Following on from last week’s Limerick derby in the top flight, there is another mouth-watering duel in the Treaty city tonight as Division 1B rivals Shannon and UL Bohemians meet at Thomond Park.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 11
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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SHANNON (8th) v UL BOHEMIANS (2nd), Thomond Park, Friday, February 10, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: LLLLLWLDLWW; UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 42; Tries: Shane Mullally, Riley Winter 3 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 61; Tries: Finbar Aherne 6
Preview: What better way to test Shannon’s 2017 resurgence than a full-blooded Limerick derby? Tom Hayes’ young side made it back-to-back wins last week with a late bonus point maul try at Old Wesley.
Their next challenge is lowering the colours of promotion hopefuls UL who have been trucking along of late without really setting the world alight.
After losing at home to Naas, second-placed Bohs have ground to make up on leaders Buccaneers, however they will have to outmuscle a resilient Shannon pack that seems to be growing in stature under Hayes’ helm.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, February 19, 2016: Shannon 22 UL Bohemians 25, Thomond Park; Saturday, November 12, 2016: UL Bohemians 14 Shannon 13, University of Limerick 4G pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win
BALLYMENA (6th) v GALWEGIANS (9th), Eaton Park, 12.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWLWLLWWLDL; Galwegians: LWLLLLLLWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 39; Tries: Rodger McBurney, Mark Best, James Beattie 4 each; Galwegians: Points: Aidan Moynihan 53; Tries: Cormac Brennan 6
Preview: The entertainment value should be high again as Ballymena and Galwegians lock horns three months on from the Braidmen’s thrilling 35-34 victory out west.
However, they have collected just three points in their last three outings, noticeably giving away early leads. Former Ireland Under-20 hooker Adam McBurney is a welcome addition this week, especially with a number of Ulster absentees.
‘Wegians’ failure to put away their scoring chances hurt them in a 25-14 beating by Buccaneers. Picking up points of any kind is a must in these back-to-back trips north to Ballymena and Ballynahinch.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 21, 2015: Ballymena 17 Galwegians 25, Eaton Park; Saturday, November 12, 2016: Galwegians 34 Ballymena 35, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
UCC (7th) v BALLYNAHINCH (3rd), the Mardyke, 12.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LLWLWLWLLLW; Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 96; Tries: Conor Barry 5; Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 41; Tries: Davy Nicholson, Jordan Grattan 4 each
Preview: Having pocketed four valuable points away to Dolphin, it is time for UCC to turn the Mardyke into something of a fortress as they face into successive home matches against Ballynahinch and Naas.
Flanker Conor Barry’s fifth try of the campaign was crucial in last week’s Cork derby, but they are meeting a ‘Hinch side who have crept up into third place thanks to three wins on the trot.
Peter Nelson’s call-up for Ulster will see Justin Rea slot in at full-back for Derek Suffern’s men. The head coach will look for a big performance in the back row from Callum Irvine who steps in for the injured Lorcan Dow.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 11, 2012: UCC 13 Ballynahinch 12, the Mardyke; Saturday, November 12, 2016: Ballynahinch 10 UCC 15, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
BUCCANEERS (1st) v OLD WESLEY (5th), Dubarry Park, 4.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LWWWWWWWWDW; Old Wesley: WWLWWWLDWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 96; Tries: Jordan Conroy 10; Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 117; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte 4 each
Preview: Old Wesley will definitely feel they owe Buccaneers one after a 25-9 defeat on their most recent journey to Athlone, along with November’s heavy 39-22 reversal on their own 4G pitch at Donnybrook.
14 points is now the gap between fifth-placed Wesley and front runners Buccs whose flying winger Jordan Conroy (10 tries) starred with a brace against Connacht rivals ‘Wegians.
With some ex-Buccs in their selection, including out-half Tim Clifford and prop David Henshaw, Wesley will not be overawed, but the strong-scrumming front row of Martin Staunton, John Sutton and Saba Meunargia should lay the platform for another Pirates success.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 2, 2016: Buccaneers 25 Old Wesley 9, Dubarry Park; Saturday, November 12, 2016: Old Wesley 22 Buccaneers 49, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
NAAS (4th) v DOLPHIN (10th), Forenaughts, 4.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WLLWWWLWLWW; Dolphin: LLWLLLWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 87; Tries: Fionn Carr 5; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 54; Tries: John Fitzgerald, Ryan Murphy 3 each
Preview: An upturn in fortunes cannot come quick enough for bottom side Dolphin. A late penalty denied them a deserved losing bonus point at home to UCC last week.
Their best bet would be to keep things tight at Forenaughts and not give away kickable penalties to Naas’ in-form kicker Peter Osborne who is closing in on a century of points.
The accurate boots of Cian McGovern and Cillian Monahan shot down the Kildare men (15-10) in November’s meeting, but Johne Murphy’s side should be backed to reverse that result here.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 12, 2016: Dolphin 15 Naas 10, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win