The Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup will get underway on Sunday when holders Enniscorthy host Portlaoise at Alcast Park. Now in its 95th year, 2020 looks set to be another cracking year of rugby in the cup.

County Carlow will start the competition at home to Clondalkin where they plan to finish it with Oak Park staging the final on Sunday, 26 April.

Co Carlow FC v Clondalkin RFC

The Towns Cup is hugely important to Carlow, the club holding a record 12 titles to their name and coaches Corey Carty and Jeff Carter will be eager to get them to another one. They will look to the virtue of experience and the decision-making from wise old heads like outhalf Richard Whyte and forwards Wes Shirley and Ross Elmes.

Clondalkin coach Philip Byrne is three years in the post and has done well to adjust to losing four players to the AIL last season. The west Dublin club lost home and away to Carlow in the league to make them underdogs for this one. But, hooker Brian Doyle and outhalf Chris Jebb thrive on this sort of challenge, Jebb’s brother David could be key to their plan spoiling on the openside.

Edenderry RFC v North Kildare RFC

Unfortunately, Edenderry have been relegated one season after being promoted to 2A. It has been a case of receiving greater punishment for the mistakes they got away with last season, failing to win a single league game from 13 rounds played.

Former Ireland and British & Irish Lions flanker Eric Miller is in charge of a young team looking to learn and grow with Shane Melia a veteran leader in the pack. Outhalf Shane ‘Bisto’ Kelly is tasked with putting the ball into the hands of their leading try-scorer Jason Moore.

Former Lansdowne front rower Gareth Fallon is the head coach at North Kildare and  Robbie Waters doubles up as backs coach and outhalf for that on-field general. Tom Satchwell is in his sixth year as captain in the back row and brother Luke locks down the midfield. NK completed the league double over Edenderry with just two points (7-5) separating the clubs in December.

They come into this off the back of three losses in the league and they will know the Towns Cup is a curious beast, especially when the draw throws up a ‘local derby.’

Roscrea RFC v Balbriggan RFC

Coach John Maher, in his second year, has Roscrea flying high at the top of Division 3. The numbers at training have doubled over the season as the Offaly club has won all twelve of their league matches.

The bad weather has not been too much trouble for Roscrea as they tend to play the percentages with a strong forward game, led by captain and No 8 Ger Stone. In reality, they are in bonus-territory in Streamstown, hunting a giant-killing exercise against their Dublin guests.

Balbriggan are comfortably placed in mid-Division 2A and they will be well aware of the banana skin ahead of them. Player-coach Henry Bryce isn’t long retired from a lengthy playing career in the AIL.

The club is on the rise, winning promotion last season, and competing well, while Bryce has brought an attacking philosophy over the last two seasons. The captain is Conor Caldwell in the engine room and Paul O’Connor has been a big addition from Gorey as well as ex-Nenagh Ormond No 8 Ruadhri O’Brien.

Mullingar RFC v Boyne RFC

Table-toppers Mullingar have been almost perfect in Division 2A, losing just one of thirteen. They have the unusual influence of all four coaches playing on the first team, head coach Thomas Campbell bringing playing experience from the AIL.

Defence coach Laimeke Viapula is at No 8 and backs coach Mitchell Millar at outhalf, completing a vast vat of knowledge along the corridor of control.

Prop Darren Brady has been a cornerstone for years and forwards coach Cormac Dunne is the brother of Coolmine head coach Dermot. Mullingar have used 34 players in the Leinster League this season and another six in the Midlands League in a sign of the depth they are building. They will take all the confidence of winning into their game plan to take out 1B club Boyne in Cullion.

The Louth club has had mixed fortunes this season, consolidating their place in the league following relegation last season. Coach Vic Ball is a New Zealander in his first season and has pushed an attacking style of play.

Captain Collie Joyce-Ahearne roves between the second and back rows in what is a competitive pack of forwards. Half-backs Shaun Rooney and Kevin McCleery have been playing together since they were kids and the bulk of the squad has come through the club’s system.

Cill Dara RFC v Wicklow RFC

Cill Dara have struggled for league consistency since Christmas, losing all five. Head coach Paul Brady has a very young side to work with, having just two players older than 26 in captain Tyson Doughty, playing anywhere from centre to back-row, and loose-head Colm ‘Chops’ O’Loughlin.

The lack of experience is balanced by the energy and enthusiasm of youth through the likes of openside Conor Smyth, tighthead DJ Brannock, full back James O’Loughlin and centre Kevin Mulpeter.

Wicklow are the only Leinster League Division 1A club engaged in the first round skirmish. They have had an injury-hit season, struggling for any sort of momentum to be relegated from 1A with two wins from the 13 rounds played.

All that is left is a good showing in the Towns Cup in which they have a fine recent record, winning it in 2016 and making the final last year. They will have outhalf Niall Earls, a leader, player-coach George Naoupu, the former Connacht No 8, and centres Shane Farragher and Billy Ngawini on board.

These men will be important in driving a restoration of confidence that will be key to overcoming their hosts.

Arklow RFC v Skerries RFC

Arklow couldn’t be blamed for taking their eye off the ball as they are smack bang in the middle of a promotion battle with Athy in Division 2B, the two clubs meeting in a winner-takes-all match-up on March 8.

In the meantime, player-coach Joe Bulmer can call on former Doncaster Knights professional Anton O’Donnell at tighthead and Ben Byrne-Daiper at loosehead. Outhalf Paddy Ryan likes to attack the line, centre Johnny Butterworth has a wealth of knowledge and Arklow have Tommy Mew for speed on the wing.

