Banbridge sounded a warning to their promotion rivals with a thumping 51-15 victory over Malone last Saturday, while Belfast Harlequins battled past Blackrock to revive their hopes of avoiding relegation.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2A: Saturday, March 11
ROUND 15 RESULTS -
Banbridge 51 Malone 15, Rifle Park Belfast Harlequins 9 Blackrock College 7, Deramore Park Cashel 14 Sunday's Well 5, Spafield Highfield 22 Corinthians 10, Woodleigh Park Queen's University 17 Nenagh Ormond 23, Dub Lane
Malone's six-match winning streak was ended in emphatic fashion by Banbridge who scored five unanswered tries in a stunning second half display against one of the division's in-form sides.
This Ulster derby was on a knife at half-time, the sides locked level at 15 points apiece. Banbridge were first out of the blocks, hooker Peter Cromie showing good pace on a break which saw him exchange passes with Adam Ervine and cross for a try which Adam Doherty converted.
That seemed to bring the best out of Malone as they stormed back to lead 12-7 by the 11th minute. Scrum half Shane Kelly dived over from close range for a converted effort after a terrific charge from prop Ben Halliday, while Mark O'Connor's inviting offload played in winger Nathan Brown for try number two in the corner.
As the free-flowing first half progressed, Bann flanker Richard Graham just missed out on a try but a penalty from out-half Doherty reduced the arrears to three points. Malone replied with a penalty of their own from O'Connor, who split the posts after Bann winger John Porter was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
The hosts got back on level terms eight minutes before the interval, a strong scrum creating an opening on the blndside and full-back Ervine duly crossed in the right corner. After a Doherty penalty put Bann back in front in the 50th minute, they used their scrum platform to launch Simon Lloyd forward and centre Andrew Morrison then collected his own chip to touch down, with Doherty converting superbly from the touchline.
With the Malone cover absent, second row Mike Bentley was allowed to gallop away from a ruck and score Bann's bonus point score in the 65th minute. Doherty converted again and Daniel Soper's side passed the half-century mark with three tries in the final 10 minutes, two of them from captain Ervine to complete his hat-trick.
Bann head coach Soper said: "I wasn't surprised by the first half which was pretty tight. We started really well and got that early try. Then we seemed to have a lapse in concentration and conceded a couple of scores - maybe we thought it was all going to happen a bit too easily.
"But we defended well after conceding those scores in the first half and again in the second half. But I certainly didn't expect the scoreline to get away quite like it did.
"There was an element of luck involved in some of our scores but there was also a very good awareness of space and we were very clinical about how we went about getting our scores. The players looked as if they had a very good understanding of our pattern and our game-plan and they were sticking to that quite well."
Highfield are right on Banbridge's tail and importantly, have a game in hand to come against Sunday's Well at the end of the month. They made it eight wins in a row with a 22-10 victory at home to Corinthians.
Out-half and captain Paddy O'Toole led by example again, scoring a try and kicking two conversions and a penalty for a 12-point haul. The Cork club, who led 15-0 at the break, also had tries from David O'Callaghan and Luke Kingston.
A typically hard-fought Munster derby ended in a 14-5 success for Cashel against Sunday's Well. The Tipperary outfit made it three wins on the trot, prevailing at Spafield thanks to two second half tries.
Defences were on top early on, leading to very few scoring opportunities. Sunday's Well survived the sin-binning of centre Eoin Geary and actually had the better of the first half play, picking up some excellent turnovers and threatening through their maul.
Their out-half Shane O'Riordan missed two difficult penalty attempts from out wide, one of them hitting the post, and John Moynihan could not hold onto a pass from his brother Michael whose impressive charge up the left wing had brought him to within five metres of the whitewash.
The breakthrough came early in the second period. After Ollie McGlinchey was off target with a penalty, the 'Well had ruck possession which suddenly squirted loose. Cashel lock Kieran Murphy reacted quickest to run in the game's opening try which McGlinchey converted.
Cashel's confidence was up now and centres Brian Silke and Neil Thomson increased their influence, Silke carrying hard up towards the try-line before Thomson's pass, which the 'Well felt was forward, put replacement Ciaran Quirke over for the hosts' second seven-pointer.
The 'Well deserved to take something out of the match but crucially, O'Riordan's conversion of a Greg Higgins try hit the woodwork and bounced away. The full-back's score was well-constructed, Eoin Hurley raiding down the left before his kick through led to a penalty close to the Cashel posts. The forwards carried hard but were held up before Higgins managed to force his way over.
