Thomond's Colin Madden passes from the base of a ruck during his side's loss to Omagh last weekend. The ‘soda cakes’ travel to Bective Rangers this weekend in search of another vital win
THE Ulster Bank League season reaches the half-way stage this weekend with the first of the unique back-to-back series of fixtures.
The final two series of league games before the Christmas break will see clubs facing each other on successive Saturdays, December 2 and December 9.
In Division 1A, second-placed Garryowen will in fact face Cork Constitution three times over successive weekends as the age old rivals are also due to meet in the semi-finals of the Munster Senior Cup on Saturday, December 16.
Garryowen host Cork Constitution in the first of their two Ulster Bank League fixtures this Saturday at Dooradoyle, 2.30pm.
This is a crucial game for both sides who are deadlocked on 25 points on the Division 1A table, 10 adrift of runaway leaders Lansdowne.
Garryowen edge Cork Con for second place in the table by virtue of their superior points difference.
Garryowen go into Saturday’s game in Dooradoyle on the back of three wins in their last four games, including successive wins over Young Munster and Dublin University.
Winger Liam Coombes bagged a hat-trick of tries in Saturday’s 37-28 bonus point victory over Dublin University to bring his tally of touchdowns for the season to five.
Scrum-half Neil Cronin has been in prolific point-scoring form for Garryowen this season, contributing 72 points in total or nine points per game.
Saturday’s opponents Cork Con have won their last three Division 1A fixtures including a dramatic last gasp home victory over St Mary’s College last time out.
Seventh-placed Young Munster will look to recover from their disappointing defeat to Clontarf last weekend when travelling to Terenure College this Saturday.
In Division 1B, table toppers Shannon got back to winning ways when defeating Ballymena 27-15 on the back pitch at Thomond Park on Saturday.
It was Shannon’s seventh win in eight 1B fixtures this season. Tom Hayes’ charges enjoy a four point lead over second-placed Ballynahinch who they face in the first of two back-to-back fixtures this Saturday at Ballymacarn Park.
Free-scoring Shannon have averaged 28 points per game this season to be the most prolific points-scorers in their division this season.
An away victory on Saturday over their nearest rivals would see Shannon build a significant lead over ‘Hinch ahead of their return game at Thomond Park.
Also in Division 1B, UL-Bohemian, rejuvenated by their excellent away win over Dolphin last weekend, will look to boost their survival hopes further when hosting mid-table UCC on the 4G rugby pitch at UL on Saturday.
That 13-6 success at Musgrave Park ended the Limerick side’s four-game losing run in 1B, while consigning the Cork side to a sixth successive defeat.
Saturday’s win over basement side Dolphin helped lift UL-Bohs out of the relegation zone, if only just. The Annacotty side now sit seven points clear of bottom side Dolphin, while the eighth-placed Red, Red Robins enjoy a one point lead over ninth-placed Ballymena.
Saturday’s opponents UCC lost for the first time in five games last weekend when Ballynahinch recorded a 22-18 success at the Mardyke.
In Division 2B, leaders Old Crescent host third-placed Navan in a crucial fixture at Rosbrien.
Crescent are one of only two clubs in the entire Ulster Bank League to boast 100% records with eight wins from as many league fixtures.
The Limerick side has taken a whopping 37 points from a possible 40 to date this season. However, the Rosbrien side had to work very hard to record their 29-27 win over struggling Belfast Harlequins last weekend.
Crescent enjoy a four-point advantage over second-placed Rainey Old Boys as the AIL reaches the half-way stage this weekend.
Free-scoring Crescent have averaged 33 points per fixture so far this league season, while conceding an average of just 16.
Meanwhile, in Division 2C, second-placed Thomond will look to get back to winning ways when travelling to Dublin to face Bective Rangers at Donnybrook.
Promotion-chasing Thomond had to be satisfied with two bonus point from their frustrating 32-39 defeat to Omagh at Liam Fitzgerald Park on Saturday.
Thomond lost in-form winger Darragh O’Neill, who has scored 10 tries in the league this season, to an injury in the second half on Saturday and the Limerick side will hope the former Young Munster man makes a quick recovery.
Also in 2C, Bruff, who slipped to sixth place in the table, following their weekend 21-0 away defeat to Malahide, host Midleton at Kilballyowen Park on Saturday. Bruff sit 10 points off 2C pace setters Sligo.
Despite last weekend's heavy loss to Malahide, Bruff still boast the best defensive record in their Division.