Division 2B’s top two and bottom two sides will be aiming to make the most of home advantage this weekend as the margins grow even tighter at both ends of the table.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, March 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Armagh (1st) v Skerries (7th), Palace Grounds
Following successive wins on the road, Armagh are back at the Palace Grounds and back at the top of the table thanks to their 30-19 bonus point dismissal of Old Crescent.
Back rowers Neil Faloon and Ali Birch were two of their four try scorers as Alex McCloy’s men recovered from a 19-point deficit. Captain Birch also touched down when Armagh won 32-16 at Skerries in October.
The Dubliners, who were 36-17 winners over Thomond a fortnight ago, are facing into two away trips to top four sides. Flanker Michael Turvey, one of Skerries’ key players, bagged a brace of tries against Thomond.
Bective Rangers (9th) v Old Crescent (4th), Donnybrook
Bective are now ninth in the standings after falling to six defeats in a row. Their latest reversal was 21-8 up at City of Derry, a dominant opening 20-minute spell only yielding a penalty from out-half Gearoid O’Grady.
The Dubliners, who had a late consolation try from replacement Aidan Mulligan, will need to steady their scrum after struggling against the Ulstermen. They can draw on October’s 22-14 victory away to Old Crescent.
Crescent succumbed to two final quarter tries that day and they really need to post a win in the capital after losing both February games – 31-27 to Derry and 30-19 to Armagh. Out-half Shane O’Brien kicked 12 points last time out.
Greystones (2nd) v Dungannon (5th), Dr. Hickey Park
Only table toppers Armagh and Dungannon have beaten Greystones so far this season, so the Wicklow men will be gunning for revenge when ‘Gannon visit Dr. Hickey Park on Saturday.
Tries from Con Callan and Killian Marmion (an intercept) inspired ‘Stones’ 20-3 success at MU Barnhall in round 13, while Dungannon are coming off one of their best performances in beating Wanderers 30-24.
The visitors will look to skipper James McMahon, Paul Armstrong and reliable kicker Tianua Poto for inspiration, although Sean O’Hagan, Jake Finlay, Rodney Bennett and Steven Sinnamon are all injured/unavailable this week.
Thomond (10th) v MU Barnhall (6th), Liam Fitzgerald Park
The corresponding fixture back at Halloween time was a real horror show for Thomond, a seven-try 41-0 beating sending them to the bottom rung where they still reside.
Now 13 points adrift, the Limerick side have to remain positive ahead of the final five rounds. They were a whisker away from defeating the league leaders and, of late, have averaged 14 points per game.
Barnhall still have a shot at finishing in the top four, so this is an important trip for the Blue Bulls as they look to end a two-match losing run.
Wanderers (3rd) v City of Derry (8th), Aviva Stadium back pitch
Ulster opposition again for Wanderers. Last time out the Dublin 4 outfit fell 30-24 to Dungannon, failing to build on early converted tries from Niall O’Donoghue and Paddy Mallon.
Wanderers’ home form (six wins from six) suggests they will get back to winning ways here, however City of Derry, who have climbed out of the bottom two, are emerging as a real force under Richard McCarter and Terry McMaster.
McCarter, who played at full-back in their latest success against Bective, said: “It’s five (wins) in-a-row now so it really keeps the momentum going.” Derry front rowers Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan and Sam Duffy put on an excellent scrummaging display last time out.