Domestic rugby preview : Sat 1st November 2014 by George Millar

Domestic rugby preview : Sat 1st November 2014 by George Millar

All Ireland League and Qualifying rugby dominate the fixture schedule in Ulster this weekend. Even at this early stage of the season
potential promotion and relegation issues are starting to take shape. In the AIL Ballymena and Armagh remain unbeaten in their leagues with
Ballynahinch and Queens in contention to challenge for league honours. For Ulster clubs City of Derry, Dungannon and Ards they are still looking for their first win. In Qualifying rugby Ballymoney, Donaghadee, Holywood, UUC, Donegal Town, Strabane, Ophir, Cavan and Londonderry YMCA are still without a league win. In the AIL once again, Div 1A is dominated by the Dublin clubs Terenure College, Clontarf, Landsdowne and UCD. The introduction of five leagues in 2015/16 will see Ulster with one club in the 1st Division with Ballymena hoping to join them. In the second division we have Malone and Belfast Harlequins struggling to sustain their position at this level. In the equivalent third division we will have Queens and possibly Banbridge. Look at UCD chasing Div 1A honours. Where are Queens – in the third tier. Much work to be done. With only the top ten teams qualifying for the third tier Banbridge, RaineyOB, City of Derry and Dungannon have much work to do if they are not to join Armagh in the fourth division. In the fifth division we will possibly have no Ulster teams with Ards struggling to survive in AIL and only the winners of the Round Robin going forward to join this new division. Is this a situation any Ulster rugby club wants to experience. Take Instonians who are top of Qualifying One. Are their players going to spend four years on the road going through the lower divisions to play club rugby in Division One of the AIL. Their club and players are experiencing a resurgence this season after being relegated from the AIL with increasing spectator attendances and revenue increases all down to playing in Qualifying rugby. The introduction of the All Ireland Junior Cup has been a success story for Junior Clubs in Ireland.
Ask Bangor, Clogher Valley and CIYMS who are looking forward to their quarter final ties. The problem I see in Ulster is that we don’t have enough quality players to sustain eleven AIL clubs in Ulster. Maybe it is still not too late for the administrators of the club game in Ireland to rethink their proposals for the AIL
league. Increasing financial budgets are crippling AIL clubs who would enjoy playing in provincial leagues that align supporters to support their local clubs. In the fixtures this weekend you can guarantee that the biggest crowds at Ulster club fixtures this weekend will be the Qualifying matches where spectators/supporters can identify with the teams competing against each other. Too many fixtures in the AIL hold no appeal for supporters.
Div 1A
Ballynahinch welcome struggling St Mary’s from Dublin for this important fixture. Injuries picked up during the Ulster provincial competitions have depleted Coach Derek Suffern of the services of Kenny Morton and Rodger McBurney. Ulster have released six players including Ross Adair, Charlie Butterworth, John Donnan, James Simpson and Kyle McCall. This is a match the Hinch supporters will be looking the maximum points as their team push for that all important playoff place.
Fixtures. Kick off 2.30pm
Ballynahinch v St Mary’s
Cork Constitution v Young Munster
Old Belvedere v Dolphin
Terenure College v UCD
Landsdowne v UCD
Div 1B
Ballymena coach Andy Graham will be disappointed that Ulster have only released Mike McComish and Michael Lagan for their top of the table clash with Galwegians at Crowley Park in Connacht. The Braid men demonstrated their strength in depth when they travelled to Limerick without their Ulster players and recorded a magnifcent 30 – 23 bonus point win over UL Bohemians. Despite the strong Connacht representation in this Galwegians team the Ballymena team are capable of causing a major upset. We wish them well in their travels. For Belfast’s two sides Malone and Belfast Harlequins; wins and points are essential if both sides are to move away from the bottom half of the table. Malone will be without their experienced second rows Alan O’Connor and Richard Millar and will hope that Cory Tipping and James McAllister come through fitness tests this week. Coach Jacque Benade will have some difficult selections to make with players such as Ben McDonnell, Josh Pentland, Kieran Joyce and Andy Bryans impressing during the provincial competitions played in October. Will Ulster players Paul Jackson and Conor Joyce be released this weekend. Malone should welcome back Ulster Ravens, half back pairing John Creighton and Josh Bingham. Belfast Harlequins make the long trip to LImerick to face Shannon on the back pitch at Thomond. They will travel without Sean Reidy and are hoping to have Neil McComb and Ricky Lutton available id Robbie Diack is released by Ireland to play for Ulster. Ulster Raven Frankie Taggart will add his experience to their Back row. Injuries continue to rule out Captain Neil Simpson, Willie Stewart, Mark kettyle, Ben Sloan and Matthew Holmes. Backs Rory Scholes and Michael Allen remain on the injured list with Ulster. Quins coach Adam Larkin has been delighted with the form shown by his second xv in recent weeks that has seen them progress to the semi finals of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup.
