Division 2A’s narrow leaders Nenagh Ormond and third-placed Highfield both face fellow Munster clubs on home soil, while Banbridge are the only side in the top four who are on their travels this weekend.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, January 28
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Corinthians (9th) v Banbridge (4th), Corinthian Park
Corinthians are entering a key phase of the season and it could be crucial to their hopes of staying in the division. They face three of the current top four sides in the next three rounds, starting with the visit of Banbridge to Clooncauneen.
Driven on by strong-carrying number 8 Lise Soloa, the recent Connacht Senior Cup runners-up always seem to play better at home and they will be eager to make up for faltering in the final quarter at Sunday’s Well where they finished nine points in arrears.
Bann will also want to right the wrongs of their 13-6 home loss to Highfield, a match in which they had 77% possession but their decision-making let them down. Their head coach Daniel Soper feels this will be ‘a tough game’ in Galway but a winnable one.
Highfield (3rd) v Cashel (8th), Woodleigh Park
Promotion-chasing Highfield look like they are in it for the long haul after reeling off four successive victories, including a well-judged double over Banbridge. Captain Paddy O’Toole has been their scoring star with a superb 70 points in those last four outings.
When you consider that Timmy Ryan’s men are unbeaten at home in the league since last February, Cashel really have a huge task on their hands. Beaten 13-6 by the same opposition in November, they obviously learned from that reversal as two wins on the bounce followed against Queen’s.
Cashel’s Ed Leamy and forwards coach James Ryan continue to earn plaudits for their back row play, but the ability of the Highfield pack to absorb pressure and counter to telling effect makes them clear favourites here.
Malone (2nd) v Blackrock College (6th), Gibson Park
Malone’s rise to second in the standings is all the more noteworthy when you consider that four of their six wins to date have been away from home. Among those results was November’s 24-18 success at Blackrock, with Ulster prospect Jack Owens scoring a clinching 68th-minute try.
The Cregagh Red Sox got the job done against local rivals Belfast Harlequins last Saturday, prevailing on a 22-12 scoreline despite a performance that was well off their clinical best. Front rowers Dane Fitzpatrick and Dan Kerr crossed for two of the four tries.
Blackrock had their own front row scoring hero in lively hooker Conor Kilcoyne whose brace helped them to lower the colours of front runners Nenagh – 25-20. ‘Rock must get rid of their ‘away day blues’ if they want to challenge for promotion – they are pointless from their four away trips so far this season.
Nenagh Ormond (1st) v Sunday’s Well (7th), New Ormond Park
Table-topping Nenagh Ormond have four clubs nipping at their heels, the concession of a match-winning injury-time try to Blackrock’s Shane Brennan last week siginalling their second defeat in three games.
While Nenagh have struggled for results on the road, their home form has been particularly strong with five wins from five. Their well-oiled scrum has been a big factor in their success along with the play-making abilities of half-backs Clayton Stewart and Derek Corcoran.
Visitors Sunday’s Well are struggling for consistency with a ‘WLLW’ record in recent rounds, but they did account for Nenagh 23-17 in a nip-and-tuck November tie with 13-point out-half Shane O’Riordan standing out. He matched that tally in last week’s 26-17 victory at home to Queen’s.
Queen’s University (5th) v Belfast Harlequins (10th), Dub Lane
Another keenly-contested Belfast battle awaits for Harlequins who deserved to take something from last week’s 22-12 home reversal by Malone. The division’s bottom side did at least score a couple of tries through winger Jordan McIlrath and captain Ollie Loughead and also scrummaged well.
Since winning 32-15 at ‘Quins in late November, Queen’s have lost two tight contests with Cashel. Eager for his side to bounce back this weekend, head coach Bob Young should be able to field a stronger line-up with players returning from provincial duty and injury.
Queen’s had four players named in the Ireland Under-20 squad earlier this week, including backs Rory Butler, Jonny Stewart and Robert Lyttle, while Belfast Harlequins’ promising prop Peter Cooper also made the cut.