It has been over a month since a ball has been kicked in the All-Ireland League. This weekend is a chance to hit the ground running as teams chase promotion and play-off places. The Killer Bs of Ballynahinch, Ballymena and Bective, along with UCD, are in the driving seat at the top of the Division 2 table.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2: Saturday, January 8
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Ballymena (3rd) v Thomond (13th), Eaton Park, 2pm (Match postponed due to an unplayable pitch)
A chance to ease their way back into the league for third placed Ballymena? We don’t think Thomond will be an easy touch despite their current placing of 13th.
The Braidmen, who are planning the Big Rugby Ball for next month, will not be caught on the hop and their four wins in five games have seen them rack up an impressive four try-scoring bonus points.
Visitors Thomond have struggled this season and badly need another win to reignite their ambitions, but it seems more likely they will leave Eaton Park empty-handed on Saturday.
Ballynahinch (1st) v Queen’s University (10th), Ballymacarn Park
Two Ballynahinch stars Willie Faloon and Nevin Spence have been impressing for Ulster of late, but the Ballymacarn Park men are not missing them too much.
Five out of five and four try-scoring bonus points mark them out as the men to catch. Queen’s come calling on Saturday with much to do if they are to garner any laurels this season. Their three wins in six games have come without a try-scoring bonus to date.
Saturday looks set for a home win but in a provincial club derby match, you just never know.
Bective Rangers (4th) v Malone (9th), Donnybrook
Bective Rangers have quietly fought their way into fourth spot in the league thanks in part to a dogged defence that has conceded only 73 points to date (only leaders Ballynahinch have conceded less).
Malone started the season brightly as part of an Ulster hegemony, but the Belfast side have lost their last three games and slipped down the table.
They still pose a threat, as their three try-scoring bonuses indicate, and they will make the trip to Donnybrook with high expectations. Expect a tight game at Leinster HQ.
Clonakilty (16th) v De La Salle Palmerston (15th), Shannonvale Cross
Clonakilty flirted with relegation last season before kicking on and securing a reasonable 12th place in the league.
Their season to date has offered little hope of a repeat, but it was a post-Christmas surge last time that saw them through. Can they do it again?
DLSP were in the mix for a play-off spot and promotion last season but have failed to show that sort of form this time around. Despite the one win and losing bonus point that ‘Salmo have accrued, a home win could be on the cards.
Corinthians (8th) v UCD (2nd), Corinthian Park (Match postponed due to an unplayable pitch)
Corinthians are just the right side of the balance sheet. Their three wins to date sees them only three points adrift of fourth-placed Bective.
On Saturday, they face a tough challenge to open the New Year as an unbeaten UCD side roll into Galway. An away win is expected at Corinthian Park, but not without a fight.
Five out of five for the students sees them sitting behind Ballynahinch on try-scoring bonuses. The meeting of those two sides next month is looking more and more like a divisional decider.
Midleton (5th) v Old Wesley (12th), Towns Park
Midleton have made a good fist of Division 2 since earning promotion. They are only a point outside the top four and with four wins out of six games are a tough nut for any team to crack.
Eric Miller’s Old Wesley charges have stuttered this season and with only one win to their name, are set to struggle in the second half of the season.
Saturday will be a chance for the Dubliners to start afresh, but Midleton are formidable opposition at Towns Park and the hosts should take the result.
Old Crescent (14th) v Belfast Harlequins (7th), Rosbrien
One win in five for Old Crescent sees them nestled down near the bottom of the table. Of the bottom four, however, they have the best points difference.
Belfast Harlequins are finely balanced with three wins and three losses and are just two points adrift of the top four.
Quins’ three try-scoing bonus points show they can mix it up and they should be strong enough to take the points back up north.
Terenure College (6th) v Dublin University (11th), Lakelands Park
A Dublin derby to kick off the New Year and a chance for both teams to prove themselves.
Terenure College are two points outside the top four and they have secured two try-scoring bonus points. The chink in the armour is that their points difference is a meagre +1.
The Trinity side have a game in hand and a healthier points difference and their three losses to date have come with a bonus point, signifying that they do not give up and play for the full 80 minutes.
This encounter could go either way and might just be a barometer for both teams’ fortunes in 2011.
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