The Easter action in Division 1B gets underway tonight with the Ulster derby meeting of Dungannon and Malone under the Stevenson Park floodlights. With leaders Ballynahinch’s match being called off, Dublin University and UCD have a chance to close the gap on the County Down side.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, March 30
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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DUNGANNON (8th) v MALONE (7th), Stevenson Park, Friday, March 29, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Dungannon: LLWLLLLDWLLLLW; Malone: WWWLLLLDLWWLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dungannon: Points: Peter Nelson 37; Tries: Ali Birch 5; Malone: Points: Josh Pentland 60; Tries: Michael Barker 8
Preview: Interesting to see if Dungannon can build on their big victory over Ballymena. The win has given them some important breathing space in the relegation struggle.
They now have five points to spare over second-from-bottom Bruff. But they will be fully aware that there is still plenty of work to be done.
Clearly, there is talent in the club, Ali Birch demonstrated as much by scoring a hat-trick of tries against Ballymena. Malone have tended to be hit and miss during their campaign but at their best they represent very dangerous opponents.
Recent League Meeting – Friday, September 28, 2012: Malone 36 Dungannon 13, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win by 1-5 points
BALLYMENA (10th) v BRUFF (9th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballymena: LLLLLLWDLLLLLL; Bruff: WLLLLWLLLLLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 23; Tries: Darrell Montgomery, Connor Smyth 3 each; Bruff: Points: Brian Cahill 41; Tries: Brendan Deady, Mark Cosgrave, Michael Carroll, Dumani Mtya 2 each
Preview: Last against second last. Both teams have major problems, particularly Ballymena who have won just one game all season. Their last effort, a 51-0 defeat to Dungannon, does not suggest that things will improve.
They clearly have not recovered from losing many of their top players at the start of the season. Not that the situation has been that much better for Bruff.
The Limerick men are just five points ahead of Ballymena, but at least there were some signs of an improvement when losing 21-15 away to Blackrock last time out.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 4, 2012: Ballymena 17 Bruff 8, Eaton Park; Saturday, September 29, 2012: Bruff 25 Ballymena 5, Kilballyowen Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Bruff to win by 6-10 points
BALLYNAHINCH (1st) v BUCCANEERS (4th), Ballymacarn Park (Match postponed due to unplayable pitch)
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballynahinch: WWWWWWWDWWLWWW; Buccaneers: LWLWWWWWLDWWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Michael Lawton 113; Tries: Adam Craig 9; Buccaneers: Points: Jack Carty 157; Tries: Alex Hayman, Kolo Kiripati 6 each
Preview: It does not get any easier for Buccaneers. Having lost to second-placed UCD in their last outing, they now must face league leaders Ballynahinch away.
Buccaneers are a very decent side, lying in fourth spot in the table. But it would be a major surprise if they can defeat Ballynahinch on their home patch.
The nine-point leaders of the division have been in outstanding form lately, trouncing Malone 58-3 in the last match. They scored eight tries in that game with winger Aaron Ferris getting three of them.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 18, 2012: Ballynahinch 22 Buccaneers 14, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, September 29, 2012: Buccaneers 17 Ballynahinch 27, Dubarry Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win by 6-10 points
BLACKROCK COLLEGE (6th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (3rd), Stradbrook
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Blackrock College: LLLLWWLLWDDWWW; Dublin University: WWWWWWLLLWWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Rob Keogh 104; Tries: Job Langbroek 5; Dublin University: Points: Cathal Marsh 84; Tries: Niyi Adeolokun 9
Preview: Much more important game for Dublin University. Anything less than a victory would be a major blow in their ambition to overtake UCD for second spot. But it will be far from straightforward.
Blackrock are a much improved side from the outfit that struggled so badly earlier in the season. They have put together an impressive run which has seen them move up to mid-table.
So, the students will, almost certainly, need to be close to their best in order to secure the victory which keeps them in the running for the promotion/relegation play-off.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 29, 2012: Dublin University 29 Blackrock College 11, College Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win by 6-10 points
UCD (2nd) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (5th), Belfield
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – UCD: WWLWLLWLWWWWWW; Belfast Harlequins: LLWWWLWWWLDWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCD: Points: James Thornton 101; Tries: Barry Daly 10; Belfast Harlequins: Points: Michael Heaney 84; Tries: Rory Scholes, Stuart Olding, Mark Kettyle 3 each
Preview: This should be another victory for the in-form UCD outfit, although Belfast Harlequins are a reasonably capable side.
For instance, they led the team in third spot, Dublin University, at half-time on their own ground last time out before losing 12-7 to four penalties.
Crucially though, this game is at Belfield. UCD can usually be expected to at their best there. It is a perfect setting for their expansive approach with Sam Coghlan Murray, Andrew Boyle and Barry Daly all capable of inflicting serious damage.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 14, 2012: Belfast Harlequins 24 UCD 22, Deramore Park; Saturday, September 29, 2012: Belfast Harlequins 20 UCD 48, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCD to win by 6-10 points