Two of the front runners in Division 1B, St. Mary’s College and Old Wesley, meet in the penultimate round before Christmas. A cracking contest is in prospect, while there is also plenty of interest in the Munster derby between resurgent Shannon and Dolphin.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, November 28
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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SHANNON (6th) v DOLPHIN (7th), Coonagh, 2pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Shannon: LLLLWWW; Dolphin: LLWLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 32; Tries: Stephen Fitzgerald 3; Dolphin: Points: Cian McGovern 27; Tries: Will Hanly, Chris Rowe, Cian Bohane 2 each
Preview: Marcus Horan’s Shannon would not have wanted the recent break in Ulster Bank League fixtures given they have strung together three victories on the trot – their latest one a 32-10 bonus point success away to Belfast Harlequins.
Two of their brightest talents, winger Stephen Fitzgerald and lock Sean McCarthy, return from British & Irish Cup duty with Munster ‘A’, and Fitzgerald’s brace against ‘Quins showed his finishing ability out wide.
Dolphin suffered a rare home hammering by Dublin University last time out, but at least took some momentum from last week’s Munster Senior Cup win over local rivals Sunday’s Well. However, if Shannon maintain their recent form, they should take the provincial bragging rights here.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 27, 2012: Shannon 13 Dolphin 31, Coonagh; Saturday, March 16, 2013: Dolphin 32 Shannon 17, Musgrave Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
BALLYMENA (2nd) v UL BOHEMIANS (9th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballymena: WWWWWLW; UL Bohemians: LWLLLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 52; Tries: Callum Patterson 5; UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 35; Tries: Darren Moroney, Jamie McNamara, Cian Aherne 2 each
Preview: Ballymena have that winning formula at the moment, as evidenced by their second place position in the league and their recent progression to the Ulster Senior Cup final courtesy of a 27-15 defeat of Queen’s University.
Andy Graham’s men battled hard for four points at Buccaneers last time out in the league, with Ritchie McMaster and try-scoring number 8 Matthew Rea playing key roles, and it is hard to see second-from-bottom UL Bohemians lowering the hosts’ colours at Eaton Park.
But the Limerick club are playing better rugby than their league position suggests. Their Kiwi out-half Rick McKenna is growing in influence and Ireland Sevens international Cian Aherne chipped in with a try in their narrow loss to table-topping St. Mary’s.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 4, 2014: UL Bohemians 23 Ballymena 30, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, January 31, 2015: Ballymena 33 UL Bohemians 12, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BLACKROCK COLLEGE (8th) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (10th), Stradbrook
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Blackrock College: WWLLLLL; Belfast Harlequins: LLLLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Alan Hughes 25; Tries: Mikey Carroll 3; Belfast Harlequins: Points: Mark Best 35; Tries: David McMaster, Mark Best, Frankie Taggart, Mark Foster, Neil McComb 2 each
Preview: Two clubs struggling for results at present with 12 defeats between them in the last seven rounds. Blackrock gave Old Wesley a very good test last time out and with young centre Hugh Godson Treacy scoring a try on his debut, there is hope for a better second half of the season.
It will be interesting to see how Belfast Harlequins emerge from their Ulster Senior Cup semi-final replay loss to Ballynahinch. They were beaten 24-5 by ‘Hinch but showed well over the two clashes, with Ulster Under-20 prop Peter Cooper touching down in last week’s game.
On paper there is not much between these sides. Notably, Harlequins have been struggling to manufacture tries of late, and Blackrock may just have the edge on them in that department, especially with Sean Coughlan and David Rowan threatening behind the scrum.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 2, 2013: Belfast Harlequins 18 Blackrock College 6, Deramore Park; Saturday, March 1, 2014: Blackrock College 28 Belfast Harlequins 12, Stradbrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Blackrock College to win
BUCCANEERS (5th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (4th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: WLWWLLL; Dublin University: LLWWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Conor McKeon 47; Tries: Rory O’Connor 6; Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 65; Tries: Max McFarland 4
Preview: Buccaneers and Dublin University seem to be heading in opposite directions, with the midlanders suffering three defeats on the bounce and Trinity enjoying five wins in a row. Winger Max McFarland has marked his return to College Park with four tries, including one in their 44-3 demolition of Dolphin.
Absentees did not help Buccs’ cause when they were edged out by Ballymena. They will field a stronger selection for the visit of the students, with the likes of Conor McKeon, Rory Moloney and Stephen McVeigh returning from B&I Cup duty.
A loss of focus at crucial stages has hampered the Pirates so far this season and free-scoring Trinity will punish them if those lapses in concentration surface again on Saturday afternoon.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 15, 2014: Buccaneers 20 Dublin University 20, Dubarry Park; Saturday, March 7, 2015: Dublin University 48 Buccaneers 14, College Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (1st) v OLD WESLEY (3rd), Templeville Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – St. Mary’s College: WWWLWWW; Old Wesley: WWWWLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Sean Kearns 75; Tries: Darragh Fanning 4; Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 103; Tries: Barry McLaughlin 3
Preview: The match of the day in Division 1B as league leaders St. Mary’s entertain third-placed Old Wesley. Wesley’s goal-kicking winger Barry McLaughlin is the leading points scorer across the top two divisions, with his mammoth 103-point haul including three tries.
Since losing to Trinity last month, St. Mary’s have shown their mettle by beating Buccaneers, Ballymena and UL Bohs in tight games and climbing to the summit. They ran in four tries away to UL, with impressive winger Ryan O’Loughlin and flanker Barry O’Flanagan among the scorers.
Once more, it will be about whoever produces the goods on the day as there looks to be very little between these sides at present. A big crowd is expected at Templeville Road for the clubs’ first league meeting since the 1996/97 season.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win