MATCH OF THE DAY
Young Munster v St Mary's, Clifford Park, 2.30
THERE would appear to be no better place for St Mary's to lay down a marker that they are serious competitors this season than going into the lion's den at Clifford Park and beating the league leaders.
Mike Prendergast's Young Munster side are unbeaten in six games, Mary's in four. The Dubliners lie four points back in third, behind Clontarf on points difference after beating the second-placed team by two points at Castle Avenue before Christmas.
The seasonal break would appear to have come just at the wrong time for Peter Smyth, whose team won three Dublin derbies on the bounce in the lead-in to the festive period.
They leave the capital this morning to visit a venue where the Cookies have not been beaten since last year's semi-final. Confidence is high in Limerick, where they are starting to dream of a first title since Lansdowne Road was stormed in 1993.
Prendergast has his side playing a more expansive game than the heroes of the early '90s, while their defence is the meanest in the top flight.
Hugh Hogan and Co will need to front up to deny a strong home pack any momentum, while any indiscretions will be punished by the league's top scorer Willie Staunton (above), who doesn't seem to miss a kick. Games between the pair have been tight in recent times, but home advantage and form point to a Munsters win.
Verdict: Home win.
Cork Constitution are dealing with a weakened hand this season after the redrawing of the rule book and the departure of a number of big names, but supremo Walsh has kept the show on the road thus far.
The former Munster centre has guided Con to the top spot of the league for each of the last five seasons, but this year -- when first place guarantees the trophy rather than a semi-final -- they are in danger of losing out. They go into today's game against champions Old Belvedere in fourth place.
But with his eye for young players and ability to get the best out of a still talented squad, few would bet against Walsh mounting a title challenge and furthering his credentials for a promotion within the Munster set-up.
CARLOW DERBY TAKES CENTRE STAGE
WITH no Division 2 rugby this weekend, attention outside the top two leagues will be directed to Tullow, where a rare Carlow derby takes place as Tullow's rise meets Co Carlow's fall from the heights of Division 1 of the AIL. Around 1,000 supporters attended the first Leinster League clash between the clubs this season and both sides go into this one in need of a win, as well as local bragging rights.
Ulster Bank all-ireland League fixtures
(2.30 unless stated)
Blackrock v Shannon, Stradbrook; Dolphin v Clontarf, Musgrave Park; Lansdowne v Garryowen, Aviva Stadium; Old Belvedere v Cork Constitution, Anglesea Road; Young Munster v St Mary's, Clifford Park.
Ballynahinch v UCD, Ballymacarn Park; Dungannon v Bruff, Stevenson Park; Galwegians v UL Bohemian, Crowley Park; UCC v Buccaneers, Mardyke.