Powerade Towns Cup Preview Saturday 4th January 2014!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! By George Millar
One of Ulster rugby’s most eagerly awaited club competitions kicks off this weekend with ten first round fixtures. Six sides Enniskillen, Banbridge seconds, Strabane, UUC, Ballymoney and Donaghadee have received a bye.
For the clubs participating their goal will be to step out on to the new Ravenhill on Easter Monday the 21st April 2014. Current holders are Ballyclare and City of Derry seconds who shared the trophy after drawing 28 – 28 in last seasons final. Clubs expected to contest the latter stages would include Clogher Valley, Portadown, Ballymoney, Bangor and Ballyclare along with Ballynahinch and Ballymena seconds.
Ards seconds v Ballyclare
Such is the strength in depth of the playing squad available to Coaches Bob Young and Kiwi Chris James at Cloughan: they were able to replace eight of the Junior Cup final team for the crucial league game with Academy four days later. The priority for the County Antrim side is promotion to Qualifying One this season after narrowly missing out last season. The White Hare team will look to retain the trophy they shared with City of Derry seconds last season. Captain and second row Robert Boyd has become an inspirational leader for his team. Ballyclare will not be complacent about this game but expect them to progress to second round. Ballyclare to win.
Armagh seconds v Rainey seconds
Interesting game at the Palace grounds. Both sides have used the USL window to expose their squad players to 1st xv rugby. Rainey have experienced an ever lengthening injury list from their opening AIL campaign. Can coach Richard Boyd risk players for this game. Armagh coach Andy Hughes will look to have a strong xv available for this fixture. Armagh to win.
Ballynahinch seconds v Lisburn
Another trophy up for grabs for the men in green from Ballymacarn Park. For Davy Smyth and his team from Blaris they will be walking into the Lions Den: such is the hunger of this club for trophies. Nine of their Junior Cup winning squad have been involved in playing for the 1st xv during the USL window recording two wins. Too the neutral, their performance in defeating Ballyclare in the Junior Cup Final before Xmas clearly marks them out as potential winners of this Cup. In Captain Josh Donaldson they have an outstanding leader with the experience of Davy Nicholson and Davy Harris in the backs and Conor Piper and Chris Stevenson in the front row. Ballynahinch to win.
Bangor v City of Derry seconds
Expect the Seasiders to mount a challenge for the Towns Cup this season – they last won in 1975. After a run of several defeats the North Down club showed considerable mettle to overcome a very strong CIYMS side last Saturday 22 – 5. They have match winners throughout their side with their full back Davy Charles showing his pace to score several important tries for his team. Up front the forwards are led Captain Jamie Clegg and fellow back row forward James Henley. One of the strengths of the Bangor pack has been their front row of Jake Harrison, Andrew Jackson and Philip Whyte. City of Derry seconds will be no pushovers as they attempt to return to Ravenhill to defend their Cup. In the experienced second row Bob McKillop they have a leader who will lead by example. Several of their team including Gareth Beatty and Cathal Gregan in the front row along with Paul McFeely and Jonny Lyons in the forwards have experience from the AIL and USL. In the backs they have Mark Robinson, Jack Hargan, Adam Parke available as attacking options. Bangor would expect to be favourites for this game. Bangor to win.
Carrickfergus v Dromore
Another fascinating tie down for decision at the Tom Simms Memorial Park this weekend. On paper Dromore would be favourites. In recent weeks Carrick have shown a considerable improvement in their form winning games away to Larne and home to Armagh seconds. After experiencing league defeats to CV, Portadown, CIYMS and Bangor, Dromore have bounced back to defeat Coleraine, Donaghadee and Cooke during December. Carrick have a strong leader in second row Andy Kincaid and a hardworking backrow of Curtis Rea, Chris Ferris and Neil Marsden. The experienced Aaron McKinney will represent a real threat to the Dromore side. Dromore coaches Dewet Bekker and Jeremy Ogle will have any complacency in their players removed before they take to the pitch on Saturday. The County Down side may fancy their chances of a good cup run this season. Dromore to win.
