All eyes will be on Eaton Park this Saturday as Division 1B’s front runners, Ballymena and St. Mary’s College, face off in a match that could go a long way to deciding who secures automatic promotion. Elsewhere, the Donnybrook floodlights will be on for Shannon’s evening visit to Old Wesley.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 5
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYMENA (2nd) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (1st), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballymena: WWWWWLWWWWWL; St. Mary’s College: WWWLWWWWWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 69; Tries: Callum Patterson 6; St. Mary’s College: Points: Sean Kearns 126; Tries: Mark Fallon 6
Preview: This one is top of the bill in Division 1B this weekend and it is easy to see why. With six rounds remaining, St. Mary’s College (50 points) and Ballymena (45) are leading the charge for that coveted automatic promotion place.
On the back of last week’s 30-25 loss to Buccaneers, the pressure is on the second-placed Braidmen to end Mary’s eight-match winning streak. It was a surprise to see Andy Graham’s side falter against Buccs at their Eaton Park fortress, with their discipline and defence giving way.
Mary’s, efficient winners against UL Bohemians, will be expecting a backlash from their closest rivals in the table. A high-scoring encounter looks likely, and watch out for Ballymena lock Connor Smyth (5 tries) and Mary’s number 8 Mark Fallon (6 tries) who certainly know where the try-line is.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 31, 2015: St. Mary’s College 26 Ballymena 18, Templeville Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win
BELFAST HARLEQUINS (10th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (3rd), Deramore Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Belfast Harlequins: LLLLLLLLLLWL; Dublin University: LLWWWWWWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Belfast Harlequins: Points: Mark Best 49; Tries: Mark Glover 4; Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 109; Tries: Max McFarland 7
Preview: An eleventh reversal in 12 games was a bitter pill for Belfast Harlequins to swallow away to Shannon, but it was the manner of the defeat (40-0) which was most concerning for head coach Adam Larkin.
Things will not get any easier this Saturday as promotion chasing Dublin University make the trip north with nine wins in their last ten games. They were 26-12 winners when the sides met at College Park in October.
The Trinity backs are often hailed for their scoring exploits, but flanker and Ireland Club squad member Brian du Toit – younger brother of former Ireland Under-20 international Peter du Toit – has bagged three tries in his last four league appearances.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 11, 2015: Dublin University 41 Belfast Harlequins 20, College Park; Saturday, October 31, 2015: Dublin University 26 Belfast Harlequins 12, College Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win
BUCCANEERS (5th) v DOLPHIN (8th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: WLWWLLLLLWWW; Dolphin: LLWLWWLLWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Conor McKeon 78; Tries: Rory O’Connor 9; Dolphin: Points: Cian McGovern 36; Tries: Chris Rowe 4
Preview: Hard to see Dolphin pulling off a much-needed victory here, given they have lost three on the bounce and only scored nine points in their last 160 minutes of rugby. Buccaneers, on the other hand, are brimming with confidence after beating Ballymena away.
Buccs, who host a ‘Strictly Scrum Dancing’ event on Valentine’s weekend, had their dancing shoes on early as winger Rory O’Connor’s ninth try of the campaign helped them triumph 30-25 at Eaton Park.
Dolphin edged out Brett Wilkinson’s men by a point down in Cork earlier in the season and are always up for a battle, but with Alan Gaughan and Stephen McVeigh both back from injury, the Pirates should make home advantage count this Saturday.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 31, 2015: Dolphin 24 Buccaneers 23, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v BLACKROCK COLLEGE (7th), Annacotty
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – UL Bohemians: LWLLLWLLWLLL; Blackrock College: WWLLLLLWLWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 69; Tries: Ian Condell 3; Blackrock College: Points: Jack O’Carroll 27; Tries: Mikey Carroll 4
Preview: UL Bohemians really need a lift after three successive losses. Talismanic flanker and captain Ian Condell crossed for his third try of the season in a 22-13 reversal at St. Mary’s, but their backs have really struggled for scores – winger Cian Aherne was the last of them to touch down back in November.
Blackrock have also been reliant on their forwards to eek out tries, so it would be a welcome sight to see both back-lines cut loose here, especially ‘Rock centres Sean Coughlan and Hugo Godson Treacy.
A late Jamie McNamara try got UL over the line (21-14) at Stradbrook in October and based on their competitive performance against table toppers Mary’s, Bohs look set to end their current losing streak.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 19, 2014: UL Bohemians 26 Blackrock College 28, Thomond Park; Saturday, October 31, 2015: Blackrock College 14 UL Bohemians 21, Stradbrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win
OLD WESLEY (4th) v SHANNON (6th), Donnybrook, 5.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Old Wesley: WWWWLLWLLLLW; Shannon: LLLLWWWWLLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 122; Tries: Rory Stynes 4; Shannon: Points: Points: Tadhg Bennett 60; Tries: Will Leonard 5
Preview: A later kick-off to accommodate the Ireland Women’s match against Wales, as Old Wesley and Shannon try to close the gap on the promotion front runners ahead of them. Shannon, in sixth, are 15 points behind second-placed Ballymena with six rounds remaining.
Wesley are two places and two points better off than Marcus Horan’s side. They ended a poor run of results with a 28-10 success at home to Blackrock, with full-back Rory Stynes’ brace taking his tally for the season to four tries.
Shannon’s inside centre Will Leonard is one ahead of Stynes after touching down twice in their 40-0 dismissal of Harlequins. A tough one to call, but Wesley have to be backed to gain revenge for October’s 25-17 defeat in Limerick.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 31, 2015: Shannon 25 Old Wesley 17, Thomond Park back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win