All-Ireland Cup semi-finals take centre stage this weekend

Bateman Cup semi-finals
Saturday, 12 January (both 2.30pm kick-offs)

City of Armagh v Buccaneers, Palace Grounds

CITY OF ARMAGH, who lifted the Ulster Senior Cup for the first time last season, get another bite at the Bateman Cup cherry after losing 20-13 to Cork Constitution at this stage twelve months ago.

Last Saturday’s five-try 31-15 win over Rainey Old Boys was topped off by captain Chris Colvin’s intercept try and sent Armagh through to the Ulster decider on 8 February.

Turning their attention to this prestigious All-Ireland Cup competition, Willie Faloon’s men are hoping to set up a second final appearance in quick succession. However, an equally ambitious Buccaneers side stand in their way, the clubs having met for the first time ever in the league just last month.

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Two-try full-back Callum Boland’s man-of-the-match performance helped Buccs to a 24-17 win over Armagh in Athlone, but the Pirates ended 2018 bottom of the Division 1B table with Faloon’s charges flying high in second place. Buccs have found the Bateman Cup tough going, losing semi-finals in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Kieran Joyce’s controversially-awarded last-minute penalty saw the midlanders pip Corinthians 16-14 last week, securing their third Connacht Senior Cup in four years.

Peter Claffey is an injury doubt for the trip north, and although Martin Staunton and Rory Moloney are sidelined, they should have a strong team out with Luke Carty, Rory O’Connor and Niall Farrelly set to come back in.

Carty’s individual battle at out-half with Cormac Fox will be one to watch. Armagh are expected to pair Jonny Pollock with Evin Crummie in midfield as skipper Colvin is unavailable. The hosts’ selection up front is boosted by returning back rower Robbie Whitten, while lock Peter Starrett is set for his first run-out since being included in the Ireland Club international squad.

Garryowen v Lansdowne, Dooradoyle

Lansdowne head coach Mike Ruddock. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Garryowen are hoping to conjure up a repeat of October’s 17-14 triumph at home to Lansdowne, a game in which forwards Liam Cronin and Sean Rennison both touched down.

Notably, Lansdowne have won all seven of their league games since then and are chasing back-to-back Bateman Cups for the first time since the club’s trio of wins between 1929 and 1931.

The Light Blues have had to quickly get over the disappointment of losing their Munster Senior Cup crown to Cork Constitution last Saturday. Tries from Cian O’Shea and Liam Coombes book-ended the second half but it was not enough for Conan Doyle’s side whose hopes of dethroning Lansdowne have been hit by an untimely ‘A’ interprovincial fixture.

The likes of Coombes, former captain Neil Cronin, Sean O’Connor, Conor Oliver and Ronan O’Mahony are on duty with Munster ‘A’ this afternoon, while Lansdowne have Ronan Kelleher, Harry Byrne, Peter Dooley and new Leinster cap Oisin Dowling all starting for Leinster ‘A’ at Thomond Park.

As ever when these two clubs clash, the set piece battle will be hugely important. Some players who will join forces for the Ireland Club team against Scotland next month will be at the heart of the forward exchanges, including Garryowen front rowers Liam Cronin and Andy ‘Panda’ Keating, and Lansdowne’s Ian Prendiville and Jack O’Sullivan.

This is a trophy Mike Ruddock’s men are very eager to retain, especially given Lansdowne’s rich Bateman Cup pedigree from the 1920s and 1930s. Garryowen were the 2012 champions and have won four tight league matches since late November, but the depth of the visitors’ squad should see them tee up another springtime shot at a national title.

Ahead of a huge weekend of Heineken Champions Cup action, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey assess the provinces’ chances of putting a foot in the last eight:

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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