The Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup is down to the semi-final stage with Cill Dara RFC the host venue on Sunday for the highly anticipated doubleheader.
With the last four previous winners of the Provincial Towns Cup all in this year’s last four, it promises to be a day of explosive cup rugby.
Tullow RFC v Wicklow RFC (KO 2pm)
The battle of the 2016 and 2017 champions. Another mouth-watering tie between two teams who will have the memories of winning the Towns Cup fresh in their minds.
Both finished in mid-table slumber in their respective leagues and the Towns Cup has long since been their best chance of glory this season.
With Wicklow in Division 1A and Tullow one below in 1B, it would appear Wicklow have the higher grade on paper. Once again, the cup mindset and magic comes into play to make this a real 50/50 clash.
Reigning champions Tullow had to grind out an 11-6 away win in a tough opener against at Naas RFC seconds.
They led 11-0 at half-time after two Paddy McCall penalties and a try from Dylan Leybourne. Naas came back in the second half and it was only a one-score game at the finish.
The 2nd round saw them back at home, securing a routine 46-3 win over Wexford Wanderers. Their eight tries from Steve Smith, Shane Rohan, Joe Waters, Cillian Redmond, John Hanbidge, Charlie Ward and Aaron O’Byrne, with the sole response coming from a Wexford Wanderers penalty.
The quarter-final saw Tullow record a 25-19 win over Gorey. In a tough, one-score game, the champions showed their mettle. Tullow got off to a dream start and led 20-0 with tries from Scott Caldback and Steve Smith seeing them command a 20-7 half-time lead.
With the next score either going to put the result beyond doubt, or spark the game it into life, it was Gorey who brought themselves back from the brink to make it 20-14.
However, Tullow crucially found the next score through an Augustine Mafoe try as they put some breathing space between the teams before Gorey scored a late consolation.
Wicklow made short work of Mullingar in the opening round with a 53-0 victory. They led 15-0 at half time before they cut loose in the second half with tries from George Naoupu, Jack McKenna, Simon Breen, Ben Porter and Billy Ngawini putting them out of sight for a convincing and impressive win.
Wicklow were on the road in the second round as they travelled to North Kildare. They came away with a 31-12 win with Billy Ngawini setting out their stall with an early try. As the weather worsened, they tagged on two more tries before the break to led 19-0 at half-time.
Second half tries from Ben Porter and Dean Leonard compounded their dominance as they moved on to the quarter-finals.
That game saw them knock out last year’s finalists, Skerries RFC seconds, 24-10. The man with the scoring touch – Billy Ngawini got Wicklow’s second try to make it 12-3 to put some daylight between the sides.
The score stayed the same until half-time and indeed the next score didn’t arrive until 15 minutes from time when Ben Porter crossed for a try in the corner. A Wes Wojnar try made it 24-3 before Skerries added the final try of the game.
Ashbourne RFC v Enniscorthy RFC (KO 4pm)
You couldn’t really ask for a more explosive and anticipated semi-final. The Bank of Ireland Leinster League Division 1 winners, Ashbourne, face the runners-up, Enniscorthy, with both having won this Towns Cup in the last four years.
They have had loads of battles in the league over the last few years and, when you throw in the unpredictability and magic of the cup, the second semi-final on Sunday has the potential to be one of the games of the season.
Ashbourne are the team of the moment. Along with that league title, they retained their All-Ireland Junior Cup earlier in the year and began their push for All-Ireland League promotion with a 24-all draw at home to Instonians last weekend in the round-robin.
While all this success is great, their busy schedule will be a test of the depth of their panel. This will be one of the questions going into Sunday’s semi-final – can keep their eggs in a few baskets?
Tullamore managed the clean sweep in 2013 when winning the league, All-Ireland Cup, Towns Cup and round-robin so Ashbourne know that it can be done.
Enniscorthy, on the other hand, came up just short in the league. They have won the league and Towns Cup in recent years and they know how to get the job done even though they haven’t hit the heights this year.
An experienced bunch, they will revel in having another cut off Ashbourne, particularly on neutral soil in Kildare on Sunday.
Ashbourne have obviously been in flying form this season. After receiving a bye in the opening round, they got the better of Kilkenny in the 2nd Round. With Donal Crotty in fine form with the boot, they had a healthy 23-10 lead at half-time with second half tries from Alan Wall and Conor Hurley sealing an emphatic victory.
In the quarter-final, the Meath men once again had home advantage as they welcomed a potential giant killer from Division 2A, Cill Dara. But there was to be no fairytale as Ashbourne ran out 38-7 winners.
With Stephen O’Neill, Fergus Darcy and Brendan Meehan all among the try scorers, the result was never in doubt.
Enniscorthy didn’t have the luxury of an opening-round bye as they travelled to Westmeath to take on the Midland Warriors from Division 2B. Enniscorthy proved too strong on the day, scoring seven tries in a 41-15 win.
A second round 34-20 home win over Longford was next up. The home side had their talisman Ivan Poole in scintillating form with a hat-trick of tries and a fine performance with the boot also. He was the big difference between the sides with Dave Dwyer also crossing for a try.
Their biggest win of the competition to-date was saved for the quarter-final. Once again having home comforts, they made no mistake in dealing with Division 1B strugglers Clondalkin (62-10).
Tries from Daniel Pim, Nick Doyle, Ivan Poole and Ivan Jacob helped to a 26-0 lead and the game was pretty much settled before half-time.
Dave Dwyer carried on his scoring form with another try early in the second half before Enniscorthy went on to put an exclamation point on the victory.
Both teams have been impressive and, with kickers and playmakers of the quality of Ivan Poole and Donal Crotty, this is set up to be a game of inches come the 80-minute mark.
With two great Provincial Towns Cup games promised this Sunday, Cill Dara RFC is the place to be from 2pm.
Watch the Bank of Ireland video below to see what it means to a community when their club wins the Provincial Towns Cup.