Ulster Bank All Ireland league Preview Saturday 1st February 2014 by George Millar

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With only eight games left for the Ulster sides in Div 1A and 1B we enter week eleven of their AIL programme. The sides in Div 2A and 2B have six games left as they enter week ten. Last weekend provided wins for Belfast Harlequins, Malone, Banbridge, Queens, Rainey, Armagh and Ards with defeats for Ballynahinch, Dungannon, Ballymena, City of Derry and Instonians. This weekend we see two crucial relegation matches in Div 1A and 1B with Ballynahinch away to Garryowen and Dungannon at Dublin Uni. Banbridge have a must win game in Div 2A at Bruff to keep the County Down side from slipping into the relegation zone. There is real concern at the future of Instonians in the AIL as the Shawsbridge side sit second bottom with a must win game at home to DLSP this weekend. Ballynahinch coach Charlie McAleese was disappointed with his under performing side in their 13 – 0 home defeat to Dolphin last Saturday. He said, “His players need that fire in their belly if they are going to stay in Div 1A”. They were second best in the contact area and Dolphin reflected the attitude of the Munster teams fighting to stay in their league. For the twelve Ulster sides every game will be a cup final in matching their Southern opponents in the remaining fixtures in the AIL.

Division 1A

Old Belvedere v Lansdowne
St Marys College v UCD
Clontarf v Cork Constitution
Garryowen v Ballynahinch

Garryowen (10) v Ballynahinch (9).

This is a must win game for both sides in their fight to avoid relegation. Ballynahinch won the corresponding fixture between the two sides 18 – 6 in Nov. Garryowen have engaged the service of Ex Irish International coach Eddie O’Sullivan in an advisory capacity in their fight to remain in Div 1A. Hinch coaches Derek Suffern and Charlie McAleese have placed great faith in their 1st xv squad to keep them in this division despite their second xv remaining undefeated in both league and Cup rugby this season. Captain Stuart Morrow has to lift his players for this match. Nothing less than a win is acceptable for Ulster’s number one club. Ballynahinch to win

Division 1B

Terenure College v Blackrock College
Belfast Harlequins v UL Bohemians
Dublin Uni v Dungannon
Malone v Buccaneers
Shannon v Corinthians

Belfast Harlequins (5th) v UL Bohemians (3rd)

Back to back wins for Adam Larkin and his 1st xv have propelled them up to mid table in this league. With the addition of Ulster players Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Michael Heaney and Rory Scholes to the playing squad last Sat, they were able to record a dramatic 19 -18 win at Dubarry Park. Expect another tightly contested affair at Deramore Park as Quins look to make it three in a row in the AIL. With only six points separating the two sides Quins will be looking to reverse their narrow 23 – 17 defeat in Limerick back in October. The benefit of a strong replacement bench was the key to Quins recent wins.
Belfast Harlequins to win

Dublin Uni (9th) v Dungannon (10th)

Despite losing 13 – 3 at home to Malone last Friday night, this famous Ulster club never looked like over hauling the East Belfast side in this important relegation fixture. Much work will need to be done by coach Paddy John’s and his Captain James Bates to negotiate an escape route for the Tyrone club. The release of Ulster players Peter Nelson, Stewart McCloskey, Adam Macklin and Paul Jackson will be crucial in this relegation fight. Unfortunately winger Chris Cochrane has been ruled out for the season with a leg injury suffered whilst playing for the Ulster Ravens. Ulster centre Chris Farrell will hopefully be available to play in the next two weeks. It was a welcome sight to see the returning James McMahon get some game time in the back row. The availablity of second row forwards Michael Dunleavy and Mark Jenkinson in the coming weeks would strengthen their playing squad. Dublin Uni are expected to be strong in the second half of the season. This was clearly the case as they pushed second place Corinthians in losing 23 – 22 in Galway last Sat, scoring three tries in the process. When the two sides met at Stevenson Park in October, Dungannon ran out comfortable winners 21 – 6. The trip to the home of Monkstown RFC at Sydney Parade this weekend will inevitably define the future of Dungannon rugby club in Div 1B.
Dublin Uni to win

Malone (7th) v Buccaneers (4th)

There was considerable relief amongst the Malone players and supporters last Friday night after their narrow 13 – 3 win at Dungannon. After losing 10 – 3 at Corinthians the players were confident they could turn around their losing run of eight defeats in the AIL. The battle to avoid relegation will not be easy as every game will be a Cup Final in their push to remain in Div 1B this season. Ex RBAI centre Nathan Brown was the star at Stevenson Park scoring all thirteen points including a fine indivdual try for the Gibson Park side. Coaches Jacque Benade and Gareth Fry along with their inspirational Captain Neil Alcorn have the talent in this young playing squad to see their way out of the relegation zone. The Ulster sides will have to adopt the Munster attitude of fighting to stay in their league. Buccaneers will be clear favourites to win this game despite their narrow 19 – 18 defeat at home to Belfast Harlequins last Sat. Expect their rustiness to be redirected on to the Malone side. With the Malone team only conceding one try in their last five AIL and USL games the side have tightened up their defence as they let slip several winning positions in the first half of their AIL programme before Xmas. When the two sides met at Dubarry Park in October, the Athlone side ran out 23 – 20 winners.
Malone to win

Division 2A

Bruff v Banbridge
Cashel v Queens
City of Derry v Highfield
NUIM Barnhall v Bective
Old Crescent v Naas
Old Wesley v Rainey
Seapoint v Galwegians
UCC v Ballymena

Banbridge (11th) v Bruff (16th)

The trip to Kilballyowen Park in Limerick for the County Down side this weekend, has taken on a different dimension with Bruff recording their first AIL win at Naas, 26 -15. The Munster side will be looking at another four points as they welcome Banbridge. The Rifle Park team recorded an impressive 28 – 13 win at home to City of Derry last Sat. The win was built on a strong performance by the team led by Ulster scrum half and Captain Ian Porter. The return of key forward Jonny Graham along with the strong running of centre Andy Morrison has given a cutting edge to the talented Bann backline. Can they record their first away win against Southern opposition this season. Banbridge to win.

