Preview: AFI Kitted Gameweek 6

Coming out of the Easter break, we have a vague idea of what some teams are bringing to the table — with the likes of the Rebels from Premier Division, Vikings from Division 1 and Trinity from Division 2 all fitting that bill. There are many teams, though, whose futures are a lot less clear. We’ll certainly get answers to some questions this weekend, with seven games taking place across Saturday and Sunday. Who’s playing, and could happen in each game? Let’s take a look.

Division 2
Wexford Eagles @ Trinity College Dublin (1-0) — Trinity Sports Grounds, 2pm
This game would have been a bit easier to tell a story for had weather not been a factor 2 weeks ago, with the Eagles’ host fixture being postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Trinity do have a game’s worth of playing time in 2023 over Wexford, which will certainly be an advantage to a team that has taken in many new members even if a lot of the momentum from that game has faded in the month that has since past. The Eagles will likely look to overpower a traditionally lighter Trinity front seven with their power run game that will likely see the use of QB Trevor Smith at multiple stages. Wexford do look like they’re rebuilding a good outfit and should be looked at later in the season to come on hot, but starting the season late against a side like Trinity who was favoured coming into 2023 and already has a win on the board will always have you as an underdog heading into gameday.

Division 1
NI Razorbacks (1-2) @ UL Vikings (3-0) — Maguire’s Field, UL Sports Campus, 2pm
As said at the opening of this article, UL have been rolling this season. Starting their campaign 3-0, the Vikings have put away every challenge put in front of them. This Saturday, the Razorbacks visit, surely seething from how their time before the break went. Key injuries and suspensions have hurt the Razorbacks bad and come at an even worse time, with the team hoping to have built some momentum coming into this game. Instead, the Razorbacks make the long trek down to Limerick in a game against the division favourites. It’s a tough task for a team that has dealt with a fair bit of adversity already, and while they may not get the result to get them to 2-2, a competitive game could be all that’s needed in the Razorbacks camp.

Division 1
Antrim Jets (0-3) @ Dublin Rhinos (1-1) — Castleknock College, 2pm
2022’s Division 2 champs have not gotten off to a good start this season, and with a date this Sunday with a Rhinos team who was in the Premier Division last year, things aren’t exactly looking promising. Scoring just 6 points in their opening 3 games is likely to be causing some panic in the Jets camp, and they’re coming up against a defense that pitched a shutout in their last game. Scot McLean and co will be throwing everything at the wall and hoping it breaks down the Rhinos defense, as a loss here would be a critical hit to their season. While they’ll be coming out swinging, it’s tough to predict a winless team getting a W over a team who only just came down from the highest tier of football on the island. 

Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-2) @ Louth Mavericks (2-0) — Dundalk RFC, 2pm
A story with similar beats to the game beforehand as an Ulster team travels to take on an undefeated side who has all the momentum. The Mavs have joined the race up the top with the Vikings and the Rhinos as the 3 most likely teams (as things stand) to end up lifting the Division 1 trophy in July after dismantling the Razorbacks and the Jets by a combined score of 89-0. The Vipers, with plenty of Division 1 experience behind them, may prove a different test for the hosts, who will look to lean on QB Nathan Hearty after the stellar start he has had to the season. Just how much the visitors can push Louth’s defense — especially when they’ve struggled to score so far themselves — will be the key here. Look out for more of a battle here.

Premier Division
Craigavon Cowboys (0-2) @ Dublin Rebels (2-0) — De La Salle RFC, Palmerston, 2pm
Not a great start for the Cowboys this year, and this weekend doesn’t exactly have a bright forecast for them either. On the road against a team that went undefeated last season and appeared in the Shamrock Bowl — and a team that beat the National Champions in Gameweek 1 — the Cowboys travel to Dublin with no points scored on the season so far. QB Christian Cowan has struggled thus far to find a stable rhythm in the pass game which has let defenses swarm the run. Defensively they showed a lot tighter of a unit against the Trojans after losing to Westmeath, but QB Ty Henry and the Rebels will provide a whole different test. Unless they can strike early against Dublin like the Knights did and do keep them enough away for the rest of the game, it’s hard to see Craigavon getting back on the bus with a win in hand.

Westmeath Minotaurs (1-0) @ South Dublin Panthers (0-1) — National Sports Campus, Blanchardstown, 2pm
The Panthers host the Minotaurs Sunday at the NSC, with both teams looking to build upon their starts to the season. The visitors are hoping to get a win streak going in their first season in Premier Division after a big road win against the Cowboys at the end of March, and will likely try and make good use this Sunday of a passing game that saw them score 4 touchdowns through the air in Craigavon. On the Panthers side, we had already talked up the South Dublin outfit that held Cork to a tight game earlier in March, but those evaluations need to be upgraded a bit more after Cork’s win over UCD before the Easter break. With QB Finn Kearns not afraid to air it out or run the ball himself, and some potential veteran returns, the Panthers will be up for the challenge and will fancy themselves in what is sure to be a tight game. Any takeaways by either defense could be crucial.

Belfast Trojans (1-1) @ Belfast Knights (0-1) — Malone RFC, 2pm
Say it with me now… the Battle for Belfast! This year’s edition emanates from Malone RFC, with the Knights hosting a Trojans team that rarely seems this vulnerable. Still without QB Dom Lynn, the Trojans put both Abi Venkatraman and Josh Davis under center against the Cowboys at different points in the game, and it’s hard to say they found an answer moving forward. There’s some talented players on both sides of the ball for the Trojans and it seems like getting Lynn back at QB will push this team back to full potential, but until then they seem to be within reach for most teams, including this weekend’s opponents. The Knights had the Rebels on the ropes in the first half of their game and it took a big second half comeback from the Rebels to come out of Belfast with a win, but that sort of performance against last year’s finalists will have given both the team and the coaching staff fuel going into this one. This series is 4-1 in the last 3 seasons in favour of the visitors, but it’s not quite that easy to go on historical record based on how both teams are playing right now.

Writer’s Predictions
Eagles 16-20 Trinity
Razorbacks 10-21 Vikings
Jets 6-23 Rhinos
Vipers 14-26 Mavericks
Cowboys 7-26 Rebels
Minotaurs 21-20 Panthers
Trojans 17-16 Knights