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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

A potentially explosive Saturday night showdown between leaders Buccaneers and fourth-placed Ballymena – under the newly-upgraded Dubarry Park floodlights – tops the bill in Ulster Bank League Division 1B this weekend.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, January 28

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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NAAS (5th) v OLD WESLEY (3rd), Forenaughts, Friday, January 27, 8pm

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WLLWWWLWL; Old Wesley: WWLWWWLDW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 53; Tries: Fionn Carr 5; Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 117; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte 4 each

Preview: Five points separate these teams in the table at present, Old Wesley holding the edge following their 19-16 win under the Donnybrook floodlights in early December.

The ever-accurate boot of winger Barry McLaughlin proved decisive for Wesley that night, his 76th minute penalty topping off his 14-point match tally and bringing his season’s haul to a stunning 117 points already.

But given how close a game that was, Johne Murphy’s Naas will be quietly confident of overturning that result with home advantage. They will hope for more of the same from second row David Benn who crossed for two tries last time out.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 7, 2015: Naas 21 Old Wesley 20, Forenaughts; Saturday, December 3, 2016: Old Wesley 19 Naas 16, Donnybrook

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

BALLYNAHINCH (6th) v DOLPHIN (9th), Ballymacarn Park

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLLW; Dolphin: LLWLLLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 41; Tries: Jordan Grattan, Sam Windsor, Davy Nicholson 3 each; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 42; Tries: John Fitzgerald, Ryan Murphy 3 each

Preview: Ballynahinch will be happy to be back at home after last week’s 44-14 Bateman Cup semi-final humbling at the hands of Old Belvedere in Dublin. Another significant positive is the availability of a number of provincial players.

Back from British & Irish Cup duty with Ulster ‘A’ are the likes of John Donnan, Lorcan Dow, Conor Joyce and David Busby, while Munster have also released scrum half Angus Lloyd.

Last month’s duel down in Cork was a great contest, with ‘Hinch outscoring Dolphin by four tries to three. It was in the second half that Derek Suffern’s side broke free, with Lloyd slipping through for a late bonus point score.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 28, 2015; Dolphin 28 Ballynahinch 35, Irish Independent Park; Saturday, December 3, 2016: Dolphin 19 Ballynahinch 35, Irish Independent Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win

SHANNON (10th) v GALWEGIANS (7th), Thomond Park back pitch

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: LLLLLWLDL; Galwegians: LWLLLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 42; Tries: Shane Mullally 3; Galwegians: Points: Aidan Moynihan 35; Tries: Cormac Brennan 6

Preview: It is a big day for former captain Tom Hayes – brother of John – as he takes the reins for his first league match as Shannon head coach. Already part of the current coaching set-up as defence/lineout coach, he was announced as Marcus Horan’s replacement a fortnight ago.

Hayes will be hoping to get the required backlash after last month’s 53-12 hammering by Galwegians. Shannon may be bottom but the three sides above them are all within a six-point range.

‘Wegians really took advantage of a depleted Shannon outfit that day, with classy centre Cormac Brennan collecting his fifth and six tries after nine rounds. Their first away win of the season looks the likely outcome here.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 3, 2015: Galwegians 3 Shannon 18, Crowley Park; Saturday, December 3, 2016: Galwegians 53 Shannon 12, Crowley Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win

UCC (8th) v UL BOHEMIANS (2nd), the Mardyke, 3pm

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LLWLWLWLL; UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 73; Tries: Conor Barry 4; UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 61; Tries: Jamie McNamara, Finbar Aherne 5 each

Preview: The two student clubs from Munster will renew rivalries, with UCC proving extremely tough to beat on their recent trip to UL. It took a Robbie Bourke penalty via the last kick of the game for Bohs to prevail 18-17.

The scrum battle will be one to savour, especially if young UL loosehead Joe Conway, who was named in the Ireland Under-20 squad this week, and UCC’s Peter McCabe, who is now on loan at injury-hit Connacht, are involved again.

A third straight defeat would be a big blow for UCC as they try to stay out of the bottom two, but they can take inspiration from their home wins over Ballymena and Shannon along with impressive flanker Conor Barry’s four-try haul.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 4, 2012: UL Bohemians 8 UCC 3, Annacotty; Saturday, December 3, 2016: UL Bohemians 18 UCC 17, University of Limerick 4G pitch

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win

BUCCANEERS (1st) v BALLYMENA (4th), Dubarry Park, 7.30pm

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LWWWWWWWW; Ballymena: WWLWLLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 78; Tries: Jordan Conroy 8; Ballymena: Points: Mark Best 37; Tries: Rodger McBurney, Mark Best, James Beattie 4 each

Preview: Eight wins in a row have Buccaneers leading the charge for promotion, but they are now entering a crucial four-week phase with three clashes with top four rivals and a Connacht derby against Galwegians.

Buccs carved out a niggly 18-13 win when they travelled to Ballymena in early December and will welcome back some of their Connacht Eagles contingent for the return leg, along with top-scoring winger Jordan Conroy who missed that round 9 game.

With ground to make up on their promotion rivals, Ballymena are banking on a strong starting line-up with a number of players back from Ulster or Ulster ‘A’ duty. Ricky Lutton joins fellow prop Bryan Young in the front row, while Alan O’Connor slots into the second row and Connor Smyth, Stephen Mulholland and Matthew Rea form a dynamic back row trio.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 30, 2016: Ballymena 25 Buccaneers 30, Eaton Park; Saturday, December 3, 2016: Ballymena 13 Buccaneers 18, Eaton Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win