Tim Ferguson scores for Garryowen in their loss to Lansdowne last weekend
THE Division 1A Ulster Bank League season reaches a critical stage this weekend with two local derbies on Friday night topping the bill of fare.
In Division 1A, great rivals Garryowen and Young Munster go head-to-head at Dooradoyle (7.30pm), while in Division 2C, promotion chasers Bruff and Thomond face-off at Kilballyowen Park, also 7.30pm.
In Division 2A, also on Friday night, high-flying leaders Old Crescent travel to Musgrave Park to take on Munster rivals Sunday’s Well, 7.45pm.
On Saturday, in Division 1B, struggling UL-Bohemian, face a crunch home fixture with Old Wesley on the 4G rugby pitch at UL, 2.30pm.
Fifth-placed Garryowen sit one point and one place ahead of Friday night’s top flight fixture with Young Munster at Dooradoyle.
While Garryowen lost out to leaders Lansdowne on the back pitch at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday last, Munsters’ recorded a resounding victory over St Mary’s College at Tom Clifford Park.
On the back of their dramatic victory away to Cork Con the previous weekend, Munsters’ will make the short journey to Dooradoyle on Friday night in confident mood.
Asked for his thoughts on Friday night’s game at Dooradoyle clashing directly with the Barbarians fixture with Tonga at Thomond Park, Munsters’ head coach Gearoid Prendergast said: “I am getting used to the whole thing around how fixtures work after what happened last year. It is a busy rugby schedule and you have to get through it.
”I would like to think there is a really big interest in this game in Dooradoyle. Garryowen are going well, credit to them. They have a very strong side.
”Hopefully it has the making of a very good game and we get the weather for it as well.”
Munsters’ have been boosted by the return to fitness of exciting out-half Alan Tynan. Tynan came off the bench in last weekend’s runaway victory over St Mary’s, his first appearance of the season following a broken toe sustained while playing for Ireland U-20s at the Junior World Championship in the summer.
Meanwhile, Garryowen may well have Sam Arnold, who scored two tries for Munster in the convincing bonus point win over the the Dragons in Cork on Friday, available to feature in the derby.
Munster winger Alex Wootton could also feature as well as hooker Mike Sherry.
Having lost three of their opening four fixtures, Munsters’ have bounced back to form in recent weeks with those back-to-back wins.
Young Munster head coach Gearoid Prendergast said: “If you get a couple of wins the whole dynamic of the table changes.
“The Cork Con game was a massive boost, We had a couple of good weeks’ training. We obviously had the disappointment of the previous couple of weeks, so it was great to bounce back.
”Having some extra personnel back made a big difference as well.”
Garryowen, who were involved in the relegation play-off last season, have made an encouraging start to the season despite Saturday’s loss to high-flying Lansdowne.
Garryowen scrum-half Neil Cronin remains a key player for the ‘Light Blues’ with his ability to boss a game and the added string to his bow he brings with his goal-kicking.
Garryowen head coach, Conan Doyle said: “Neil is definitely one of the best players in the league, no doubt. He has been a hugely important player for Garryowen for I don’t know how many years now. He shows every week why he is one of the best players in the league.”
The meeting of third-placed Bruff and second-placed Thomond in 2C at Kilballyowen is sure to attract a decent crowd. Both clubs have made impressive starts to the season.
2B leaders Crescent will aim to make it seven wins from seven against Sunday’s Well on Friday night. Free-scoring Crescent are averaging 37 points per game this season,
Meanwhile, ninth-placed UL-Bohs will be desperate to make home advantage pay when hosting eighth-placed Old Wesley in Division 1B at UL on Saturday.