Connacht rivals Galwegians and Buccaneers clash on Saturday in the AIB League division one at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday afternoon (2.30pm ).
Both sides will view this encounter as an ideal opportunity to post a valuable win, assume the bragging rights in the west, and importantly make a move up the congested division one table.
Buccaneers are currently sitting in 13th position, with just two wins from their seven outings. Yet their five bonus points - the most in the division - ensure they are just four points behind Galwegians in ninth place, who boast four wins. Even without the intensity of local rivalry, this game has all the ingredients of a closely-fought battle.
Galwegians, perhaps, need this win more than Buccaneers. They have yet to play the three clubs currently on the top of the league, while Buccaneers, having already lost to Shannon and Blackrock, have yet to play the three clubs currently below them in the table.
These two sides have not met in the AIB League since the 2006/7 season. On that occasion the clubs drew 18 - 18 in Crowley Park, but it was not enough to save Buccaneers from relegation. Interestingly that season both clubs finished with the same number of wins, yet Galwegians’ ability to pick up bonus points (eight ) moved them into a safe 11th place, while Buccaneers, with just two, finished in 16th.
Last time out Buccaneers let their home record slip when they fell to Ballymena 17 - 21 as Galwegians battled out a 15 - 10 win over Young Munster. Both sides enter the match after advancing to the AIB Cup quarter-finals last weekend, and on Saturday they will be without their Connacht players - most of whom have been called into the squad for the European Challenge fixture against London Irish.
Buccs are not expected to make many changes from last Saturday’s starting XV. They boast young local talent in Sean Carey and John O’Brien who have pace, while Alan Gaughan is a competent place kicker. Up front Kolo Kiripati was rested against UL Bohs as a precaution and is expected to start on Saturday, as is former Galwegian Louie Tonkin.
Galwegians, too, have a settled look, and appear a better balanced side this season with outhalf Matt Brandon and South African Chris Brigl adding weight to a backline in which John Cleary remains a potent threat. Fullback Robert O’Beirne is maturing with outing, while up front there is a solid front five. Along with a back row, led by Ivan Muldoon, Galwegians will need to display real hunger at the breakdown against a Buccaneers outfit who will be confident at home.
Tough at the top
Corinthians resume their battle to remain on top of division three with a tough away game against Midleton at 2.30pm.
Corinthians currently lead the division with 27 points, but Midleton, in third place, are breathing down their necks with 24 points.
With the season reaching the halfway mark, the league has been left wide open for any team in the top half of the table still in contention with a realistic chance.
Corinthians will be without their two Connacht players this week. Tim Donnelly is out with a long term knee injury and Joe Merrigan is away on duty with the Connacht team in London.
This will be a tough challenge for Corinthians. Midleton are serious prospects for promotion, and Corinthians will need to maintain their focus to get the necessary win.
Corinthians and Galwegians u-20s square up in Glenina on Saturday (2.30pm ) in a previously postponed AIL game. Corinthians currently lie in fifth position on 20 points with Galwegians in eighth place on 13 points - both having played seven matches and with four remaining before play-off positions are determined.
Both squads have injury concerns with key players James Robinson from Corinthians and Joe Moran from Galwegians doubtful starters.