A mouth-watering Ulster derby between Malone and Dungannon gets Division 1B underway on Friday night, with the meeting of promoted Dublin University and Blackrock College, who suffered relegation last season, arguably the pick of the Saturday games.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, September 29
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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MALONE v DUNGANNON, Gibson Park, Friday, September 28, 7.30pm
Preview: A big test for the newly-promoted Malone side. They have a young team that did very well to come though to take second place behind Dublin University in Division 2A last season.
But Dungannon represent a huge test. Now coached by former Ireland lock Paddy Johns, they played some of the best rugby seen in this division last season with Ulster-capped winger Chris Cochrane always a major threat.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dungannon to win by 6-10 points
BELFAST HARLEQUINS v UCD, Deramore Park
Preview: Belfast Harlequins will be hoping to repeat their victory over UCD at Deramore Park last season.
But UCD are very dangerous opponents. After an erratic campaign, they finally found their form at the end of last season, taking maximum points from their last three home games to avoid relegation.
As usual, their main strength is in their backs division. If Ireland Under-20 wingers Sam Coghlan Murray and Andrew Boyle get sufficient possession, they will be in with a real chance.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 14, 2012: UCD 22 Belfast Harlequins 39, Belfield; Saturday, April 14, 2012: Belfast Harlequins 24 UCD 22, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Belfast Harlequins to win by 1-5 points
BRUFF v BALLYMENA, Kilballyowen Park
Preview: Bruff did not really do themselves justice last season. They will be eager to put that right by starting the current campaign with a home victory. Despite the loss of John Shine to Shannon, they should prove very competitive.
Ballymena did quite well last season, featuring near the top of the league for a long stage and reaching the final of the Ulster Bank Cup but they have lost a number of players and centre Luke Marshall is now required by Ulster.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 15, 2011: Bruff 28 Ballymena 34, Kilballyowen Park; Saturday, February 4, 2012: Ballymena 17 Bruff 8, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Bruff to win by 1-5 points
BUCCANEERS v BALLYNAHINCH, Dubarry Park
Preview: Buccaneers, now the only Connacht representatives in Division 1B, can expect a tough opener at home against Ballynahinch.
No doubt the County Down side will be especially keen to do well following the tragic death of Nevin Spence. They have recruited well and once again they have a talented young side.
But Buccaneers are generally very good at home, so a decent match is in prospect.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 5, 2011: Buccaneers 24 Ballynahinch 17, Dubarry Park; Saturday, February 18, 2012: Ballynahinch 22 Buccaneers 14, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win by 1-5 points
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v BLACKROCK COLLEGE, College Park
Preview: Difficult opener for relegated Blackrock College. Newly-promoted Dublin University have already qualified for the semi-finals of the Leinster Senior Cup having won all of the games in their section.
They have a very mobile side with a quality out-half in Cathal Marsh. Blackrock’s form to date has been erratic following the loss of several important players.
Furthermore, they have already gone down to Dublin University in the Leinster Senior Cup. Hooker Cian Culleton will skipper them and it is hoped that Leinster’s Damian Browne will be available to feature in the second row.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win by 6-10 points