shannon, Dubarry Park
A cracking tie for two fledgling coaches to get their teeth into, as Brett Wilkinson’s Buccaneers entertain Shannon who now have former Ireland international Marcus Horan at the helm. Buccs won the Connacht Senior League last month with captain Martin Staunton leading by example from the front row, while Conor McKeon from Division 1A champions Lansdowne and Conor Lowndes, formerly of Galwegians, are high quality additions to the backs.
This is a difficult first assignment for Horan’s young charges, who include Stephen Fitzgerald and Frank Bradshaw-Ryan, and a repeat of last season’s 25-7 loss at Dubarry Park may be on the cards.
St Mary’s College v Dolphin, Templeville Road.
A good early test of Dolphin’s Division 1B credentials with new head coach Feargus O’Donoghue looking to pick the Corkmen up after last season’s relegation.
They had six players involved in Munster’s opening PRO12 win over Treviso, including debutant lock John Madigan.
While Peter Smyth remains in charge of St. Mary’s, there is the notable addition of former Ireland international Malcolm O’Kelly as the club’s forwards coach.
This is a battle between the bottom two sides from Division 1A last term, and Mary’s, with Sean Kearns continuing his development at out-half, should have the firepower to take the spoils.
UL Bohemians v Old Wesley, Annacotty.
There is a lot of interest in how Old Wesley fare following their Division 2A title success last season.
The fast-stepping Billy Ngawini from New Zealand is among their new recruits.
Gearoid Prendergast, the new UL coach, will want a strong first outing from his charges as they look to banish memories of last year’s disappointing campaign where they finished eighth.
*All games 2.30pm
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