Fixtures. kick off 2.30pm
Galwegians v Ballymena
Garryowen v Dublin Uni
Malone v UL Bohemians
Shannon v Belfast Harlequins
Buccaneers v Corinthians. Played Friday 31.10.14. kick off 7.30pm
Div 2A
Ulster teams were expected to dominate this league this season. Only Queens and Banbridge fill the key top ten places. Queens welcome Cashel to the Dub Lane. Both sides have won their last two matches after opening day defeats. A fascinating contest with the big Cashel pack up against the mobile and athletic Queens side. Banbridge entertain fourth place Blackrock College who were relegated last season. Bann coach Daniel Soper knows nothing less than a win is vital if the club are to retain their place in the third tier of AIL rugby. Rainey coach Richard Boyd knows his side are up against an in form Old Wesley side that sit comfortably at the top of the league. The Dublin side withstood a Derry onslaught to take maximum points from their travels to the North West. City of Derry are coming of the back of two impressive wins over Ulster sides Ballymena and Belfast Harlequins in recent weeks. Coach Mark Nicholl knows his players face a difficult match at the Liam Fitgerald Park against an in form Thomond side in Limerick. The players know they are a better side than their league position. Expect a massive effort from the County Derry side this weekend. Dungannon welcome fellow strugglers Seapoint to Stevenson Park on Sat. Are the County Tyrone side going to secure their first AIL win of the season. The return of Mark O’Shea, James McMahon and Jack Milligan are crucial to their side getting the points from this match.
Fixtures. kick off 2.30pm
Banbridge v Blackrock College
Bective Rangers v NUIM Barnhall
Dungannon v Seapoint
Naas v Skerries
Nenagh Ormond v UCC
Queens Uni v Cashel RFC
Rainey OB v Old Wesley
Thomond v City of Derry
Div 2B
Palace Grounds will stage second against fourth when home side Armagh entertain Greystones. Coach Andy Hughes has assembled a talented squad this season that came so close to putting Ballynahinch out of the First Trust Senior Cup. Nothing less than a win will do for this ambitious club. Struggling Ards
play fourth place Navan at Hamilton Park. Coach Stewart Porter will welcome back the returning Matty Weir and Ross Sinnamon.
Fixtures. kick off 2.30pm
Wanderers v Kanturk
Ards v Navan RFC
Armagh v Greystones
DLSP v Bruff
Highfield v Boyne
Midleton v Old Cresecent
Sundays Well v Sligo
Tullamore v Richmond.
