Fireworks are guaranteed in Friday night’s Cork derby between Highfield and Sunday’s Well, while struggling Cashel and Belfast Harlequins are hoping to upset the form book against high-flying Banbridge and Blackrock respectively.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, October 29
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Highfield (5th) v Sunday’s Well (6th), Woodleigh Park, Friday, October 28, 7.30pm
Defensive lapses cost Sunday’s Well dearly during last Saturday’s rescheduled game against Queen’s who won 21-15. However, the ‘Well did finish strongly with flanker Kieran Stokes – recovered from shoulder surgery – impressing off the bench.
Having come up from Division 2B, Highfield have quickly established themselves in the top half of the table with two wins and two draws. They were 29-9 bonus point winners at Corinthians last time out, aided by winger Johnny McLoughlin’s brace of tries.
Notably, these Cork rivals both earned promotion last term. Highfield won the corresponding fixture 24-11 and home advantage should see Timmy Ryan’s men prevail again.
Banbridge (1st) v Belfast Harlequins (9th), Rifle Park
Back-to-back wins over Malone, including an Ulster Senior Cup quarter-final, have Banbridge top of the Division 2A table and 80 minutes away from a provincial decider. After a light week of training, head coach Daniel Soper is hoping to select from a refreshed squad which includes some backs returning from injury.
“The players have answered all the questions that have been thrown at them. It’s been a tough start to the season so we’ve had a wee rest, regrouped and we’ll go again,” said New Zealander Soper.
Belfast Harlequins are also through to the Ulster Senior Cup’s last-four, but their league form has been poor and a scoring return of just 19 points and two tries in three games does not cut the mustard in such a competitive division.
Cashel (10th) v Blackrock College (3rd), Spafield
Although Cashel are bottom of the table, they gave themselves a big lift when beating UCC 5-0 to qualify for the semi-final stage of the Munster Senior Cup. They must take that winning form into the league, as results have been slipping by.
The Tipperary side would actually have eight points if their first four league games had all ended at half-time, and with visitors Blackrock looking strong in third place, they cannot afford another second half slump.
‘Rock’s most recent trip to Munster saw them beat Sunday’s Well 33-23 in a six-try thriller. Averaging 25.5 points per game, the Dubliners’ back-line, which includes summer signings Billy Ngawini and Brendan Hegarty, is certainly beginning to purr.
Malone (8th) v Nenagh Ormond (2nd), Gibson Park
Second-placed Nenagh Ormond travel north still unbeaten after three victories and a draw. Out-half Clayton Stewart, who is top of the scoring charts with 62 points, starred in their 18-8 defeat of Queen’s last time out.
Malone’s recent performances against Banbridge belie their current position of eighth. Hooker Dave Cave and winger Andy Bryans are coming into form, and versatile young back Callum Smith made his Ulster ‘A’ debut earlier this month.
Nenagh were hammered 57-10 in the Munster Senior Cup by Cork Constitution, after which head coach Ivan Muldoon admitted they have ‘a lot to work on’. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back, particularly against what is a well-drilled and potent Malone pack.
Queen’s University (4th) v Corinthians (7th), Dub Lane
Queen’s vaulted back into the top four thanks to last week’s hard-earned 21-15 triumph at Sunday’s Well. Centre Paddy Farrell’s early contender for try of the season was followed by an equally lung-busting long range effort from replacement Ali Burke.
Corinthians fell away in the second half against Highfield, eventually losing 29-9, but they should be primed for an improved performance here with the likes of Dave Panter, Pat O’Toole, Sean Masterson and Stephen Kerins returning from Connacht Eagles duty.
Bob Young’s students will welcome back some of their own Ulster Academy talents, and should be strong enough to avenge a 21-7 loss to the Galway men from the end of last season.