It is top versus bottom in Division 1B tomorrow afternoon as relegation-threatened Dolphin visit champions-elect Buccaneers, while former UL Bohemians are looking to avoid their fourth straight defeat away to Ballymena.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, March 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYMENA (6th) v UL BOHEMIANS (3rd), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWLWLLWWLDLWL; UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWLWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 48; Tries: Rodger McBurney, Mark Best, James Beattie 4 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 88; Tries: Finbar Aherne 6
Preview: Ballymena were particularly poor when losing 49-19 to Old Wesley at Donnybrook. One positive was the two-try contribution of 18-year-old Matthew Norris who has earned a start on the right wing tomorrow.
Andy Graham’s freshened-up side includes Matthew Rea in the second row and Conall Boomer at openside, but Ross Kane, Adam McBurney, Callum Patterson and David Whann are all out through injury.
Visitors UL had 10 points to spare in the sides’ October clash, however they are looking to avoid their fourth loss in a row as they battle to hold onto a promotion play-off place.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 9, 2016: UL Bohemians 15 Ballymena 17, Annacotty; Saturday, October 29, 2016: UL Bohemians 25 Ballymena 15, University of Limerick 4G pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BUCCANEERS (1st) v DOLPHIN (10th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LWWWWWWWWDWWW; Dolphin: LLWLLLWWLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 121; Tries: Jordan Conroy 13; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 61; Tries: Ryan Murphy 5
Preview: Dolphin travel to the midlands on the back of a very encouraging victory over Shannon, two of their four tries coming from impressive number 8 Ryan Murphy.
However, runaway leaders Buccaneers have looked in a different class and if they can stretch their unbeaten league run to 13 games, promotion to Division 1A is virtually secured.
Prop Saba Meunargia’s departure to Doncaster Knights robs Buccs of one of their leading forwards, yet the Pirates have strength in depth. Jordan Conroy and Shane Layden return from a recent Ireland Sevens camp and Connacht centre Eoin Griffin is set for some game-time following a chest injury.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 6, 2016: Buccaneers 22 Dolphin 32, Dubarry Park; Saturday, October 29, 2016: Dolphin 22 Buccaneers 31, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
GALWEGIANS (9th) v OLD WESLEY (4th), Crowley Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LWLLLLLLWLLLW; Old Wesley: WWLWWWLDWLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Aidan Moynihan 53; Tries: Cormac Brennan 6; Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 117; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte 4 each
Preview: These teams both got back to winning ways a fortnight ago and the key will be who can build on that momentum. Old Wesley’s performance in their 30-point dismissal of Ballymena was superb.
Rescaling the heights of that display on the road will be difficult, especially as Galwegians, who were two-try winners at Ballynahinch in round 13, are fighting for their lives in the bottom two.
Coming back from a hand injury, versatile Connacht back Darragh Leader will make a welcome return to club action. Teenage ‘Wegians talent Morgan Codyre is one to watch in the number 10 jersey.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 5, 2013: Galwegians 32 Old Wesley 13, Crowley Park; Saturday, October 29, 2016: Old Wesley 35 Galwegians 25, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
NAAS (2nd) v BALLYNAHINCH (5th), Forenaughts (match postponed due to a waterlogged pitch)
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WLLWWWLWLWWWL; Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLLWWWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 110; Tries: Fionn Carr 6; Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 49; Tries: Jordan Grattan 5
Preview: Naas climbed above UL Bohemians into second place despite suffering a late loss to UCC. Their goal-kicking scrum half Peter Osborne now has 110 points to his name, making him the fourth top scorer in the division.
The Kildare men are looking to do the double on Ballynahinch who could yet qualify for the promotion play-offs or end up scrambling to avoid a bottom-two finish in the coming weeks.
‘Hinch are hunting for their first win in three rounds and although Stuart Morrow and Ross Carlisle are both unavailable this week, Craig Trenier, John Donnan, Aaron Cairns and possible David Busby – a try scorer with Ulster last Sunday – are all poised to feature.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 29, 2016: Ballynahinch 26 Naas 41, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
SHANNON (8th) v UCC (7th), Thomond Park back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: LLLLLWLDLWWWL; UCC: LLWLWLWLLLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 48; Tries: Shane Mullally, Riley Winter, Conor Glynn, Niall Mulcahy 3 each; UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 111; Tries: Conor Barry 5
Preview: Cork opposition again for Shannon and they will be looking to avoid a repeat of their defeat to Dolphin. That 24-11 reversal, which saw Tom Hayes’ side held scoreless in the second half, put an end to their three-match winning streak.
UCC are now three from three after accounting for Dolphin, ‘Hinch and Naas. It is very much ‘one game at a time’ for Kevin Slater and his team-mates, with eighth-placed Shannon only four points behind them.
Individual errors and indiscipline let Shannon down against Dolphin and improvements in those areas will be crucial if they are to see off the students in what is expected to be a very tight encounter.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 29, 2016: UCC 17 Shannon 9, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win