game OF THE WEEKEND
Clontarf v St Mary's
(Castle Ave, tonight, 7.30)
THIS fixture was televised live last season when St Mary's leapfrogged Clontarf to go top of the table in the penultimate game of the campaign as the Templeville Road side claimed the title.
Less than a year on and both teams need wins for very different reasons. The hosts are just outside touching distance of the title race but know that a strong second half to the season can put them in the mix.
The champions, meanwhile, are sitting precariously above the drop-zone and are in need of some inspiration to kick-start their season.
Since securing the league, Mary's have won just three of their nine games and are ahead of ninth-placed UL Bohemians only on points difference.
Confidence would appear to be a real issue for Hugh Hogan's team after last weekend's 22-13 defeat to Cork Constitution. The southside club were able to field a strong side, featuring the likes of Ciaran Ruddock, Matt D'Arcy, Darragh Fanning and Leinster starlet Darren Hudson in the backline, but could not break down the Con defence.
Clontarf, meanwhile, have yet to hit top gear but have still come out on top in the majority of their games.
Former Blackrock fly-half Darragh Fitzpatrick (above) is a reliable kicker, while they should be able to call on a number of Leinster options in Noel Reid and Mark Flanagan.
Andy Wood's men are 11 points off leaders Lansdowne in fifth, but a good run of form can take them up the league. They will believe that they can kick-start that run tonight with a Dublin derby win.
Maurice Field (Malone)
Working with South African head coach Jacques Benade, Field oversees the performance of a Malone team who are in mid-table in Division 1B and hoping for a run up the ladder in the second half of the season as they chase second-placed Trinity.
An abrasive centre, Field played 17 times for Ireland between 1994 and 1997, playing his club rugby for Malone and representing Ulster.
BALLYNAHINCH RACING AWAY
Second-placed Trinity are eight points behind the league's form team after the Ulster side won at College Park last weekend, and anything less than promotion looks unthinkable for the leaders now.
The last time Ballynahinch were in such stunning form, in 2009, they were bolstered by young Nevin Spence, who died tragically last year.
It appears his former team-mates at his local club are paying him a fitting tribute by finally taking the step towards the top flight.
Number of the week
4Matches that will go up against the second half of the opening Six Nations game in Cardiff tomorrow afternoon. Expect more people in the club bars during the first 40 of the AIL games.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE FIXTURES
Division 1A: Clontarf v St Mary's College, Castle Avenue; Shannon v UL Bohemian, Thomond Park.
Division 1B: Belfast Harlequins v Ballynahinch, Deramore Park; Malone v Ballymena, Gibson Park.
Tomorrow (2.30 unless stated)
Division 1A: Dolphin v Lansdowne, Musgrave Park, 3.0; Garryowen v Cork Constitution, Dooradoyle, 4.0; Old Belvedere v Young Munster, Anglesea Road.
Division 1B: Bruff v UCD, Kilballoyowen Park; Buccaneers v Blackrock, Dubarry Park; Dublin University v Dungannon, College Park.
Division 2A: Old Crescent v Galwegians, Rosbrien; Seapoint v Cashel, Kilboggett Park, 4.0.