This weekend marks the two-thirds point in the regular Ulster Bank League season. Some clubs are right on track in terms of reaching their goals in Division 1B, whereas others have obvious ground to make up.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, January 10
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BELFAST HARLEQUINS (10th) v MALONE (6th), Deramore Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Belfast Harlequins: LLWLWLLLLWL; Malone: WLLLWWLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Belfast Harlequins: Points: Eamon Lane 46; Tries: David McMaster 5; Malone: Points: Josh Pentland 72; Tries: Rory Campbell 4
Preview: This could be a season-defining game for both sides. Belfast Harlequins may be bottom, but sixth-placed Malone are just five points better off than them. It is very tight at both ends of Division 1B.
Add in the fact that September’s encounter at Gibson Park went right down to the wire with ‘Quins edging it 20-19, and you have the makings of a classic local derby.
Two Paul Jackson tries helped Malone begin the New Year with a 27-11 victory over Corinthians. Another four-point return is likely if they can keep hosts’ Ulster backs Rory Scholes and Michael Heaney quiet.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 15, 2014: Belfast Harlequins 14 Malone 25, Deramore Park; Saturday, September 27, 2014: Malone 19 Belfast Harlequins 20, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win
BUCCANEERS (5th) v SHANNON (7th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: LWWLLWDWLWL; Shannon: LLLWLLWLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 57; Tries: Jacob Walshe 4; Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 58; Tries: John Shine 4
Preview: Two defeats in their last three games have seen Buccaneers slip behind the top four. They are now 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Trinity and can ill-afford another reversal.
Strangely enough, the Pirates have won the road more than at home this season, with their away successes including September’s 27-17 victory over Shannon at Coonagh.
With experienced back David O’Donovan increasing his influence, Shannon have definitely improved since then. Beating table-topping Galwegians was a big statement of intent, but Buccs are tipped to take the spoils here.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 1, 2014: Shannon 10 Buccaneers 29, Coonagh; Saturday, September 27, 2014: Shannon 17 Buccaneers 27, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
CORINTHIANS (8th) v GARRYOWEN (3rd), Corinthian Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Corinthians: LWLLWLWLLDL; Garryowen: WLWWLWWWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Corinthians: Points: Conor Murphy 48; Tries: Eoghan Masterson, Conor Murphy 3 each; Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 105; Tries: Alex Wootton 5
Preview: Five points separated the sides when they met at Dooradoyle in September, and Garryowen should complete a season’s double when they pay Corinthian Park a visit.
The third-placed Light Blues are bubbling with confidence, especially out-half Jamie Gavin who is comfortably top of the scoring charts with 105 points. Winger Alex Wootton has also stepped up with five recent tries.
Corinthians did hold promotion hopefuls Ballymena to a draw in December, but their most recent outing against Malone – a 27-11 defeat – showed how inconsistent Pat Cunningham’s charges can be.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 27, 2014: Garryowen 23 Corinthians 18, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (4th) v BALLYMENA (2nd), College Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Dublin University: LLLWWWDWWWW; Ballymena: WWWWWLLWWDW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 91; Tries: Conor Kearns 5; Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 54; Tries: Tim Small, Sean Taylor 5 each
Preview: A crunch clash for two sides who are right in the mix for promotion to the Ulster Bank League’s top flight. Although more experienced, Ballymena will be way of a Trinity side that is enjoying the fruits of an eight-match unbeaten run.
Ballymena are the division’s top scorers at present, with last week’s try scorers Stephen Mulholland (4 tries) and Jordan Foster (3 tries) both hitting good form.
Trinity have been very impressive since their return to College Park in October, but Andy Graham’s Braidmen, like September’s 24-12 victory, may just have too much firepower for them.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 16, 2013: Ballymena 5 Dublin University 42, Eaton Park; Saturday, September 27, 2014: Ballymena 24 Dublin University 12, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v GALWEGIANS (1st), Thomond Park back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – UL Bohemians: WWLLLLLLWLL; Galwegians: WWWWLWWWWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Shane Airey 88; Tries: Ian Condell 4; Galwegians: Points: Matt Dever 25; Tries: Matt Dever 5
Preview: A testing time for Galwegians whose surprise 18-3 loss to Shannon marked the first occasion they were held try-less so far this season.
Their lead at the top of the table has been cut to just one point and they head south to Limerick seeking their first win in three league games. Despite their shaky form, they should complete a season’s double over UL Bohemians.
Bohs were well beaten by high-flying Trinity last week, and are struggling to finish off scores – as evidenced by their reliance on Shane Airey (88 points) and flanker Ian Condell (4 tries) for points and tries respectively.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 31, 2012: UL Bohemians 16 Galwegians 10, Annacotty; Saturday, September 27, 2014: Galwegians 13 UL Bohemians 10, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win