The final round of Division 1B matches begins with tonight’s Leinster derby between Old Wesley and Naas under the Donnybrook floodlights. Saturday’s big match is the meeting of two of the top three sides, Ballymena and Buccaneers, at Eaton Park.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, December 3
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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OLD WESLEY (3rd) v NAAS (5th), Donnybrook, Friday, December 2, 8pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWLWWWLD; Naas: WLLWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 103; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte 4 each; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 47; Tries: Fionn Carr 5
Preview: It is third plays fifth at Donnybrook and a fast-paced and entertaining encounter is in the offing, with last week’s draw with Shannon just enough to keep Morgan Lennon’s Wesley ahead of Naas in the table.
The division’s top scorer, winger Barry McLaughlin, weighed in with a try and nine points in that game to take his season’s tally to 103 points. Visitors Naas have won four of their last five matches, but are without Ireland Sevens call-up Fionn Carr.
Just a week on from his Georgian colleague Saba Abulashvili’s handling of Bective versus MU Barnhall at the same venue, Nika Amashukeli will have the whistle for tonight’s floodlit duel on the 4G pitch.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, March 14, 2014: Old Wesley 12 Naas 17, Donnybrook; Saturday, March 7, 2015: Naas 21 Old Wesley 20, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
BALLYMENA (4th) v BUCCANEERS (1st), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWLWLLWW; Buccaneers: LWWWWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Mark Best 37; Tries: Mark Best, Rodger McBurney 4 each; Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 70; Tries: Jordan Conroy 8
Preview: These back-to-back clashes between fourth-placed Ballymena and leaders Buccaneers, with the return leg on January 28, should have the biggest bearing on the promotion race heading into the spring.
Eight-try winger Jordan Conroy, who is away with the Ireland Sevens squad in Dubai, will be a notable absentee for Buccs whose injury list should have lessened with the extra week’s rest. Out-half Alan Gaughan is in superb kicking form with 70 points so far.
Confidence is high in Ballymena ranks after their first win at Ballynahinch in six seasons. However, there are enforced changes this week with Adrian Kirkpatrick (kidney), Adam McBurney (fractured metatarsal) and captain David Whann (concussion) all out. Former Ireland international Bryan Young returns to front row duty.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 7, 2015: Buccaneers 14 Ballymena 15, Dubarry Park; Saturday, January 30, 2016: Ballymena 25 Buccaneers 30, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
DOLPHIN (8th) v BALLYNAHINCH (6th), Irish Independent Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LLWLLLWW; Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 42; Tries: John Fitzgerald 3; Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 29; Tries: Jordan Grattan, Sam Windsor, Davy Nicholson 3 each
Preview: Dolphin and Ballynahinch seem to drawing closer to each other in the table as the weeks go by – they are now split by two places and just five points. David Corkery’s side earned the derby spoils with a 25-15 victory over UCC in round 8, their lineout maul proving particularly effective.
After losing 28-18 to Ulster rivals Ballymena, ‘Hinch could do with a pick-me-up result ahead of the defence of their Ulster Senior Cup crown against Dungannon on Thursday, December 15.
David Busby is on Ireland Sevens duty and prop Craig Trenier is injured, but returning forwards James Simpson and Lorcan Dow are set to start and Munster recruit Angus Lloyd slots back in to partner Johnny McPhillips at half-back.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 15, 2014: Ballynahinch 7 Dolphin 7, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, March 28, 2015; Dolphin 28 Ballynahinch 35, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
GALWEGIANS (9th) v SHANNON (10th), Crowley Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LWLLLLLL; Shannon: LLLLLWLD
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Mitch Lam 31; Tries: Cormac Brennan 4; Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 42; Tries: Shane Mullally 3
Preview: A win or two can turn a season around and struggling Galwegians will have their hearts set on beating Shannon in these back-to-back fixtures. Brian McClearn’s charges need to start delivering 80-minute performances on a consistent basis.
‘Wegians, who are minus the services of Ireland Sevens player Conor Lowndes, are without a win since late September but are scoring well and have been in every game so far, chalking up eight bonus points.
Four losing bonuses in six defeats also shows Shannon are not far away from putting some results together. However, Luke O’Dea’s call-up to the Dubai Sevens robs them of a key attacker this week.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 20, 2014: Shannon 25 Galwegians 29, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, January 3, 2015: Galwegians 3 Shannon 18, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
UL BOHEMIANS (2nd) v UCC (7th), University of Limerick 4G pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWL; UCC: LLWLWLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 61; Tries: Jamie McNamara, Finbar Aherne 5 each; UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 66; Tries: Conor Barry, Chris McAuliffe 3 each
Preview: The University sides collide in what is sure to be a keenly-contested Colours match. UL Bohemians had an unblemished September and October, but have lost two of their last three games, giving away top spot in the process.
Finbar Aherne has joined Jamie McNamara on five tries for the season so far, and the 4G pitch seems to bring the best out of Bohemians’ quick-witted back-line.
UCC are smarting from their derby defeat to Dolphin, but they did win at Ballynahinch on their most recent road trip. They have some excellent attackers, including Sydney-born centre Murray Linn who has played Sevens rugby for Malaysia.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 15, 2011: UCC 9 UL Bohemians 19, the Mardyke; Saturday, February 4, 2012: UL Bohemians 8 UCC 3, Annacotty
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win