Four of the top five clubs in Division 1B have home advantage this Saturday, although bottom side Shannon’s crunch encounter with Buccaneers may just be the pick of the games.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, September 27
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYMENA (2nd) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (9th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballymena: WW; Dublin University: LL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 17; Tries: David Shanahan, Tim Small 2 each; Dublin University: Points: Paddy Lavelle 10; Tries: Paddy Lavelle 2
Preview: Ballymena’s increased squad depth this season was visible during the second half of their derby win at Belfast Harlequins, with former Ulster and Ireland prop Bryan Young coming on as a replacement.
Their head coach Andy Graham singled out influential back rower Stephen Mulholland for special praise after the opening two rounds.
They should make it three straight wins against a Dublin University side short on experience, which was a key factor in the students losing a game they should have won against UL Bohs last week.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 27, 2012: Dublin University 25 Ballymena 11, College Park; Saturday, February 16, 2013: Ballymena 5 Dublin University 42, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
GALWEGIANS (1st) v UL BOHEMIANS (3rd), Crowley Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Galwegians: WW; UL Bohemians: WW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Jerome Harimate 15; Tries: Jerome Harimate 3; UL Bohemians: Points: Shane Airey 18; Tries: Ed Kelly, Ian Condell, Kalani Moore, David Johnston 1 each
Preview: First plays third at Crowley Park and a good benchmark of where both clubs are at present. Galwegians have to be fancied to extend their winning run, especially with winger Jerome Harimate already chasing his fourth try.
UL Bohs were not overly impressive in their two wins to date. Out-half Shane Airey has kicked 18 of their 38 points.
Galwegians owe their Limerick visitors one after losing twice to them in 2012. This is their first meeting since then and a home victory should be chalked down.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 7, 2012: Galwegians 22 UL Bohemians 24, Crowley Park; Saturday, March 31, 2012: UL Bohemians 16 Galwegians 10, Annacotty
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
GARRYOWEN (4th) v CORINTHIANS (6th), Dooradoyle
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Garryowen: WL; Corinthians: LW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 13; Tries: James Frawley 2; Corinthians: Points: James Buckley 10; Tries: James Buckley 2
Preview: Despite a fine recovery after the break, Garryowen were let down by a poor first half away to Buccaneers and cannot afford a repeat at home to Corinthians.
Corinthians got back on track thanks to a fine bonus point victory over Malone, with captain James Buckley and man-of-the-match Eoghan Masterson among the tries.
Garryowen are without winger Cian O’Shea who has made a work-related move to Old Wesley. However, James Frawley stepped up with a brace against Buccs and the Light Blues, man for man, hold the aces in this round 3 tie.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
MALONE (5th) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (8th), Gibson Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Malone: WL; Belfast Harlequins: LL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Josh Pentland 28; Tries: Andy Bryans, Michael Barker 2 each; Belfast Harlequins: Points: Eamon Lane 20; Tries: Frankie Taggart, Sean Reidy 1 each
Preview: A feisty Belfast duel awaits at Gibson Park. It is Belfast Harlequins’ second Ulster derby in seven days after losing at home to Ballymena (22-14).
Notably, last season’s two games were won by the away team on the day – ‘Quins were 25-15 winners at Malone and Jacques Benade’s men returned the favour (25-14) in March.
Malone picked up a late losing bonus point at Corinthians last Saturday and boast a potential match winner in goal-kicking centre Josh Pentland, who is the division’s current top scorer with 28 points.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 9, 2013: Malone 15 Belfast Harlequins 25, Gibson Park; Saturday, March 15, 2014: Belfast Harlequins 14 Malone 25, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win
SHANNON (10th) v BUCCANEERS (7th), Coonagh
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Shannon: LL; Buccaneers: LW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 13; Tries: Ciaran Cunnane, Ruairi O’Donnell, Connor Cunnane 1 each; Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 13; Tries: Rory O’Connor, Conor Fitzgibbon, Garreth Halligan, Mark Dolan 1 each
Preview: Buccaneers face Limerick opposition for the second week running, having built some decent momentum thanks to a hard-earned win over Garryowen.
A similarly consistent display should be good enough to see off bottom side Shannon who lost twice to the Pirates last season, including a 29-10 beating at Coonagh.
The Limerick giants can be too reliant on place-kicker Tadhg Bennett for scores, so it was good to see Ciaran Cunnane, Ruairi O’Donnell and Connor Cunnane cross for tries against Galwegians. They will also take heart from the fact that Buccs conceded 51 points in the first two rounds.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 2, 2013: Buccaneers 25 Shannon 22, Dubarry Park; Saturday, March 1, 2014: Shannon 10 Buccaneers 29, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win