Clogher Valley v Limavady
What can one say about a side who score 15 tries in their 91 – 0 league win at UUC last Saturday. Such is the strength in their squad coaches Glen Kyle and Davy Black will once again be looking at their annual visit to Ravenhill to contest one of Junior rugby’s Premier trophies. Prop Rodney Bennett scored four of those tries with full back Paul Armstrong adding another three. Whatever team the Fivemiletown side put out you can be sure the players will give no less than 100%. Forwards Philip Moore, David Sharkey and BJ Wilson were rested last week. The young Limavady team will be looking to the experienced Greg Jordan to give them direction and leadership on the pitch at the Cran. Clogher to win
Coleraine v Randalstown
Rugby Road on the North Coast will witness another interesting tie between two sides who have had contrasting fortunes this season. Coleraine have struggled in the league and yet made the semi finals of this seasons Junior Cup. Randalstown are well positioned in Qualifying Two to challenge Ballyclare for promotion. Up to last Saturday you would have fancied Randalstown to win this game. Coleraine upset the form book by defeating Ballymoney in the league last Saturday 24 – 10. Their South African half back Bokkie Carstens was the man of the match scoring all 24 points for his side including two tries. A strong display by their forwards suppressed the normally dominant Ballymoney pack. Randalstown under the guidance of Coach Gary Longwell have benefited from a youth structure that has provided eleven members of their first team squad. This includes three sets of brothers, Michael and David Smith. Gary and Ian Hume, Blane, Ryan and Darryl McGarry. Injuries had disrupted their progress prior to the Xmas break. With the 1st xv not having played since the 7th Dec will this place them at a disadvantage come Saturday. Coleraine have lacked consistency all season. Can coach Richard Beggs secure back to back wins. Coleraine to win. Again expect another large crowd for this game.
Larne v Lurgan
Coach Laurence kelly will have been disappointed by the performance of his team in losing 37 – 11 at home to Carrick in the Hall Cup. On the 14th Dec Larne beat Lurgan 50 – 8 at home in the league. Expect another dominant performance by the East Antrim side. Larne to win
Omagh v Dungannon seconds
This will be a diffcult fixture for Tyrone neighbours Dungannon when they visit Mellon Park on Saturday. Omagh coach Phil Marshall will be pleased his side remain in contention for promotion after winning their last three league games against Lisburn, Carrick and Enniskillen. He has developed a well organised side who are defensively very strong. Omagh are a side who could have a good cup run. The fortunes of Dungannon have been difficult this season with the lack of player depth in the club. With their 1st xv playing Belfast Harlequins in an important AIL game on Saturday the focus of the playing resources will be on this game. Dungannon have won the Towns Cup on 20 occasions – more than any other club. Omagh to win
Portadown v Ballymena seconds
Another appetising tie down for decision on Saturday. Both sides would be considered contenders for the Cup. With Ballymena firsts having no game this Saturday expect a strong Ballymena side to travel to Chambers Park. Silverware is the target of both sides. Ballymena seconds slipped up 32 – 27 in a surprising Junior Cup 1st round defeat at Grosvenor. The Braid men will not want a repeat. Portadown fell to eventual winners Ballynahinch seconds in the Quarter finals of the Junior Cup. The Armagh side also narrowly lost a 14 – 13 semi final to Enniscorthy in the All Ireland Junior Cup. Both sides will be evenly matched with Ballymena coach Andy Graham using his second xv players in their three USL fixtures where they scored 22 tries. Once again the experienced Rory Drysdale will be a key player for the County Antrim side. Portadown coach Richard Hedley has a full squad available for selection. His forwards have been the platform for their talented backline to score tries. In Gareth McCoy and James Carleton they have match winners. Difficult game to call. Ballymena seconds to win.