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Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Previews

Unbeaten leaders Armagh enter the second half of the Division 2B season with a nine-point lead over their closest rivals. Tomorrow’s visit to Wanderers and next week’s home encounter with Greystones could have a huge bearing on the race for promotion.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, January 21

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Old Crescent (5th) v Dungannon (6th), Rosbrien, 2pm

Only a point separated these sides at the end of a cracking contest at Stevenson Park in round 9. Shane O’Brien landed a late match-winning penalty for Crescent, denying his opposite number Tianua Poto who had crossed for ‘Gannon’s two tries in an eventual 15-14 defeat.

O’Brien and New Zealander Poto should be two influential figures in this weekend’s rematch, with the Limerick side eyeing up their fourth win on the trot.

With ‘Gannon also losing to City of Derry on New Year’s Eve, Andy Hughes’ men have a good deal of ground to make up. Losing the likes of Seamus Mallon, Steven Sinnamon, Paul Armstrong and James Bates to injury or work commitments does not help, but they are hoping captain James McMahon and Rodney Bennett come through late fitness tests.

Bective Rangers (7th) v Skerries (8th), Donnybrook

The first leg of this back-to-back match-up was also a one-point game, Skerries prevailing 11-10 at home thanks to flanker Evan Sherlock’s well-taken try from a 43rd minute break.

Captain Gearoid O’Grady did all the scoring for Bective at Holmpatrick with a try, a conversion and a penalty, but they missed a number of second half chances. Three winless outings have seen them slide down to seventh overall.

Eighth-placed Skerries, having ended their seven-match losing streak, trail Rangers by four points. But the hosts should take the spoils here if they can put those hard-earned scoring opportunities away.

City of Derry (9th) v MU Barnhall (3rd), Judge’s Road

MU Barnhall’s impressive form before Christmas went under the radar slightly, but three successive victories have moved the Blue Bulls into third spot – six points behind Greystones.

They had little trouble in seeing off struggling City of Derry (41-3) in the last round, with in-form winger Barry Hill making it four tries in two games.

However, Derry’s subsequent 16-15 Ulster derby defeat of Dungannon has lifted them off the bottom of the table. Full-back Neil Burns did all the scoring that day, and the challenge for him and his team-mates is to repeat that performance level and result. 

Greystones (2nd) v Thomond (10th), Dr. Hickey Park

Thomond were torn apart by Greystones when they last met in early December, leaking nine tries in a 59-7 hammering. Another five-point return could be on the cards for buoyant ‘Stones, who knocked Division 1B side Old Wesley out of the Leinster Senior Cup last week.

Jack Keating, Paudie Geoghegan and Mike Lea all scored tries against Wesley and they continue to be some of the Co. Wicklow club’s leading lights, helping them to average a whopping 34 points per league match so far.

It is hard to see Thomond getting anything from this round 10 trip. Next week’s home clash with local rivals Old Crescent could be the fixture that brings the best out of them.

Wanderers (2nd) v Armagh (1st), Aviva Stadium back pitch

Discipline was an issue for Wanderers in their 39-11 loss away to league leaders Armagh. They will need a big improvement for this return leg, although they do seem to reserve their best form for home – four wins out of four, 148 points scored and only 46 conceded.

Armagh, though, seem to have the measure of every Division 2B club this season and these next two games against their closest rivals, Wanderers and Greystones, could be season-defining.

Armagh boss Alex McCloy seems to be managing his squad really well at this crucial halfway point of the campaign. Indeed, both he and consultant coach Brian McLaughlin oversaw a mini pre-season programme for the players during the recent winter break.