The Ulster derby between top four rivals Banbridge and Malone is one of the highlights in Ulster Bank League Division 2A this weekend. There should also be fireworks when Munster sides Cashel and Sunday’s Well clash at Spafield.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, March 11
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Banbridge (1st) v Malone (4th), Rifle Park
Something has got to give in this eagerly-awaited Ulster derby, with Banbridge having returned to the top of the table last week and visitors Malone currently on an seven-match unbeaten run.
Bann have lowered the colours of the Cregagh Red Sox twice this season – 19-13 in the league at Gibson Park and 24-17 at home in the Ulster Senior Cup – but head coach Daniel Soper is expected an even stiffer test tomorrow.
He told the club website: “Malone have won six or seven in a row so we’re going to have to be at our best come Saturday. They’re going really well with a lot of quality players so we’re going to have to on top of our game.”
Belfast Harlequins (10th) v Blackrock College (6th), Deramore Park
Bottom side Belfast Harlequins are not mathematically out of it but they have 12 points to make up on Corinthians and a considerably worse scoring difference than the Galway men.
Their defence has really let them down at crucial stages in games, leaking five tries to Banbridge last week and their October meeting with Blackrock, this week’s visitors, ended in a 34-3 reversal.
Blackrock’s scrum was outmuscled by the Cashel eight in round 14, the 23-14 defeat leaving ‘Rock with a huge task to claw their way back into the top four. It is still achievable but they are entering bonus point win-or-bust territory.
Cashel (7th) v Sunday’s Well (8th), Spafield
Cashel have pushed clear of that dreaded relegation play-off spot thanks to back-to-back wins over Harlequins and Blackrock. Last week’s 23-14 dismissal of ‘Rock was particularly impressive, with their superior scrum and Ollie McGlinchey’s 18-point haul being key factors.
Scrum half McGlinchey and lock Kieran Murphy both shone in that round 14 fixture and the Tipperary men will be gunning for revenge tomorrow when Sunday’s Well – the 22-13 winners of October’s clash – come calling.
Last week’s rain-hit schedule means the ‘Well now face into five league matches in as many weeks. The eighth-placed side will be looking for a big return from their usually reliable maul which coughed up four penalties recently against Queen’s in attacking situations.
Highfield (2nd) v Corinthians (9th), Woodleigh Park
The postponement of their Cork derby against the ‘Well left Highfield without a match last week. Despite Banbridge edging ahead of them in the standings, Tim Ryan’s second-placed team still have their destiny in their own hands.
Highfield have tasted defeat just once in the current campaign and boast the best attacking and defensive records in the division, albeit that their three try-scoring bonus points is the lowest tally of the top six clubs.
It is hard to see them faltering at home to Corinthians who have found themselves in the relegation play-off position. Considering Ene Fa’atau’s charges lost 29-9 when Highfield visited them in October, a losing bonus point might be their best hope.
Queen’s University (5th) v Nenagh Ormond (3rd), Dub Lane
Queen’s could erase Nenagh’s three-point advantage over them with victory here, and they are boosted by the return of backs Jack Milligan and Rory Bell from injury.
As good as Nenagh can be – especially when tricky out-half Clayton Stewart and their pack are firing on all cylinders – their away form has been disappointing with only one win in their last six road trips. Last week’s training session with their head coach Ivan’s brother John Muldoon, the Connacht captain, will have them well prepared.
10 points was the difference when the sides met at New Ormond Park in round 4. New Zealander Stewart excelled in scoring all 18 of the hosts’ points on the day – two tries, a conversion and two penalties.