AIL previews: Ballynahinch face important clash against Lansdowne

For Lansdowne, a win would effectively secure a place in the semi-finals

Lansdowne's Tom Gavigan. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

As has been the way of things in Division 1A this season, there’s not a hint of a dead rubber in the 16th round of the top flight on Saturday afternoon, although the picture regarding the top four could become clearer.

Heading into the third last round of fixtures across all five divisions over the next three weekends, if Ballynahinch are to force their way into the semi-final line-up then, sitting in fifth place on 45 points, they are in must-win territory when hosting fourth-placed Lansdowne (52 points) at Ballymacarn Park.

Lansdowne were expecting to have Charlie Tector available but Leinster have brought him to Parma as 24th man, so the 19-year-old Steve McMahon, outhalf on the Gonzaga team which won the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup for the first time last season, starts in place of the injured Stephen Madigan. Cathal Eddy, part of the Ireland Club XV side which won in Portugal a fortnight ago, is recalled, as are Hardus van Eeden and the former Ulster flanker Clive Ross in the backrow.

The Ulster prop James French and number eight Greg Jones feature in an unchanged Ballynahinch pack, with outhalf Jack Milligan, winger Ethan Graham and fullback Conor Rankin recalled.

READ MORE

For Lansdowne, a win would effectively secure a place in the semi-finals, and they won the round three fixture on the Aviva back pitch by 45-19, albeit this will be considerably tougher.

On the same day last October, Constitution travelled to Lakelands Park and beat the reigning champions Terenure 20-0 in something of statement win by the well-balanced Cork side. This is a vital game in the context of securing a much-coveted home semi-final as Con sit second on 59 points and ahead of Terenure (56) in third.

Con, who have won six in a row, recall centre Billy Crowley, brother of Jack, and winger Rob Jermyn. The champions have won eight games in succession, and Sean Skehan has retained all seven of the Terenure players who started in that 20-17 win over Portugal. The Terenure and Ireland Club XV captain Harrison Brewer reverts to the secondrow with Adam Melia restored at blindside.

Leaders Clontarf (61 points) travel to seventh-placed UCD and make only one change from the side which beat Young Munster 31-12 three weeks ago, with former Irish Under-20 and Leinster academy winger Aitzol King returning.

Last-placed Trinity, having given themselves a lifeline by beating City of Armagh, are again in must-win territory away to Young Munster. The two teams locked together five points ahead of the students, City of Armagh and Shannon, meet at the Palace Grounds in a huge game in the battle to avoid relegation.

While St Mary’s have secured top place in 1B and promotion, there is a five-way tussle for the three play-off places. In-form Old Wesley will look to strengthen their hold on second place away to Naas, while sixth-placed Blackrock probably need to beat third-placed Old Belvedere in a significant Dublin derby at Stradbrook.

Nenagh Ormond can secure top place in 2A with a bonus point win away to Navan, while Instonians and Clogher Valley can take a step closer to achieving the same in 2B and 2C with wins at home to Rainey and Midleton.

All matches 2.30pm unless stated otherwise

Division 1A

Ballynahinch v Lansdowne, Ballymacarn Park

City of Armagh v Shannon, Palace Grounds

Cork Constitution v Terenure, Temple Hill

UCD v Clontarf, Belfield

Young Munster v Dublin University, Tom Clifford Park

Division 1B

Blackrock College v Old Belvedere, Stradbrook

Buccaneers v Highfield, Dubarry Park

Garryowen v Queens, Dooradoyle

Naas v Old Wesley, Forenaughts

UCC v St. Mary’s College, The Mardyke

Division 2A

Cashel v Greystones, Spafield

MU Barnhall v Banbridge, Parsonstown

Navan v Nenagh Ormond, Balreask Old

Old Crescent v Ballymena, Takumi Park

UL Bohemian v Malone, Annacotty

Division 2B

Belfast Harlequins v Dungannon, Deramore Park

Dolphin v Skerries, Virgin Media Park

Instonians v Rainey, Shaws Bridge

Malahide v Galway Corinthians, Estuary Road

Wanderers v Sligo, Merrion Road

Division 2C

Ballina v Enniscorthy, Heffernan Park

Bangor v Bruff, Upritchard Park

Clogher Valley v Midleton, The Cran

Galwegians v Clonmel, Crowley Park

Omagh Academicals v Tullamore, Thomas Mellon Playing Fields

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times