Ulster Bank League Preview Saturday 30th November 2013 by George Millar

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Two weeks of AIL rugby coming up before the Xmas break. For the twelve Ulster clubs there was jubilation and disappointment at the weekend. In Divison 1A Ballynahinch finally secured that all important first win in defeating Garryowen 18 – 6 at Ballymacarn. In Division 1B Belfast Harlequins recorded their third win on the trot with a 13 – 8 win over Dublin Univ at Deramore Pk. Both Malone and Dungannon suffered defeats. Malone surrendering a 25 – 10 lead at Gibson Pk to lose 32 – 25. A depleted Dungannon side were beaten 50 – 7 by a Buccaneers side in Athlone that included nine members of the Connacht squad/ Academy. In Division 2A Banbridge surprised league leaders Ballymena with a well deserved 17 – 15 at Eaton Park. A much changed City of Derry xv had to grind out a 10 – 5 win over Old Crescent at Judges Road. Queens had to repel a Naas comeback at the Dub to record a 33 – 22 win. The students of UUC blitzed Rainey with a seven try showing to win comfortably 39 – 20 in Cork. In Division 2B Armagh bounced back from their surprise defeat at Richmond to beat undefeated Skerries at the Palace grounds 15 – 8. In form Ards suffered a 30 – 0 defeat to Sligo at Hamilton Park. Instonians were unfortunate not to secure a losing bonus point in conceding a late try in their 20 – 8 defeat at league leaders Nenagh Ormond.

Division 1A

Clontarf v Young Munster
Dolphin v Ballynahinch
Garryowen v Lansdowne
St Mary’s College v Old Belvedere
UCD v Cork Constitution.
Ballynahinch make the long trek down to Musgrave Park to take on Cork side Dolphin. Despite the presence of several members of the Munster Academy in their playing squad Dolphin have only won one out of their last four All Ireland League games. Having broke their duck in the AIL, Ballynahinch coaches Derek Sufferin and Charlie McAleese will have been relieved by the winning performance put in by their squad. The return of Harry McAleese at out half has provided continuity to an established backline that has been strengthened by the presence of Ross Adair, David McIIwaine and Ritchie Lobb. Injuries have disrupted the forward unit with the front row of Kyle McCall, Johnny Murphy and Michael Cromie providing stability to a strong scrum. Second rows Kenny Morton and Robert Greer have impressed along with the back row of Pritchard, Gallagher and Faloon. The County Down side will be confident of taking all four points before they welcome league leaders Clontarf to Ballymacarn the following Saturday.

Division 1B

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

Malone v Dublin Uni

Malone face a must win fixture at Trinity with the winner pushing for a mid table position before the Xmas break. Coaches Jacque Benade and Gareth Fry have to lift a team that has lost their last five games. Having contrived to lose two fixtures at home to Belfast Harlequins and Blackrock College from commanding leads of 15 – 3 and 25 – 10 the players will know that they are failing to manage games out in the final quarter. With the increasing list of injuries in the Ulster squad players such as James McKinney, Mike McComish and Conor Joyce are expected to be involved in the game against Zebra. Ulster Raven Alan O’Connor remains on the injury list. This talented squad will be relying on the Senior players to guide the team to victory.

Dungannon v UL Bohemians

Dungannon will be hoping that Peter Nelson is released by Ulster to provide the direction and leadership for this difficult home fixture with UL Bohemians. Sean Doyle will be involved with Ulster. Adam Macklin should be released by Ulster to continue his rehabilitation from injury. Coach Paddy Johns and Captain James Bates will look to Ulster Ravens Stuart McCloskey and Paul Jackson to strengthen the team. Munster Academy players David Johnson at full back and Number 8 Jack O’Donoghue along with winger Darren Moroney will provide a physical presence for the Munster side who completely out muscled Malone in their league game at Gibson Park.

Belfast Harlequins v Shannon

Belfast Harlequins are looking for their fourth win when they travel to Limerick to take on sixth place Shannon. Quins are sitting in fifth place four points ahead of Shannon. Quins coach Adam Larkin will not have Neil McComb, Niall Annett due to Ulster involvement this week end, with injury ruling out Michael Heaney and Rory Scholes. Captain Neil Simpson will look to his Ulster under 20 players Mark Best and Frank Taggart along with out half Liam Cambridge to secure a win at this difficult venue. Again Shannon will have Munster Academy players Niall Horan, Gearoid Lyons, Greg O’Shea and Sean McCarthy and Munster hooker Duncan Casey available for this crucial game. Quins are looking to secure their mid table position before Xmas.

Division 2A

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

Banbridge v Galwegians

The hard work put in by Bann coaches Daniel Soper and Simon Best along with the players secured a surprise and well deserved win at league leaders Ballymena. The dominance of the Bann forwards created the platform for the County Down side to move up to thirteenth place where they will welcome third place Galwegians to Rifle Park. The presence of Connacht Academy players Rory Parath, Sean O’Brien and Darragh Leader has enabled the Galway side to mount a serious challenge for promotion this season. Lee Steenson has once again proved an able stand in for Ian Porter and Andy Hyde at scrum half as he outplayed Ulster Academy player David Shanahan at Eaton Park. Bann back row of Stephen Irvine, Dale Carson and Matthew Irvine will have their work cut out to contain a Galwegians side who swept aside Queens 28 – 0 in Galway.

