Ulster Bank All Ireland League Preview Saturday 4th January 2014 by George Millar

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Round nine of the AIL resumes this weekend for Ulster clubs in Division 1A and 1B. Ulster’s top club Ballynahinch are our sole representatives in Division 1A. Sitting in nineth place – eight points ahead of bottom club Garryowen the County Down side will look to their remaining ten fixtures in the new year to push clear of the relegation zone. In Division 1B the three Ulster clubs are in the bottom half of the table with Belfast Harlequins in sixth, Dungannon nineth and Malone bottom in tenth place. All three teams have ten fixtures left to move away from the bottom two relegation places. Leinster teams fill the top four places in Division 1A with Terenure runaway leaders in Division 1B. Connacht sides Buccaneers and Galway Corinthians are fighting it out for the runners up place in this league.

Division 1A

Clontarf v Landsdowne
Cork Constitution v Young Munster
Dolphin v Old Belvedere
Garryowen v St Mary’s College

UCD v Ballynahinch

Hinch coach Derek Suffern will have been pleased with the postponement of last Saturday’s USL game with Dungannon to rest his players before they resume their All Ireland campaign in Dublin this weekend. Their opponents UCD sit in fourth place and present a stern challenge to the County Down side. The Leinster students have several members of the Leinster squad playing in their 1st xv and will look to play a high tempo game with width in an attempt to stretch the Hinch defence and create the openings for their talented back division. With the success of the Hinch second xv in winning the Junior Cup the Ulster Senior League fixtures have allowed the coaches to expose these players to 1st xv rugby. Their is talent in abundance in the extended Hinch squad with the return of injured second rows James Simpson, Michael Graham, Robert Greer and John Donnan in the new year – strengthening the forward options available to Derek Suffern. The students will be favourites at Belfield to win this game, but the men in green are capable of opening the new year with a win.

Division 1B

Blackrock College v UL Bohemians
Galway Corinthians v Malone
Dungannon v Belfast Harlequins

Two fixtures were brought forward to before Xmas in this league with Shannon defeating Dublin Uni 20 – 5 and league leaders Terenure College defeating Buccaneers 13 – 0 at Dubarry Park.

Corinthians v Malone

Malone coaches Jacque Benade and Gareth Fry will have been pleased by the USL performances in their three wins over Dungannon, Belfast Harlequins and Ards after enduring a run of six defeats in the AIL before the Xmas break. The Cregagh Road side have had to rebuild this season with new forwards Michael Ferguson, Philip Eadie, Lee McClure and Richard Millar becoming regulars in the first xv. In the backs Rob Haldane, Nathan Brown, Adam Liddell, Michael Rainey, Peter Henderson and Rudi Benade have had a tough introduction to the rigours of All Ireland Rugby. With only one win from their opening day defeat of Dungannon the side have suffered several narrow defeats with the losses to Dublin Uni and Shannon particularly difficult. The East Belfast side face promotion chasing opponents this Saturday with a win moving the Connacht side into second place. The Galway side again have several players from the Connacht squad in their team and will have been disappointed to lose their Senior Cup final with Galwegians last Saturday. They have already defeated Ulster sides Dungannon and Belfast Harlequins on the road in the AIL. Their win at Quins was particularly impressive with none of the Connacht squad players available for the game. League leaders Terenure went to Corinthians in November and recorded an impressive 57 – 10 victory in the AIL. Can Malone start of 2014 with a win !!

Dungannon v Belfast Harlequins

Sadly the fixtures in this league involving the Ulster sides are all potential relegation deciders. For coach Paddy John’s the Stevenson Park squad are on a run of five defeats in the AIL and USL with their second AIL win recorded at Blackrock on the 9th November. The County Tyrone side will look to have Club Captain James Bates, President Paul Magee, second rows Michael Dunleavy and Mark Jenkinson available for this game along with their Ulster contingent of Chris Cochrane, Chris Farrell, Stewart McCloskey, Peter Nelson, Sean Doyle, Paul Jackson and Adam Macklin. Belfast Harlequins have won three games in the AIL and will look to consolidate their mid table position. During the USL window they recorded wins over City of Derry and Banbridge: losing narrowly to Malone. Coach Adam Larkin will be hoping that Ulster players Niall Annett, Michael Heaney and Neil McComb will be released. No news is available on the return of Rory Scholes from injury. With Ravens players Frank Taggart, Mark McGrath and Daniel Dass included in the Quins team along with Ulster under 20 centre Mark Best the Deramore park side would have to be the favourites to pick up the points from this contest. This fixture is sure to attract a large crowd to the County Tyrone venue.

Divison 2A

Banbridge v Galwegians
For both sides their is much at stake in this rearranged game at Rifle Park: postponed from the 30th November. A win for Galwegians will move them to the top of the league. Galwegians enter this game on the back of a impressive Connacht Senior Cup win over fellow Galway side Corinthians last Saturday. Either side of this postponed game the County Down side had recorded impressive AIL wins over fellow Ulster sides Ballymena and Rainey. They had mixed fortunes in their USL fixtures defeating Queens and losing away to City of Derry and Belfast Harlequins. Coach Daniel Soper has set his side a target of winning their remaining nine games in the AIL. He has confidence in his players with number 8 and Captain Jonny Graham leading from the front. Young scrum half Lee Steenson and fellow backs Adam Doherty, James Andrews, Hugo Harbinson and Myles O’Hagan have shown their is more to the Bann side than their strong forward unit with the attacking options available to the team. Galwegians have several talented members of the Connacht squad included in their side that includes Rory Parata, Sean O’Brien, Darragh Leader, Caolin Blade, Brian Murphy and Dave Nolan. They have scored 167 pts and conceded 67 pts in their opening six matches. Their only defeat was to Ballymena on the opening day of the AIL losing 37 – 14. Expect a large crowd for this game. Banbridge to win.


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