Tough task for Irish universities
UCC and UCD face strong opposition in the quarterfinal stages of the Students' European Rugby Championship today. UCC have the benefit of home advantage at the Mardyke where they face Northumbria while UCD must travel to England where they have been drawn against the sports science college Brunel.
UCD sent last year's inaugural winners of the competition, Toulouse, packing at Belfield shortly before Christmas. Their influential out-half Brian O'Driscoll, who left the pitch against the French university with a back injury, which was subsequently diagnosed as a trapped nerve, is now fully fit to face the English side.
Apart from Ronan McCormack replacing Ian Lynam in the front row the UCD team is unchanged. Because of the Christmas break and a postponement against Richmond last weekend because of the bad weather the students have not had a game since December 18th.
The flip side is that UCD will be fresh to face Brunel, who won the British Universities championship last year.
"I would still say that Loughborough are one of the stronger sides although the Toulouse coach rated Grenoble. Luckily they play each other in one of the other quarterfinals and so one of them will go," said UCD director of rugby John McClean.
UCC welcome back a number of players for their game at the Mardyke against Northumbria. Ironically, at the same time as the club decided to provide shoulder padding, backs Aidan O'Shea, Paul Barry and Leonard Twoomey and back row Tim Cahill fell foul of AC joint injuries.
All are now back in the side, although, Munster scrum-half Peter Stringer is on the bench having picked up an injury during the Province's European Cup campaign.
"We are not dismissive of Northumbria but we are confident of progressing further," said coach Peter Melia.
UCC, who beat Bristol University 23-14 and Barcelona 76-3 in their group matches, kick off their quarter-final at 6.00 p.m. in the Mardyke while UCD face Brunel at 2.00 p.m. at the Richmond Athletic Ground.