The Ulster Bank League is back this weekend and the action in Division 1B kicks off with a possible relegation battle between Ulster rivals Ballymena and Dungannon. Elsewhere, Malone are next up to try and halt the march of unbeaten leaders Ballynahinch.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, January 5
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYMENA (10th) v DUNGANNON (9th), Eaton Park, 2pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballymena: LLLLLLW; Dungannon: LLWLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Scott Gibson 20; Tries: Conor Smyth, Darrell Montgomery 2 each; Dungannon: Points: Jaryd Bennett 24; Tries: Chris Cochrane 2
Preview: A massive match for the two bottom teams in the table. Ballymena, although last on points difference, may well be in the better frame of mind.
They come into the game having recorded their first victory when beating another of the struggling outfits, Blackrock College, 23-18 away last time out. It was a tremendous second half effort which saw them finish with four tries.
Now the Braidmen will be hoping for a repeat in front of their home fans at Eaton Park.
Dungannon have been disappointing to date but they have some good young talent, including flanker Ali Birch, scorer of a try after coming on as a replacement for Ulster against Munster at Thomond Park last weekend.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 14, 2012: Ballymena 13 Dungannon 39, Eaton Park; Saturday, April 14, 2012: Dungannon 37 Ballymena 15, Stevenson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win by 1-5 points
BRUFF (8th) v BLACKROCK COLLEGE (7th), Kilballyowen Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Bruff: WLLLLWL; Blackrock College: LLLLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Bruff: Points: Brian Carroll 32; Tries: Brendan Deady 2; Blackrock College: Points: Rob Keogh 35; Tries: Michael Carroll, Des Dillon, Jan-Simon Byrne, Peter McCague 2 each
Preview: Another game involving two sides struggling near the bottom. Bruff will hope that home advantage should give them an edge.
But they are clearly going to have to improve from their last outing when they were annihiliated 55-3 by leaders Ballynahinch. Thankfully, from their point of view, Blackrock are not on the same level as Ballynahinch this season.
In fact, Blackrock have been very erractic to date. They produced comfortably their best performance to upset UCD at Belfield only then to go and lose at home to Ballymena.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Bruff to win by 6-10 points
BUCCANEERS (3rd) v UCD (4th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: LWLWWWW; UCD: WWLWLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Jack Carty 70; Tries: Kolo Kiripati 4; UCD: Points: James Thornton 51; Tries: Barry Daly 5
Preview: Third against fourth. Buccaneers fans will be hoping their side can turn in a repeat of the performance which saw them inflict a first defeat on Dublin University.
It was a tremendous effort with talismanic captain Kolo Kiripati getting two tries. The win showed just how competitive Buccaneers can be at Dubarry Park.
So, UCD are going to have to perform very well if they are to come away with a victory. At their best, however, they can be very good and they do possess a potential match winner in full-back Andrew Boyle, scored of a hat-trick of tries in of their 36-18 victory over Dungannon.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 15, 2011: Buccaneers 23 UCD 17, Dubarry Park; Saturday, February 4, 2012: UCD 15 Buccaneers 16, Belfield
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win by 1-5 points
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (2nd) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (5th), College Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Dublin University: WWWWWWL; Belfast Harlequins: LLWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dublin University: Points: Cathal Marsh 45; Tries: Niyi Adeolukan 5; Belfast Harlequins: Points: Michael Heaney 36; Tries: Rory Scholes 3
Preview: Second-placed Dublin University must bounce back quickly from their first defeat of the league campaign, 25-23 away to Buccaneers.
But this is a difficult enough task against a Belfast Harlequins side which demolished Malone 36-3 last time out. They have a player of real potential in young Ulster out-half Stuart Olding.
Dublin University, it has to be said, are not short of talent themselves. Cathal Marsh is obviously an important figure but their real strength is in their ability to perform as a team.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 10, 2010: Dublin University 32 Belfast Harlequins 7, College Park; Saturday, October 23, 2010: Belfast Harlequins 12 Dublin University 10, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Belfast Harlequins to win by 1-5 points
MALONE (6th) v BALLYNAHINCH (1st), Gibson Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Malone: WWWLLLL; Ballynahinch: WWWWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Niall O’Connor 45; Tries: Glenn Moore 5; Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 89; Tries: Chris Quinn 7
Preview: Leaders Ballynahinch look set to continue their winning run with another success against one of their fellow Ulster clubs.
On their form at the start of the season when they won their three opening games, Malone would represent a real threat. But they have completely lost their way, losing four on the trot.
Ballynahinch, by contrast, can do nothing wrong. Bruff were the latest side to find out just how good they can be when conceding seven tries in a 55-3 humiliation in early December.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 31, 2009: Ballynahinch 31 Malone 5, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, January 29, 2011: Malone 21 Ballynahinch 59, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win by 6-10 points