Cashel (9th) v Queens (2nd)

Interesting game this. Cashel ground out a 8 – 7 win at promotion chasing Ballymena last Sat. Very impressive. They have now recorded three wins over Ulster sides including Banbridge and Rainey as well. The home form of the Tipperary side has been disappointing as they have lost games to Galwegians, Bective and Seapoint. Queens after their mauling at Cork Constitution in the All Ireland Bateman Cup bounced back with a hard earned win over Old Wesley 18 – 10 to maintain their promotion ambitions. Star performer in recent weeks has been winger Andrew Butler who scored a try against Cork Con and scored a fine indivdual try from halfway against the Dublin side last Sat. The coaches and Management will have been pleased with the return to playing of the talented Paddy Colhoun after injury. Cashel have a strong forward unit and Queens will need to match them up front to win this game. Queens to win.

City of Derry (5th) v Highfield (14th)

Derry coaches Mark Nicholl and Ashley Blair will have been disappointed by the team’s performance at Banbridge last Sat. The fixtures dont get any easier as they welcome Cork side Highfield to Judges Road. Highfield have come off the back of two wins over Old Crescent 13 – 12 and Seapoint 15 – 10. Several changes to the Derry side from their win at home two weeks ago to Ballymena left them without key backs Josh Lewis, Neil Burns and Jack Caithness. Captain David Funston will look to his team to bounce back and maintain their promotion challenge. Close. City of Derry to win

Rainey (7th) v Old Wesley (8th)

Two hard earned wins over Naas and promotion chasing Barnhall last Sat have turned round the season of the Magherfelt side. Coach Richard Boyd and Captain Neil O’Kane will have been pleased by their defensive efforts that have sealed these wins. The return from injury of out half Michael Pyper has been timely as they missed his leadership in this key position. With an injury free squad now available there is a confidence amongst the players they can push for a top four position before the end of the season. The qualities they have shown in recent games will be needed to win this match. Old Wesley will be looking to bounce back from their 18 – 10 defeat at Queens last Sat. Tight game to call as one point separates both sides in the league. Can the South Derry side sneak a win!!!!

Ballymena(3rd) v UCC(6th)

Two narrow defeats to Cashel and City of Derry have seriously dented the league ambitions of the Eaton Park side. Their task will be no easier as they travel to the Mardyke in Cork this weekend to take on the students who have already defeated Ulster opposition in Rainey and Banbridge this season. Four points separate the two sides as they maintain their promotion hopes. Ballymena have struggled to match their opponents in the wet and difficult underfoot conditions of recent weeks. We keep hearing about Ulster sides struggling to match the physicality, pace and power of our Southern opposition. Ballymena will have to step up to the mark this weekend if they want to take any points from this tight game. UCC to win

Division 2B

Boyne v Nenagh Ormond
Greystones v Armagh
Instonians v DLSP
Navan v Ards
Richmond v Tullamore
Skerries v Midleton
Sligo v Sundays Well
Thomond v Suttonians

Armagh (3rd) v Greystones (2nd)

One point separates these two sides as the battle hots up in the promotion chase in this Division. Both sides have won seven from nine games played with both having a points difference of 78 and 73 respectively. There is not alot to chose between the sides who meet at Dr Hickey Park this weekend. With Greystones being coached by former Ireland prop Reggie Corrigan they will be well organised and disciplined. Armagh coach Andy Hughes knows his side have under performed in away defeats to Navan and Richmond this season. Again a strong replacement bench proved crucial in the Armagh side defeating Boyne at the Palace Grounds last weekend. The Orchard County side are well organised, Physical and committed in their style of play. Half Backs Harry Doyle and Richard Reaney have been outstanding this season along with ex Ulster centre Seamus Mallon scoring crucial match winning tries. Number eight James Morton has become a key player in leading the forwards. A game neither side can afford to lose. You would have to tip the Leinster side with home advantage. Can Armagh win this Game!!!

Ards (10th) Navan (7th)

What a performance by Ards last Sat in defeating third place Skerries 19 – 12 at Hamilton Park last Saturday. The return of injured players and the addition of former Captain Michael Creighton in the backrow produced this surprise result. In recent weeks coach Stewart Porter has given Youth its opportunity with winger Adam Coulter and Hooker Conrad Stewart grabbing their opportunities. With increasing numbers at training there is a belief the squad can avoid being caught up in their annual relegation battle and finish in the top eight. The inclusion of Jonny Wylie and Matty Weir in the front row allowed the Ards pack to dominate their opponents in the set pieces. The County Down side will need a similar performance when they travel to Navan this weekend. They held league leaders Nenagh to a 15 – 15 draw at the weekend. Three points separate these two sides. Nothing less than a committed eighty minute performance will yield any points for the team in black. You would have to favour home advanatge in this tightly contested fixture.

Instonians(15th) v DLSP(8th)

Insts coach William Leacock will know this game is a must win for his young side on Sat at Shawsbridge this weekend. DLSP have yet to win a game away from home in the AIL this season despite winning four out of five of their home games. Instonians have lost their last three AIL matches, including a 11 – 6 defeat at Midleton in Cork last Sat. Their last home win was against Ards 36 – 6 in Nov. In this league eight points separate eight sides placed between 8th and fifteenth place. Eight points also separate these two sides. Instonians to win.

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