Queens v Bective

The students have bounced back from two AIL defeats to Ballymena and Galwegians to secure wins against City of Derry USL, Banbridge USC and Naas in AIL to move up to fifth place in the league. With an Ulster Senior Cup final against Ballynahinch on Wednesday the 11th December the students will want to maintain their push for promotion with another Ulster derby at the Dub against City of Derry in the AIL on the 7th December. The fixtures keep coming and the challenges faced by the students dont get any easier. Bective sit in nineth place, three points behind Queens and won a crucial game at Cashel last Saturday 16 – 11. City of Derry required a massive second half effort to secure a 28 – 28 draw against Bective in Dublin recently. Key backs Stewart McIIwaine, Michael McAuley and Damon Hall will provide the cutting edge for the students.

City of Derry v Bruff

The North West side face a difficult trip to Limerick for this important league game. Nineteen points may separate the two sides in first and fifteenth place but Bruff showed their fighting qualities as Rainey struggled to beat them 10 – 9 at Hatrick Park. Old Wesley may have beaten Bruff 57 – 14 last week but expect the Munster boys to put up a stiffer challenge at Kilballyowen Park on Saturday. Derry had to dig deep last Sat at home to Old Crescent to win 10 -5. Injuries have made the task of coaches Mark Nicholl and Ashley Blair more difficult. Both will be hoping that their long injury list provides opportunities for players to return to action. 18 year old out half Neil Burns has had to step in for the injured Richard McCarter at out half in recent weeks. Derry’s front row of Stephen Jefferson, David Ferguson and Sam Duffy will again have the task of building a platform for their talented back line.

Rainey v Cashel

The Magherfelt side will have been gutted by their seven try demolition in Cork last Saturday. Again injuries have robbed Richard Boyd’s side of key players. Ulster under 19 scrum half Peter Kidd has had to form a new half back partnership with Gavin Martin in the absence of the injured Alan McCluggage and Michael Pyper. Injuries to back row forwards Paul Heaney and Stephen Mulholland has opened opportunities for young flanker Johnny Lees to hold on to a place in the back row. Centres Stuart Simpson and Damien McMurray along with forwards Michael Shiels and Captain Neil O’Kane have key roles to play when they entertain a physical Munster side at Hatrick Park.

Ballymena v Naas

The County Antrim side suffered a surprise defeat at home to Banbridge last Saturday. Complacency will not be allowed to creep into side by the coaches Andy Graham and Nicky Wells as they push for promotion this season. The defeat only leaves the Braid side two points behind league leaders City of Derry. Naas sit in twelfth place and proved how dangerous a side they can be by scoring four second half tries in their 33 – 22 defeat at Queens last Saturday. They like to play open running rugby and will want to bounce back from their defeat last Saturday. The experience of former Ulster players Bryan Young and Jamie Smith will be crucial in managing the side through this weekend. Full back Timothy Small continues to kick the points for the Eaton Park side.

Division 2B

Instonians v Ards: Played Friday 29.11.13. Ko 7.30PM
Boyne v Thomond
Navan v Armagh
Richmond v DLSP
Skerries v Nenagh Ormond
Sligo v Midleton
Suttonians v Greystones
Tullamore v Sundays Well

Instonians v Ards

This game is sure to attract a large crowd to Shaws bridge on Friday night. The Instonians team despite a valiant effort succumbed to a late try at Nenagh Ormond to lose 20 -8 and deny themselves a well deserved losing bonus point against the league leaders. This has been the story for William Leacock’s squad this season as they have lost narrowly to Boyne and Greystones. The outcome of this game is crucial to both sides. After a impressive start with three wins from four games Ards were outplayed in their 30 – 0 defeat at home to Sligo. Coach Stewart Porter has much work to do to lift his side with ill discipline proving costly in their defeat. Ards Captain Rob McCausland will know that his side have to continue picking up points to avoid being dragged into a relegation fight. Instonians sit in fifteenth place, seven points behind Ards in seventh place. The Inst with one win from five outings tells it own story and does not reflect the effort and commitment put in by the players. Friday night provides an opportunity for the Shaws bridge side to put this right. Scrum half Matthew Keane has scored crucial tries for his side and along with number 8 Andrew McKeen and backrow colleagues Josh Atkinson and Paddy Marks will have key roles to play in deciding the outcome of this match.

Armagh v Navan

The prolific kicking boots of Armagh Captain Richard Reaney has once again secured an important win for the County Armagh side. They sit in fourth place and face a tricky trip to Navan who sit in nineth place, eight points behind Armagh. Navan were well beaten 34 – 10 away to Thomond last Saturday. Armagh were surprisingly beaten 6 – 0 in their last away game at Richmond. Coach Andy Hughes will not want a repeat of that performance.

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