Ulster Bank League Uncovered
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Lansdowne v Garryowen
(Aviva Stadium 2.30)
WHEN the IRFU reverted to a straight league format for the All-Ireland League and removed the play-offs, there was always a risk that the competition could become a procession for one dominant team.
Last season worked like a dream. Three teams retained an interest until the last two weekends when they were all due to play each other in the closing stages. It made for great drama and live television exposure as St Mary's beat second-placed Clontarf and third-placed Young Munster to secure the crown.
This year, however, it looks like becoming a stroll for league leaders Lansdowne, who, if they see off second-placed Garryowen this afternoon, can extend their lead to 10 points. Young Munster remain in the hunt and play mid-table Dolphin at home today, but the gap that the Dubliners have opened gives them a huge advantage as the competition hots up.
Head coach Mike Ruddock has been double-jobbing in recent weeks as he manages the Ireland U-20 side, but Emmet Farrell has kept the ship on the right course.
These sides met three weeks ago in Dooradoyle and the visitors on that day were absolutely dominant, running out 23-0 winners and inflicting Garryowen's first defeat at home all season.
After their out-half Craig Ronaldson's (pictured above) starring role in last week's club international win over England and with the attacking weapons at their disposal, Lansdowne will want to reinforce the message they left in Limerick.
Tony Smeeth (Dublin University)
English-born Smeeth combines his role as director of rugby at Trinity with that of backs' coach of the United States.
He will be a key man when the USA take on Ireland this summer, but his other job has not affected his domestic affairs at Trinity, who are flying high in Division 1B, although they face a challenge to hold on to the play-off spot with pressure coming from their old rivals UCD.
Smeeth, who played club rugby in England before coming to Ireland where he coached Blackrock College before moving to the city centre university, has been working under Eagles coach Mike Tolkin since March last year.
CLUB XV do ail proud
The Ireland Club XV claimed yet another win over the England Counties in Temple Hill last weekend, keeping their impressive home record intact. While the club players get limited exposure in the modern game, it was great to see so many turn out to support the homegrown talent claim a 30-20 win as Cork Constitution officially unveiled their new facilities.
Number of the week
5The race for promotion from Division 2B is tight, with just five points separating Naas in second and Navan in seventh place.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE FIXTURES
Division 1A: Clontarf v Shannon, Castle Avenue; Cork Constitution v St Mary's, Temple Hill; Lansdowne v Garryowen, Aviva Stadium; UL Bohemian v Old Belvedere, Annacotty; Young Munster v Dolphin, Clifford Park.
Division 1B: Ballymena v Dublin University, Eaton Park; Ballynahinch v UCD, Ballymacarn Park; Blackrock v Belfast Harlequins, Stradbrook; Bruff v Malone, Kilballyowen Park; Dungannon v Buccaneers, Stevenson Park.
Division 2A: Cashel v DLSP, Cashel; City of Derry v Banbridge, Judges Road; Corinthians v Terenure College, Corinthian Park; Midleton v Greystones, Towns Park; Old Crescent v Bective Rangers, Rosbrien; Old Wesley v Queen's University, Donnybrook; Seapoint v Highfield, Kilboggett Park; UCC v Galwegians, Mardyke.
Division 2B: City of Armagh v NUIM Barnhall, Armagh; Clonakilty v Ards, The Vale; Connemara v Thomond, Monastary Field; Instonians v Boyne, Shaws Bridge; Sligo v Naas, Sligo; Sunday's Well v Nenagh Ormond, Musgrave Park; Suttonians v Rainey Old Boys, Station Road.