It is derby night in Ulster Bank League Division 1B with the Cork bragging rights on the line at Irish Independent Park and two heavyweight provincial clashes at Crowley Park and Eaton Park.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Friday, February 3
Kick-off 7.30pm unless stated –
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DOLPHIN (10th) v UCC (8th), Irish Independent Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LLWLLLWWLL; UCC: LLWLWLWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 45; Tries: John Fitzgerald, Ryan Murphy 3 each; UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 82; Tries: Conor Barry 4
Preview: The pressure is on both of these sides to deliver a winning performance following last week’s results, Dolphin going down 30-8 at Ballynahinch and UCC emerging tryless in a 18-9 home loss to UL Bohemians.
David Corkery’s charges have had a couple of their best displays at home this season – wins over Galwegians and Naas – and they should be capable of repeating November’s 25-15 victory over the Cork students.
They should be inspired by their former captain Niall Scannell’s inclusion on Ireland’s bench, but their discipline has to be top notch as UCC winger Kevin O’Keeffe (82 points) is among the best kickers in the division.
Recent League Meeting – Friday, November 25, 2016: UCC 15 Dolphin 25, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dolphin to win
GALWEGIANS (7th) v BUCCANEERS (1st), Crowley Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LWLLLLLLWL; Buccaneers: LWWWWWWWWD
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Aidan Moynihan 44; Tries: Cormac Brennan 6; Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 86; Tries: Jordan Conroy 8
Preview: Galwegians are yet to string back-to-back wins together in the current campaign, and last week’s disappointing 17-14 reversal down at Shannon edged them closer to relegation trouble.
Returning forwards Ronan Loughney, Peter Claffey and Eoghan Masterson gave their pack a stronger look and head coach Brian McClearn will hope to have a decent provincial representation again this week.
Buccaneers, whose lead at the top has been cut to two points, have injury concerns over backs Mata Fifita, Shane Layden and Conor McKeon. But prop Saba Meunargia, the man-of-the-match against Ballymena, should help them win the set piece battle and steer the Pirates to their third triumph of the season against their Connacht rivals.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, January 30, 2015: Galwegians 12 Buccaneers 6, Crowley Park; Friday, November 18, 2016: Buccaneers 24 Galwegians 12, Dubarry Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
BALLYMENA (6th) v BALLYNAHINCH (5th), Eaton Park, 8pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWLWLLWWLD; Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 39; Tries: Rodger McBurney, Mark Best, James Beattie 4 each; Old Wesley: Points: Chris Quinn 41; Tries: Davy Nicholson 4
Preview: 13 second half points without reply was enough to gain a share of spoils for Ballymena at leaders Buccaneers. They will be without Ulster’s Alan O’Connor and Ricky Lutton this week, but Brett Herron, Mark Best, Matthew Rea and Stephen Mulholland have been released by the province.
Peter Nelson made a very welcome return from long-term injury last week, scoring a try in Ballynahinch’s 30-8 bonus point success against Dolphin. He will start at full-back again with the visitors’ pack containing John Donnan, Lorcan Dow and Conor Joyce.
Ballymena were 28-18 winners at Ballymacarn Park in November but a tighter contest looks likely here, especially if ‘Hinch can get the best out of their back-three of Nelson, David Busby and Davy Nicholson.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 23, 2013: Ballynahinch 66 Ballymena 5, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, November 26, 2016: Ballynahinch 18 Ballymena 28, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
OLD WESLEY (3rd) v SHANNON (9th), Donnybrook, Saturday, February 4, 4.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWLWWWLDWL; Shannon: LLLLLWLDLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 117; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte 4 each; Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 42; Tries: Shane Mullally 3
Preview: Old Wesley did not play like a team sitting third in the table last week, going down 27-8 at Naas. The only real positive was young hooker Conor Maguire’s third try in five league outings.
New Shannon boss Tom Hayes got the performance and result he desired against Galwegians – with half-backs Fionn McGibney and Jack Stafford particularly impressive – and the challenge now is to back that up in Dublin.
These sides drew 24-all at Coonagh back in November, with a series of missed penalties seeing Shannon fail to claim the full four points. If they can get the win this time at Donnybrook, it would be a real statement of intent.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 6, 2016: Old Wesley 20 Shannon 18, Donnybrook; Saturday, November 26, 2016: Shannon 24 Old Wesley 24, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
UL BOHEMIANS (2nd) v NAAS (4th), University of Limerick 4G pitch, Saturday, February 4, 4.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWLWW; Naas: WLLWWWLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 61; Tries: Jamie McNamara, Finbar Aherne 5 each; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 75; Tries: Fionn Carr 5
Preview: Back-to-back triumphs over UCC have kept UL Bohemians hot on the heels of table toppers Buccaneers. Reversing November’s 13-10 defeat to Naas would certainly add to their growing momentum.
However, Naas come calling on the back of a superb 19-point victory over Old Wesley, another of the promotion-chasing clubs. Skilful scrum half Peter Osborne tallied up 22 points in an excellent individual display.
UL will have to curb the on-field influence of Naas player-coach Johne Murphy and his centre partner Henry Bryce, but their own back-line boasts plenty of threats, including the flying Ahernes (Finbar and Cian) who revel on the 4G surface.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 26, 2016: Naas 13 UL Bohemians 10, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win