Nenagh Ormond made it a Tipp double by overcoming a half-time deficit to defeat Queen's University 23-17 at Dub Lane. Fifth-placed Queen's led 10-3 at the turnaround thanks to an intercept try, but Nenagh out-half Clayton Stewart kicked three penalties and converted a Peter O'Leary touchdown and a penalty try.
Meanwhile, relegation-threatened Belfast Harlequins won for the first time in the league since September 24 as they came from behind to edge out Blackrock College 9-7 at Deramore Park. 'Quins out-half Adam White was a deserved winner of the man-of-the-match award.
Dolphin and Nenagh Ormond will meet in an all-Munster Division 1B promotion/relegation play-off final next Saturday, while Armagh needed extra-time to see off Wanderers' challenge and the Division 2B play-offs were both won by the away teams, Rainey Old Boys and Tullamore.
Six promotion/relegation play-off semi-finals take place in the lower divisions of the Ulster Bank League this weekend, with three of them in Cork where Highfield, Dolphin and Sunday's Well will be looking to extend their seasons.
There are four heavyweight contenders in the Division 1A semi-final line-up, with Lansdowne and Clontarf, who have shared the trophy over the last four years with two wins each, facing off against Bateman Cup kingpins and last season's beaten league finalists Cork Constitution and Young Munster who have reached this stage for a third year in a row.
Number 8 Michael Noone helped himself to a hat-trick of tries at Anglesea Road as Clontarf maintained their push for the Ulster Bank League Division 1A play-offs and Old Belvedere fell to the bottom of the table.
25 unanswered first half points put Old Belvedere on their way to a 44-14 Ulster Bank Bateman Cup semi-final victory over Ballynahinch at Anglesea Road. 'Belvo will meet defending champions Cork Constitution in the final at the end of April.
The sun shone on Co. Carlow Rugby Club last Sunday as the Aviva Mini Rugby Festival rolled into town. It was a chance for the hundreds of boys and girls to enjoy a day of fantastic rugby and to tell us who their favourite rugby players are.
The Aviva Mini Rugby Festival visited UL Bohemians last Saturday and it was fun-filled day for the hundreds of boys and girls taking part. There was also a special guest appearance from Ireland Women's captain and UL Bohs favourite Niamh Briggs.
Maeve McMahon, Director of Customer Experience and Products, Ulster Bank, talks about another successful Ulster Bank League Awards night which saw 14 individual awards presented to players, coaches and PROs from across the island.
Cork Constitution lock Conor Kindregan was voted the Ulster Bank League Division 1A Player of the Year, picking up the honour from Joe Schmidt at this week's Ulster Bank League Awards in the Aviva Stadium.
Ahead of the the Ulster Bank League Division 1A final, we spoke to Blayney Russell of Clontarf and Peter Good of Cork Constitution about the big match and how the two clubs have fared this season at every level.
Ben Reilly wants his Clontarf side to show the kind of form that put them top of the league this season but he knows that Cork Con will offer a serious physical challenge in the Ulster Bank League final in Sunday. Tickets are available from ticketmaster.ie.
Cork Constitution captain James Ryan is aiming for a league and cup double if his side can unpick the Clontarf defence in the Ulster Bank League final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. We spoke to him about the road to the final and Con's momentum. Tickets for the match are available from ticketmaster.ie.
On a day that saw all four seasons in one, the girls from Sacred Heart in Tullamore made history by winning the first ever All-Ireland GX7s tournament at the Aviva Stadium. Check out some of the action from the day as 16 teams got their first taste of playing at the home of Irish Rugby.
We turn the spotlight on Young Munster as they bid to go one step further than last year and qualify for the upcoming Ulster Bank League final. Irish Rugby TV spoke to Ger Slattery and Darragh O'Sullivan ahead of Saturday's Division 1A semi-final trip to Cork Constitution.
Highlights of a very exciting day of Women's club rugby action at Anglesea Road as Shield winners Railway Union, Plate winners St. Mary's and Cup champions Galwegians all enjoyed All-Ireland title success.
Highlights from Cork Constitution's two-try 15-13 victory over dethroned Division 1A champions Lansdowne in the Ulster Bank League. The Leesiders, who are third in the table, still have a shot at a home semi-final.