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Lansdowne Braced For Tough Battle With ‘Hinch

Lansdowne Braced For Tough Battle With ‘Hinch

Lansdowne director of rugby Steve Rooney expects a ‘very tough battle up front’ when the Division 1A leaders host dark horses Ballynahinch in the Ulster Bank League this afternoon.

Former Lansdowne ace Charlie Butterworth will start at number 8 for Ballynahinch who edged out the Dubliners 14-10 when the sides met at Ballymacarn Park in October.

Roll on nearly four months and the headquarters club are seven points clear at the summit. Another victory on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch today would be their eighth on the trot.

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“We were probably guilty of not making the most of our chances (in that October game) and you really can’t afford to do that against a team as well organised and coached as Ballynahinch,” said Steve Rooney.

“They have an excellent back row and we obviously know Charlie very well – he played for us the last five seasons before taking up a contract with Ulster. Their openside Paul Pritchard is very strong at the breakdown and they have some great open-field runners in the backs.

“Ballynahinch are playing an excellent style of rugby this season. They are coming off a great performance against Cork Con where they put 34 points on a Con team very much in form, so we’re under no illusions about the challenge we face and no doubt ‘Hinch will come with a lot of confidence.”

Rooney said the Lansdowne players ‘take a huge amount of pride in their defensive game’, so to ‘nil’ Clontarf (35-0) in the previous round was especially pleasing. “Today will be another big test for our defence given ‘Hinch have racked up 88 points in their last three games.”

Lansdowne’s regular captain Ron Boucher remains absent through injury, but lock Tadhg Beirne is fit enough for a spot on the bench. Beirne is returning from an injury picked up against St. Mary’s before Christmas, and made a welcome return as a replacement for Leinster ‘A’ in the British & Irish Cup last weekend.

Lansdowne will have to keep a close eye on Ballynahinch’s top try scorer Ross Adair (6 tries) and full-back Adam Craig, who notched a hat-trick against Cork Constitution last time out.

Harry McAleese, who captains fifth-placed ‘Hinch from out-half, said: “We were delighted to pick up a bonus point win against Cork Con, but we know we need to improve our performances away from home.

“Training has been excellent since the Christmas period and we’re expecting another good tussle with Lansdowne. We’ll have to be accurate with the ball and disciplined without it.”

He added: “The breaks in league fixtures can make it difficult to keep momentum going and for us we are also challenged by the number of Ulster League games we have throughout the breaks in All-Ireland League fixtures.

“But we’re determined to press for a play-off spot and I think the re-introduction of the play-offs is a positive addition to the Ulster Bank League. It gives real value to all end-of-season matches.”