Lansdowne v Clontarf
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Lansdowne v Clontarf
(Aviva Stadium, 2.05, RTE2)
ALL roads lead to Lansdowne where, after a season of tearing it up around the rugby grounds of the country, the runaway league leaders get to close the deal on home sod.
The removal of the play-offs from the All-Ireland League may have robbed the competition of its day in the sun, but were they in place the likelihood is that the Dubliners would prevail anyway such is their dominance.
Still, the old system did add excitement and today appears to be a coronation, despite the involvement of the league's second-best team, Clontarf. The northsiders can win at Lansdowne today and still watch their Dublin rivals lift the trophy. A bonus-point defeat should do the leaders, who are 19 points clear having played one game more.
They have not lost since early December and have racked up an average of 30 points a game in their campaign to date, suffering only two defeats. Mike Ruddock's men are the complete package, having the ability to get amongst it with an all-Leinster front row of Jack O'Connell (above), Tom Sexton and Martin Moore, backed up by another provincial player in second-row Tadhg Beirne.
The backs may be without Leinster's John Cooney, Connacht's Matt Healy and the injured Foster Horan, but Simon Morrissey is a hard man to stop in midfield, while captain Ross McCarron and out-half Craig Ronaldson have been consistent all season.
'Tarf, who agonisingly missed out on the league last season to Mary's, won't want to watch another team celebrate and will be aiming to spoil the party. They ran their rivals close earlier this season, but their costly slip-ups since mean they're likely to be bridesmaids again. With the television cameras in town, a temporary terrace up on the back pitch and a large crowd expected, it would be a fitting way for Lansdowne to finish the job.
LANSDOWNE – R McCarron (capt); C Aherne, M Roche, S Morrissey, S Carey; C Ronaldson, P O'Driscoll; J O'Connell, T Sexton, M Moore; W Earle, T Beirne; C Ross, C Butterworth, R Boucher. Reps: S Collins, D O'Reilly, M Feely, M Walsh, C Toolin.
CLONTARF – R Lane; M D'Arcy, K Lett, E Ryan, M McGrath; D Fitzpatrick, S Cronin; B Barclay, C O'Flynn, R Burke-Flynn; B Reilly, M Flanagan; S Crawford, A D'Arcy, F Cogan. Reps: C Kavanagh, J Larbey, C O'Keefe, D Shanahan, C O'Shea.
Mike Ruddock (Lansdowne)
Although this will be the club's first league title, at least there is someone in the Lansdowne set-up with a little bit of big-game experience. In former Wales Grand Slam-winning coach Mike Ruddock, there is a wealth of knowledge to be tapped into for the southside club. Combining his role with the Ireland U-20 job, the former Leinster supremo has moulded his team into a serious unit this season and has won admirers for the club's style of play.
Whether they'll be able to hang on to him beyond this season is another thing. Ruddock has plenty of admirers within the IRFU and could be in the frame to lead the Irish squad on their summer tour if Declan Kidney's time comes to an end.
If he could replicate his Lansdowne form with Ireland, the possibilities are tantalising.
Ballynahinch steaming ahead
Although UCD are doing everything they can to stop them, Down's Ballynahinch are nine points clear on top of Division 1B – ahead of today's meeting with Bruff – and are on course for the automatic promotion spot.
NUMBER Of the week
3 Lansdowne will become the third different Dublin club in a row to lift the All- Ireland League trophy if they complete the job at Lansdowne Road today.
Ulster Bank league fixtures
Division 1A: Lansdowne v Clontarf, Aviva Stadium, 2.05; Old Belvedere v St Mary's College, Anglesea Road.
Division 1B: Ballymena v Bruff, Eaton Park; Ballynahinch v Buccaneers, Ballymacarn Park; Blackrock College v Dublin University, Stradbrook; UCD v Belfast Harlequins, Belfield.
Division 2A: Cashel v Terenure, Cashel; City of Derry v Midleton, Judges Road; Galwegians v Banbridge, Crowley Park; Old Wesley v Highfield, Dooradoyle; Queens University v Bective Rangers, Dub Lane; Seapoint v Old Crescent, Kilboggett Park; UCC v Corinthians, Mardyke.
Division 2B: Ards v City of Armagh, Hamilton Park; Clonakilty v Naas, The Vale; Connemara v Skerries, Monastary Field; NUIM Barnhall v Navan, Parsonstown; Rainey Old Boys v Thomond, Hatrick Park; Sligo v Instonians, Sligo; Sunday's Well v Boyne, Musgrave Park; Suttonians v Nenagh Ormond, Station Road.