THE Ulster Bank League season cranks up a gear in the top two divisions, 1A and 1B this weekend with a crucial round of fixtures.
Topping the bill is the eagerly-awaited Division 1A derby clash of arch rivals Garryowen and Young Munster at Dooradoyle on Friday night, 7.30pm.
Meanwhile, in Division 1B on Saturday, promotion-chasing UL-Bohemian host Naas on the 4G rugby pitch at UL at 4.30pm.
The later than usual kick-off time for the fixture is in order to avoid a direct clash with Ireland's RBS 6 Nations opener with Scotland at Murrayfield which gets underway at 2.25pm.
Also in Division 1B, Shannon, boosted by their hard earned victory over Galwegians at Thomond Park last weekend, travel to Dublin this Saturday to take on Old Wesley at Donnybrook, also 4.30pm.
The meeting of Limerick rivals Garryowen and Young Munster is sure to attract a bumper attendance to Dooradoyle for a Friday Night Lights showdown.
Both sides are chasing a place in the top four play-off race with Munsters' currently sitting second in the 1A table, just a point behind table toppers Lansdowne, while their hosts on Friday night, Garryowen, currently sit in fifth position, three points behind fourth-placed Clontarf.
Garryowen ground out a hard-earned 13-11 win over Munsters when the sides met in a hard fought, compelling Division 1A fixture at Tom Clifford Park in late November.
The tight nature of that win provided a massive boost in confidence to a Garryowen side which scored an impressive bonus point win over Terenure College in their next outing.
Garryowen, on the back of their 27-17 defeat away to Lansdowne, will be anxious to get back to winning ways in front of their own supporters.
Both Young Munster and Garryowen are set to be without several first choice players due to their involvement in the Ireland U-20s squad who are in 6 Nations action this weekend.
Ireland U-20s play Scotland also on Friday night at 8.30pm in Broadwood Stadium, Cumbernauld.
Young Munster have two representatives included in Ireland's matchday squad for the U-20 opener against Scotland, Jack Lyons and Fineen Wycherley both named on the bench.
Exciting Young Munster winger Calvin is not named in the U-20 squad, but could well feature in Munster's matchday squad for their rearranged PR012 fixture with Edinburgh also on Friday.
Garryowen are doubly represented in the extended Ireland U-20 squad with Peader Collins and Liam Coombes.
Young Munster got back to winning ways, making it four wins in six games, when defeating Lansdowne 19-10 at Tom Clifford Park on Saturday last.
Munsters’ lead 16-10 at half-time, thanks to a Cian Bohane try and the excellent goal-kicking of Alan Tynan.
Meanwhile, city rivals Garryowen dropped to fifth after their 10-point defeat away to Terenure College, despite leading 10-0 at half-time.
The ‘Light Blues’ had first half tries from Neil Cronin and Hugh O’Brien-Cunningham. However, the concession of 27 unanswered points in the second period – with Garryowen’s cause not helped by picking up three yellow cards.
The Dooradoyle side did manage a late try from Andrew O’Byrne which Cronin converted.
Both UL-Bohs and Shannon will be anxious to build on their weekend wins when they resume action in Division 1B on Saturday.
Second-placed UL-Bohs are within two points of leaders Buccaneers, thanks to a precious 18-9 win away at UCC. UL-Bohs prop Joey Conway will be absent for the weekend AIL fixture as he starts for Ireland U-20s against Scotland on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Tom Hayes’ reign as Shannon head coach got off to a winning start when the Parish side jumped off the bottom of the 1B table, thanks to a hard-fought 17-14 win over Galwegians.
Shannon had suffered a 53-12 hammering by Galwegians in their previous league outcome in early December. The Shannon duo of Conor Fitzgerald and Adam Moloney are on the bench for the Irish U-20s.