Qualifying One
What a vibrant league for the competing clubs with the teams also in contention for silverware in the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup and the Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup. This weekend we have a North Down derby with teams competing for those all important top four placings in next seasons All Ireland Junior Cup. There is also the relegation situation that is developing in this league involving Cooke, Donaghadee and Ballymoney. Every point will be fought over as the crowds continue to turn out in large numbers to support their teams. The match of the day has to be the meeting of Instonians and Ballyclare at Shaws bridge. Inst look invincible as they seek an immediate return to the AIL. Their powerful forward unit has been able to overwhelm their opponents this season and set up scoring opportunities for their talented backline. There is nothing more than the ‘White Hare’ side will enjoy than going in as the underdogs in this match. You suspect that the chasing pack are getting into position to challenge William Leacock and his talented side. Ballyclare are forced into a couple of changes with the unavailability of out half Niall Lawther. Colin Morrow moves into 10 with Gareth Byers filling the 9 jersey. The inform Ryan Tweed keeps his place at 13 with Kris james moving to 15. In the East of the City, CIYMS welcome current league champions Clogher Valley to Belmont. Both sides recorded impressive AIL Junior Cup wins last weekend. Injuries will force changes to the CI side with Clogher centre PC Falconer ruled out with a shoulder injury. Another highly charged encounter between two well matched forward units. CI may have the backline to win this one. At Upritchard Park we have the North Down derby between rivals Bangor and Donaghadee with a sell out pre match lunch not to mention the large travelling support each club has established in recent seasons to add colour and voice to the occasion. Bangor are to be congratulated on their win at Clonmel over the pre tournament favourites in the AIL Junior Cup. Expect their experienced scrum half Ricky Armstrong to be rested as they prepare for important Cup ties at Instonians in the Junior Cup and that all important game at home to AIL Junior Cup holders Enniscorthy on the 29th November. Much has changed at Bangor in recent years with Jonny Watson leading a revolution that has seen the resurgence of this club. Lets hope the supporters come out and get behind this exciting team. Expect no favours from the Dee player coach Paul Mckenzie and his players as they look for that all important first league win. Derby games have a habit of turning up strange results. Witness Cooke almost beating Instonians at Shaws bridge. Interesting match at Dromore with the home side struggling away from home this season. Coach Graham Cloke will hope his side can upset the form book when they play Portadown at Barban Hill on Sat. Portadown coaches Richard Hedley and Ciaran O’Kane will look to the players to halt their losing run after an impressive performance in their 38 – 27 loss away to AIL Junior Cup holders Enniscorthy. Dromore hope to add Robert Greer and Rory Pepper to the pack with Lee Steenson and Ryan Cobb strengthening their back line. Kilraughts Road in Ballymoney will have the proverbial six pointer on offer such is the importance of this match to both sides as they look to avoid relegation from Q 1. Expect a large and vociferous crowd to get behind Coach Jason Taggart and his players. Cooke coach Colin Atkinson will know if his side win the games with Ballymoney and Donaghadee they will stay in Q1. Sure to be a titanic struggle.
Fixtures. kick off 2.30pm
Bangor v Donaghadee
Instonians v Ballyclare
Dromore v Portadown
Ballymoney v Cooke
CIYMS v Clogher Valley
Qualifying Two
With Omagh not playing this weekend and Coleraine having closed the gap to three points. Norman Blair and his players have the opportunity to move top of Q 2 if they win their match at home to Randalstown this weekend. Sure to attract a large crowd. Carrick welcome Junior Cup quarter finalists Enniskillen to the Tom Simms Memorial Park. With Carrick sitting in third place and Enniskillen in sixth, both sides know nothing less than a win is crucial if both clubs want to remain in the promotion contest with favourites Omagh and Coleraine. Both Holywood and UUC remain without a win having drawn their league encounter 29 – 29. Holywood entertain a strong Academy side that pushed Omagh all the way before losing 20 – 15 last Sat. Struggling Lisburn face a tricky trip to the Riverside in Coleraine to play the students. Again the result is crucial for both teams if they are to move away from the relegation zone. Lisburn coach Mark Crothers knows his team cannot afford to lose this match.
Fixtures. kick off 2.30pm
Carrickfergus v Enniskillen
Coleraine v Randalstown
Holywood v Academy
UUC v Lisburn
Qualifying Three. kick off 2.30pm
Donegal v Ophir
Newry v Larne
PSNI v Lurgan
Qualifying Four. kick off 2.30pm
Civil Service v BHSFP
Londonderry YMCA v Cavan
Monaghan v Letterkenny.
PS. For all the Ulster rugby supporters – make the effort and get along with your family to support your local rugby teams before you travel to watch Ulster play the Newport Gwent Dragons on Sat night at the Kingspan Stadium.