Skerries operate out of Metro 3 and they are one of four clubs in a heap towards the top of the league with a plan for promotion. Like the other AIL clubs, Skerries are at the mercy of their first team with injuries playing a part in who is available.

Veteran centre Colin Doyle and the Mulcahy brothers, outhalf Billy and full back Mark, can do damage out the back. Prop Vinny Watson and second row Ross Halligan are back from 2017 when Skerries lost out in the final to Tullow.

Athy RFC v New Ross RFC

On March 8, Athy will host Arklow in that tie to decide which club is automatically promoted to 2A with the loser playing second-bottom of 2A in a play-off. The Kildare club holds the unenviable record of making 15 finals and losing ten of them.

They are perfectly positioned for a strong run in the Towns Cup with the youths structure bearing fruit, forwards Lee Hendy and Cathal Ryan staying on as Munster’s Joey Carbery, Jeremy Loughman and Leinster’s Martin Moloney have moved on to other pastures. Captain Gavin Doyle and Jason O’Toole make for a formidable second row partnership and outhalf David O’Toole is important to their open brand of rugby.

New Ross will go into this one with redemption on the agenda, losing home and away to Athy in 2B. However, the most recent clash was a close-run affair, the Wexford club edged out 11-6 at The Showgrounds on February 2. Should Athy be distracted by promotion, they are good enough to take advantage

Naas RFC v Tullamore RFC

Naas are the highest-ranked AIL club in the Towns Cup, their second team competing in Metro 2. The problem is they have struggled for consistency of selection all season as coach Dan van Zyl has to look after the first team. The captain Rob Campbell is a versatile back who can cause trouble on the ball and prop Conor McCormack is someone they will look to when the going gets tough.

Tullamore made the quarter-final last year and judged it as an achievement, paying the price of losing some of those men to their AIL outfit. The Metro 3 side will look to scrum half Shane Brennan to create tempo for a solid three-quarter line.

Up front, their back rower Glen Bagnall will have to be on his game to put it up to the Kildare club.

Enniscorthy RFC v Portlaoise RFC

The holders Enniscorthy have moved on up to the AIL, leaving their seconds to defend what is theirs.

It is a huge challenge for the Metro 3 club to compete at this level. ‘Scorthy won’t draw too much on the elder statesmen of the club as they look to a youth programme, all their players coming through their age-grade system, like hooker Ryan Cahill, scrum half Con Kavanagh and wing Cian Wickham.

Portlaoise coach Patrick McEvoy is resigned to just missing out on promotion from 2A in what is a period of development. They base a lot of what they do around a fine back row in which Robin Foot and Ross Cooper will have to operate without the unavailable Mark Sherlock.

There is still a degree of experimentation in a changing backline with Darragh McAuley key to the expansion of their strategy.

Navan RFC v Longford RFC

Navan play in Division 3 of the Metro League with a team that is finally finding its way after a spate of mid-season injuries. Coach Fergal McGurk and his assistant Chris Moffett will draw on the experience of one or two old heads from the AIL, like captain Thomas Geraghty and Harry Hestor.

They are not built to battle it out in the trenches all day and will try to out-flank their guests with a youthful, mobile pack led by the experienced Niall Finlay.

Longford have been flying in 1B, standing a respectable second on the ladder with eight wins and one draw from 12. It has been a solid season with the same coaches and same team that was pipped for promotion to 1A last season.

The club made the semi-final last year, losing to Wicklow, and the 2013 final, losing out to Tullamore. Captain Benny McManus is a stalwart of the club in the engine room, Dylan Quinn a rock at tighthead prop and ex-Buccaneers outhalf Colm Glynn is their guiding light.

Tullow RFC v Newbridge RFC

Tullow are still right in the mix for promotion into 1A, smashing Clondalkin 48-10 last weekend. Coach Maurice Logue has been able to call on the experience of many of those involved in the 2018 final defeat to Enniscorthy.

Prop Scott Calbeck is the leader of the forwards and flanker Kyle Hambridge and utility back-five forward Jack McDonald are also very important to the cause. Captain and centre Keiaho Bloomfield is their general across the middle of the park in a game plan that has evolved under Logue.

Coach Johne Murphy has had to deal with a big turnover of players from last summer and it has taken time to find cohesion. The Division 2A club are second from bottom with the caveat that they have been improving since Christmas.

Hooker Williams Jennings, scrum half Mark Delaney and wing Eimhin Conroy are the standouts, capable of making a difference in what will be an uphill task.

Wexford Wanderers RFC v Midland Warriors RFC

Wexford Wanderers have been up and down this season with one round left to play in 2A. They sit fourth in the Division, winning one more than they have lost (7-6), although this could be misleading given how they have won the last three.

They were particularly impressive last time out when whacking Balbriggan 36-0 at Park Lane in a sign they are coming together at the right time of the season for the Towns Cup.

Coach Rob Connor is in his third season in charge at Midland Warriors and it showed when they got off to a good start to the season. However, injuries hit the Moate-based club and they could not sustain that form. Captain Gary Cantwell is a real go-to option at outhalf and Paddy Browne has returned from a wrist problem to provide sound service from scrum half.

Ashbourne RFC, Dundalk RFC, Kilkenny RFC and Gorey RFC all received byes into the next phase of the competition.

The draw for the Second Round will take place in Arklow RFC’s clubhouse, following their game against Skerries RFC.