The last round of action in Division 1B before the end of the calendar year throws up a number of enticing ties, with leaders Ballynahinch seeking to make it seven wins on the trot and Belfast Harlequins and Malone clashing in a crunch local derby.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, December 1
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BLACKROCK COLLEGE (8th) v BALLYMENA (10th), Stradbrook, 2pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Blackrock College: LLLLWW; Ballymena: LLLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: David Godfrey 19; Tries: Michael Carroll, Des Dillon, Jan-Simon Byrne 2 each; Ballymena: Points: Niall Martin 16; Tries: Niall Martin, John Andrew, Darrell Montgomery, Stephen Mulholland, Tim Small, Conor Smyth 1 each
Preview: Things are looking up for Blackrock College following their two league wins in-a-row. It has brought them to third-from-bottom, just a point behind Bruff.
If they can get the better of the current bottom side Ballymena, it would give them further breathing space. Looking at it, this is a really huge match for both clubs.
Obviously, Blackrock will be hoping for a repeat of the same attitude shown in the victories over UCD and Dungannon.
Ballymena did manage a decent second half effort when losing 43-24 to leaders Ballyhinch in the previous round, but the game was already lost at that stage.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 19, 2008: Ballymena 12 Blackrock College 17, Eaton Park; Saturday, March 21, 2009: Blackrock College 27 Ballymena 10, Stradbrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Blackrock College to win by 6-10 points
BALLYNAHINCH (1st) v BRUFF (7th), Ballymacarn Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballynahinch: WWWWWW; Bruff: WLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 76; Tries: Chris Quinn 6; Bruff: Points: Brian Carroll 29; Tries: Brendan Deady 2
Preview: It would be a major shock if Ballynahinch were to lose their 100% league record against Limerick visitors Bruff. So far, the County Down side has been hugely impressive, winning all six outings to top the table.
Last time out, ‘Hinch had the match in the bag against Ballymena at half-time, leading 36-3 before taking their foot off the gas in the second period.
Quite clearly, Bruff are capable of providing a sterner challenge than bottom-placed Ballymena. They did well to get the better of Belfast Harlequins 21-17 but ‘Hinch, on their home patch, represent an altogether different proposition.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 26, 2011: Ballynahinch 17 Bruff 3, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, March 3, 2012: Bruff 13 Ballynahinch 8, Kilballyowen Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win by 10+ points
BELFAST HARLEQUINS (6th) v MALONE (3rd), Deramore Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Belfast Harlequins: LLWWWL; Malone: WWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Belfast Harlequins: Points: Michael Heaney 36; Tries: Adam D’Arcy, Stuart Olding, Rory Scholes 2 each; Malone: Points: Niall O’Connor 45; Tries: Glenn Moore 5
Preview: What has happened to Malone? After roaring to three big victories to top the table, they have now lost three in-a-row.
They clearly have not been helped by injuries and the unavailability of some of their top players, Ulster out-half Niall O’Connor being a case in point.
Still, their most recent 24-12 home loss to Buccaneers was a very disappointing result. They should be capable of a lot better, starting with this game.
Local rivals Belfast Harlequins have also won three out of six and will hoping that home advantage gives them an edge this Saturday.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 6, 2010: Belfast Harlequins 5 Malone 22, Gibson Park; Saturday, April 16, 2011: Malone 6 Belfast Harlequins 34, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win by 1-5 points
BUCCANEERS (4th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (2nd), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: LWLWWW; Dublin University: WWWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Jack Carty 65; Tries: Alex Hayman, David Heffernan, Conor Finn, Callum Bolland, Kolo Kiripati 2 each; Dublin University: Points: Cathal Marsh 42; Tries: Niyi Adeolukan 5
Preview: An interesting game between fourth-placed Buccaneers and a Dublin University side that has won six out of six so far.
The students only trail Ballynahinch on points scoring difference and a sizeable gap has developed between the leading two and the third-placed side in the table.
Trinity’s 36-14 victory over UCD last time out suggests that they are very much the real deal. They are very well organised and have plenty of pace out wide with Niyi Adeolukan getting two tries against UCD.
Buccaneers most recently had a fine 24-12 away win to third-placed Malone – their third straight victory in November – so there is plenty to look forward to as these in-form clubs fight it out in Athlone.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, March 29, 2008: Buccaneers 22 Dublin University 3, Dubarry Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win by 6-10 points
UCD (5th) v DUNGANNON (9th), Belfield
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – UCD: WWLWLL; Dungannon: LLWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCD: Points: James Thornton 42; Tries: Barry Daly 4; Dungannon: Points: Jaryd Bennett, Peter Nelson 16 each; Tries: Chris Cochrane 2
Preview: An opportunity for UCD to bounce back after what must have been a hugely disappointing 36-14 defeat to student rivals Dublin University.
They should be capable of more against a Dungannon outfit that has only managed one victory during the current campaign. It is difficult to know why Dungannon are not performing better, given the calibre of player at their disposal.
The Tyrone men are probably lacking in a bit of confidence. That is something which UCD must hope to exploit at Belfield where they have lost twice in recent weeks.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 1, 2011: Dungannon 35 UCD 13, Stevenson Park; Saturday, April 21, 2012: UCD 36 Dungannon 23, Belfield
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCD to win by 6-10 points