Like the top flight, Ulster Bank League Division 1B also has its own meeting of the top two this weekend as front runners Galwegians host Ballymena. The action gets underway tonight with the Buccaneers v Corinthians Connacht derby under floodlights.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, November 1
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BUCCANEERS (5th) v CORINTHIANS (8th), Dubarry Park, Friday, October 31, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: LWWL; Corinthians: LWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 40; Tries: Rory O’Connor 2; Corinthians: Points: Miah Nikora 12; Tries: James Buckley, Jamie Dever 2 each
Preview: A heartbreaking late defeat to Galwegians left Buccaneers in mid-table at the end of the first four-match block in Division 1B. They resume with another Connacht derby, hosting Corinthians on Halloween night.
Buccs have captain Alex Hayman returning from injury and should secure their third league victory against a Corinthians side that has struggled for results.
The Galway men lost 25-18 in Athlone last season and beat Buccs 19-18 at home. But, despite some fine performances from James Buckley and Eoghan Masterson, they have yet to hit top form under new coach Pat Cunningham.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 8, 2013: Corinthians 19 Buccaneers 18, Corinthian Park; Friday, March 14, 2014: Buccaneers 25 Corinthians 18, Dubarry Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
GALWEGIANS (1st) v BALLYMENA (2nd), Crowley Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Galwegians: WWWW; Ballymena: WWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Jerome Harimate, Matt Dever 15 each; Tries: Jerome Harimate, Matt Dever 3 each; Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 26; Tries: David Shanahan, Tim Small 3 each
Preview: The two clubs who came up from Division 2A last season have been setting the pace since the start of the new Division 1B campaign. Something will have to give in this top of the table clash.
Galwegians were very fortunate to win their Connacht derby clash with Buccaneers and will have some key men back from provincial duty, notably joint top try scorer Jerome Harimate and Connacht-capped scrum half Caolin Blade.
Ballymena, who have also had players in and out of the Ulster Ravens side, boast the best defence in the division – 49 points leaked in four games – and if they can frustrate the ‘Wegians attack, the Braidmen certainly have the firepower to claim a significant away win.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 11, 2012: Galwegians 22 Ballymena 27, Crowley Park; Saturday, September 28, 2013: Ballymena 37 Galwegians 14, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
GARRYOWEN (3rd) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (9th), Dooradoyle
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Garryowen: WLWW; Dublin University: LLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 40; Tries: James Frawley, Neil Cronin 2 each; Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 20; Tries: Paddy Lavelle, Brian du Toit 2 each
Preview: With the top two meeting in Galway, third-placed Garryowen will close the gap if they can overcome an improving Dublin University outfit at Dooradoyle.
Trinity’s College Park defeat of Malone was a timely boost with Jack McDermott exerting more influence at out-half, while flanker Brian du Toit leads an impressive back row.
However, it is hard to see Garryowen slipping up in the clubs’ first league encounter since 2005. Especially if out-half Jamie Gavin maintains his accuracy with the boot – he kicked 13 and 14 points respectively in their recent wins over Corinthians and Belfast Harlequins.
Recent League Meetings – The teams have not played each other since 2005
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
MALONE (6th) v UL BOHEMIANS (4th), Gibson Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Malone: WLLL; UL Bohemians: WWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Josh Pentland 37; Tries: Rory Campbell 4; UL Bohemians: Points: Shane Airey 36; Tries: Ed Kelly 2
Preview: Malone and UL Bohemians have both fallen off the rails slightly, with the Belfast club losing their last three league matches and Bohs suffering back-to-back defeats.
Malone were not far away in those games and will have revenge on their minds after UL beat them 31-6 in the corresponding fixture last year. Competition for places is high at Gibson Park judging by their nine-try Ulster Senior Cup win over Rainey Old Boys.
UL Bohs are one of the lower scoring teams in Division 1B’s top half, with out-half Shane Airey accounting for 36 of their 71 points so far. His kicking duel with Josh Pentland could decide the outcome.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 26, 2013: Malone 6 UL Bohemians 31, Gibson Park; Saturday, February 15, 2014: UL Bohemians 39 Malone 34, UL all-weather pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win
SHANNON (7th) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (10th), Thomond Park main pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Shannon: LLLW; Belfast Harlequins: LLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 25; Tries: Greg O’Shea, John Shine 2 each; Belfast Harlequins: Points: Eamon Lane 30; Tries: Sean Reidy 3
Preview: Shannon’s bonus point success at Corinthians last time out showed the potential they have, with joint-top try scorers Greg O’Shea and John Shine (two tries each) leading the way.
Only a single point separates Shannon and Belfast Harlequins in the Division 1B table, although ‘Quins are bottom following a 24-13 home loss to Garryowen. They need to shore up a defence that conceded 11 tries in the first four rounds.
Shannon won both of their games against ‘Quins last term – by four and one-point margins – and can ill-afford a third home defeat in this season’s league.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 30, 2013: Shannon 13 Belfast Harlequins 9, Coonagh; Saturday, March 29, 2014: Belfast Harlequins 15 Shannon 16, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win