There are two eye-catching matches at both ends of the Division 2A table on Saturday as Banbridge host fellow promotion chasers Nenagh Ormond and Belfast Harlequins make the trip to Cashel in a crucial basement battle.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, February 18
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Banbridge (3rd) v Nenagh Ormond (2nd), Rifle Park
Banbridge have a five-point gap to make up on second-placed Nenagh and having edged out Cashel last week, they will be gunning for a quick-fire Tipperary double.
A session will Les Kiss paid dividends with an improved defensive display last time out, and Bann head coach Daniel Soper said: “That session gave the guys a lot of confidence. This next game is a pretty big challenge for us but if we can improve again, we might be able to claw Nenagh back.”
Nenagh were 25-5 winners when they last came up against the Co. Down club, with out-half Clayton Stewart in stellar form. The duel between Stewart and Ulster Academy out-half Andrew Magrath should be worth the admission price alone at Rifle Park.
Cashel (9th) v Belfast Harlequins (10th), Spafield
Belfast Harlequins are fast running out of games and opportunities to close the gap on the teams above them, so this is a potentially season-defining tussle with second-from-bottom Cashel.
‘Quins have 11 points to make up on the Tipperary men. Thankfully, number 8 Ben Alexander is back in the mix for selection this week, while Danny Annett and Ben Sloan face late fitness tests.
However, you would have to fancy Cashel to repeat their 22-14 win from early November. They scored three tries that day – a penalty try along with efforts from Sean Walsh and Adam O’Loughlin.
Highfield (1st) v Blackrock College (6th), Woodleigh Park
Highfield have high hopes of avenging their 29-21 defeat by Blackrock from earlier in the campaign. Maintaining the best defence across all five divisions, the Corkmen are leading the race for promotion – a full 11 points clear of sixth-placed ‘Rock.
They put 57 points on ‘Quins last week, while Blackrock had five points to spare over Queen’s. With backs of the calibre of David Rowan and Brendan Hegarty, the Dubliners are more than capable of upsetting the division’s pacesetters.
However, it is hard to see Highfield, in their current form, giving up three first half tries as they did in the sides’ November meeting. Expect win number nine for Timmy Ryan’s charges.
Malone (4th) v Corinthians (8th), Gibson Park
Malone were idle last week having played their round 12 game against Sunday’s Well in mid-January. Notably, since losing heavily to Corinthians (46-3), Paddy Armstrong’s men have gone on a six-match unbeaten run.
They will be quietly confident of gaining revenge on the Galway side who have struggled for results on the road. Half-backs Simon Keller and Stephen Kerins, who both touched down against Nenagh, will have to be well marshalled by the home defence.
With away matches against Nenagh and Banbridge coming up, it is crucial that the Cregagh Red Sox maintain their winning form here and stay in top four contention.
Queen’s University (5th) v Sunday’s Well (7th), Dub Lane
Queen’s were frustrated by a resolute Blackrock defence the last day and with just one win in the last four rounds, Bob Young’s squad need to produce a reaction at home to Sunday’s Well.
The students’ selection has been hit by injuries and unavailability – with the notable losses of Marcus Rea, Jonny Stewart and Nick Timoney to international duty – but captain Alex Thompson and Zack McCall have been released by Ulster.
The ‘Well will be aiming to hit the ground running after having last weekend off. Number 8 Sean Glynn made a welcome return against Nenagh and their back row, led by skipper Kieran Stokes, will take some stopping.