Queen's and Rainey determined to boost promotion dream
Both Queen's University and Rainey Old Boys have opportunities to advance themselves towards promotion from Divisions 2A and 2B respectively as they hit the road for today's play-off semi-finals.
The in-form students, who finished fourth in 2A, are at Buccaneers, who are playing for survival in 1B, and travel with a full squad as well as the sense they can cause an upset by toppling the Connacht side to make the play-off final.
After securing third in 2B, Rainey go to Greystones for what they hope will be the first of two knockout games as they are intent on making up for last season's disappointment when narrowly losing a home play-off final to miss out on promotion.
Queen's have won their last seven AIL games and the side coached by Derek Suffern have been playing some dazzling attacking rugby to boost their belief that they can come away from Athlone with a result in this their 150th year in existence.
Queen's team manager Chris Moore said: "This is brilliant. It's been about 10 years since we were in the play-offs, the boys have put a lot of hard work in right down the club and they deserve it as the results since Christmas have been eight wins out of nine and seven of them were bonus-point results.
"Winning breeds confidence and the boys are confident but we'll give Buccaneers plenty of respect because they are going to be hard to beat.
"But you have to back yourself and we'll work hard to get into the next stage of the play-offs."
The students, led by the impressive David Whitten, welcome back hard-running centre Rory Bell as well as hooker Alexander Clarke, flanker Andy McGrath and out-half Richie McMaster to the starting team.
No.8 James Catterson is also available as his red card last weekend at Old Crescent was rescinded.
"This would be the icing on the cake," Moore added regarding the prospects of keeping the winning run going for two more games to win promotion.
"It's been a very good time for rugby at Queen's as our Seconds won their league, our Thirds won their league, our women had a league and cup double, our Seconds are also in the McCrea Cup final on Monday and the Firsts have already won the Dudley Cup.
"It has been a phenomenal season, but the one we want is promotion out of 2A and we have put ourselves in the ideal position," commented Moore.
Rainey head to Wicklow with as strong a side as they can put out for the clash after ringing the changes for last weekend's meaningless outing against already promoted Barnhall which the Magherafelt side lost 50-10.
Veteran lock Tim Barker (above) returns to a more than decent pack which will include Charlie Clarke, Paddy McGowan, Brad Roberts and Paul Pritchard.
Underdogs Rainey know that if they can match Greystones' physicality up front - the Wicklow side ended up second in the table - then they have the backline to do damage with their attack-minded back-three of wingers Oisin Quinn and Andrew Donaghy and full-back Mickey O'Neill.
Coach John Andrews' side lost heavily at Greystones in October but dealt with them handily enough last month at Hatrick Park.
Rainey Director of Rugby Brian Smyth said: "They are massive and will aim to destroy us up front.
"They'll be favourites at home but we believe we're the better team so it's up to us to perform and if the weather is good - it's meant to be - that will suit us."