The battle for promotion and fight to avoid relegation intensifies with each passing week in Ulster Bank League Division 1B, and another action-packed afternoon of club rugby awaits on Saturday.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 27
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated
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BALLYMENA (3rd) v SHANNON (6th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWWWWLWWWWWLLL; Shannon: LLLLWWWWLLWWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 89; Tries: Callum Patterson 6; Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 64; Tries: Will Leonard 6
Preview: Not much joy for either of these clubs in recent weeks, with third-placed Ballymena enduring three defeats on the bounce and mid-table Shannon losing to both Old Wesley and UL Bohemians.
They were tight margins for Ballymena – five points or less – but head coach Andy Graham is confident he has ‘a stronger and more experienced squad this year’ to bounce back from such setbacks.
With Wesley and Buccaneers both having home games, this is a ‘must win’ trip north for Marcus Horan’s Shannon if they want to stay in the hunt for a top four finish.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 28, 2015: Shannon 18 Ballymena 11, Coonagh; Saturday, October 3, 2015: Shannon 19 Ballymena 22, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BUCCANEERS (5th) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (10th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: WLWWLLLLLWWWLL; Belfast Harlequins: LLLLLLLLLLWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Conor McKeon 89; Tries: Rory O’Connor 12; Belfast Harlequins: Points: Mark Best 49; Tries: Mark Glover 4
Preview: Going down to a late converted try away to Dolphin was a deflating blow for Belfast Harlequins, but that has been the tale of their season with defensive lapses continually costing them.
Although Buccaneers have slipped up with successive losses, they are still in the hunt for the promotion play-offs with backs Conor McKeon (89 points) and Rory O’Connor (12 tries) scoring regularly.
Monivea man O’Connor could add to his already impressive haul as Buccs look to do the double on ‘Quins in their penultimate home fixture of the campaign.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 28, 2015: Buccaneers 6 Belfast Harlequins 43, Dubarry Park; Saturday, October 3, 2015: Belfast Harlequins 20 Buccaneers 38, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
OLD WESLEY (4th) v DOLPHIN (8th), Donnybrook
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWWWLLWLLLLWWL; Dolphin: LLWLWWLLWLLLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 125; Tries: Rory Stynes, Iain McGann 4 each; Dolphin: Points: Cian McGovern 39; Tries: Chris Rowe 4
Preview: With four rounds remaining, it is particularly tight in the mid-section of Division 1B with only eight points separating eighth-placed Dolphin from their hosts this Saturday, Old Wesley (fourth).
As the clubs finishing second to fourth advance to April’s promotion play-offs along with the ninth-placed team from Division 1A, there is still all to play for in these final weeks of the regular season.
Old Wesley were well beaten by free-scoring Trinity in the last round, while the evergreen Barry Keeshan booted a dramatic injury-time conversion for Dolphin to pip Belfast Harlequins. Wesley, though, should get back to winning ways here.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 3, 2015: Dolphin 19 Old Wesley 24, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (1st) v BLACKROCK COLLEGE (7th), Templeville Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: WWWLWWWWWWWWWW; Blackrock College: WWLLLLLWLWLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Sean Kearns 140; Tries: Mark Fallon 6; Blackrock College: Points: Jack O’Carroll 35; Tries: Mikey Carroll, Sean Coughlan 4 each
Preview: St. Mary’s may be top of the table, but Blackrock will not be overawed after running them close in a 23-19 defeat back in early October. Confidence levels are on the up at Stradbrook after last week’s 18-16 triumph over Ballymena.
Second row John Burke showed the way with two well-taken tries, while top-scoring out-half Sean Kearns (140 points) ran in a late match-winning try for Mary’s as they edged out Buccaneers.
Current form and home advantage points to another positive day for Mary’s, but Emmet Farrell’s ‘Rock side will certainly make them fight all the way for the spoils.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 3, 2015: Blackrock College 19 St. Mary’s College 23, Stradbrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win
UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (2nd), Annacotty
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LWLLLWLLWLLLWW; Dublin University: LLWWWWWWWWLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 89; Tries: Darren Moroney 4; Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 129; Tries: Tim Maupin 8
Preview: There should be plenty of bite to this encounter as the two University sides – one battling relegation and the other chasing automatic promotion – meet in Limerick.
Second-from-bottom UL have revived their fortunes with back-to-back victories over Blackrock and Shannon, but they are still five points behind Dolphin and ‘Rock above them.
Trinity currently boast the best attack and defence in the division and with American winger Tim Maupin topping up his try count to eight, and number 8 Tom Ryan just one behind him, Tony Smeeth’s charges should chalk up win number 12.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 3, 2015: UL Bohemians 13 Dublin University 32, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, October 3, 2015: Dublin University 39 UL Bohemians 21, College Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win