The Division 2A schedule on Saturday has a huge amount to offer both club stalwarts and neutral newcomers, with two Munster derbies, a Belfast duel between Harlequins and Queen’s and an intriguing mid-table tussle between Blackrock and Malone.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, November 26
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Sunday’s Well (7th) v Nenagh Ormond (1st), Irish Independent Park, 2pm
With statistically the most potent attack and second best defence in the division, Nenagh Ormond have hit top spot as the season’s midway point nears. Just scoring difference separates them from former leaders Banbridge.
Nenagh’s most recent trip to Cork ended in a 16-all draw with Highfield, but they should come away with at least four points this time – especially if out-half Clayton Stewart (96 points) continues his top-scoring form.
Sunday’s Well number 10 Shane O’Riordan (33 points) has landed some high-pressure kicks for the hosts lately. Their two recent draws with Highfield and Malone have marked them out as very tough to beat, particularly at home.
Banbridge (2nd) v Corinthians (8th), Rifle Park
It has been a difficult few weeks for Banbridge, being edged off the summit by Nenagh and going down heavily to Ballynahinch (32-5), with a depleted XV, in last Saturday’s Ulster Senior Cup semi-finals.
Assistant coach Rob Logan was pleased with Bann’s improved showing in the scrums and lineouts, and they will need a strong set piece in order to see off the challenge of Corinthians who are very capable of springing a surprise.
However, the six-place difference between the sides should show on the scoreboard by the finish, especially if Bann can execute like they did in the earlier rounds of September and October.
Belfast Harlequins (10th) v Queen’s University (3rd), Deramore Park
This local derby comes at a bad time for Belfast Harlequins. A late surge from Dungannon saw ‘Quins knocked out of the Ulster Senior Cup at the semi-final stage last week, a deflating result on the back of their very obvious league struggles.
But facing two fellow Belfast clubs (Queen’s and Malone) in the final rounds before Christmas could inspire Andrew Gillespie’s charges. Winning at least one of these fixtures is vital heading into the New Year.
The recent passing of Robbie Moore, who gave a lifetime of service to Queen’s as a player and coach, was keenly felt by all in the Ulster and Irish club rugby communities. Moore’s legacy lives on in the infectious way the Belfast students play the game, and he would undoubtedly be proud of their current three-match winning streak.
Blackrock College (5th) v Malone (6th), Stradbrook
Blackrock’s troubles away from home continued in the last round at Queen’s, three yellow cards really hurting them in a 27-15 defeat. Conversely, they are unbeaten in the league at Stradbrook this season with three wins from three.
Since beating current leaders Nenagh last month, Malone have picked up just two points out of a possible 10. What was pleasing from their 16-all draw with Sunday’s Well was the finishing of former professional Mark McCrea who ran in two tries from centre.
More of the same will be required if the Cregagh Red Sox want to erase the five-point gap that exists between themselves and ‘Rock in the table. Defence has been an issue for Malone – they have the second worst scoring differential (-67) at present.
Cashel (9th) v Highfield (4th), Spafield
Cashel may be ninth in the standings, but they went very close to beating high-flying Banbridge 5-0 last time out. Despite laying strong foundations in the first half, most notably from their robust rolling mauls, they just fell at the final hurdle.
However, their previous wins over Blackrock and Harlequins have lifted spirits around Spafield, Cashel’s back row of Kieran Murphy, Ed Leamy and forwards coach James Ryan, a wily number 8, is a serious unit to contend with.
It is hard to read much into Highfield’s 73-5 trouncing of ‘Quins given the current gulf between the teams. What may get the Corkmen over the line in this Munster derby is their defence – they have conceded 20 fewer points than any other team in Division 2A so far.