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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

The top four clubs and the bottom four are all in direct opposition in Division 1B this weekend, with Buccaneers needing just one more win to clinch the title and promotion, and fellow strugglers Galwegians and Dolphin set for a real dogfight in Glenina.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, March 25

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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BALLYMENA (6th) v UCC (5th), Eaton Park

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWLWLLWWLDLWLLL; UCC: LLWLWLWLLLWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 59; Tries: Rodger McBurney, Mark Best, James Beattie 4 each; UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 133; Tries: Conor Barry 5

Preview: Brimming with confidence after defeating league leaders Buccaneers, UCC make the trip north as they chase a season’s double over fellow mid-table side Ballymena.

It is Cork opposition again for the Braidmen who were pipped 18-16 at Dolphin last time out. Although it was a chastening result, the performance of debutant scrum half Chris Smyth was a real positive.

Captain Martin Irwin heads Ballymena’s list of absentees this week, although Ulster backs David Shanahan and Mark Best are available. With his 13-point haul against Buccs, UCC’s goal-kicking winger Kevin O’Keeffe is now the division’s leading scorer (133 points).

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 29, 2014: UCC 17 Ballymena 9, the Mardyke; Saturday, October 1, 2016: UCC 18 Ballymena 17, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win

BUCCANEERS (1st) v NAAS (3rd), Dubarry Park

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LWWWWWWWWDWWWWL; Naas: WLLWWWLWLWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 121; Tries: Jordan Conroy 14; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 121; Tries: Fionn Carr 6

Preview: Leading by 13 points at the top of the table, Buccaneers are determined to grasp this opportunity to clinch the Division 1B title and promotion in front of their home fans.

The well-drilled Pirates were stung by UCC last time out, but the return of top scorer Alan Gaughan – depending on his fitness – would certainly help provide improved direction from half-back.

It has been a brilliant campaign for Johne Murphy’s Naas as they chase back-to-back promotions. They are right in the mix for the play-offs, lying third with a game in hand. Versatile back Peter Osborne, who was part of the Ireland Club International squad last week, has excelled with 121 points so far.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 1, 2016: Naas 16 Buccaneers 24, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win

GALWEGIANS (9th) v DOLPHIN (10th), Crowley Park

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LWLLLLLLWLLLWDL; Dolphin: LLWLLLWWLLLLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Aidan Moynihan 58; Tries: Cormac Brennan, Aidan Moynihan 6 each; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 69; Tries: Ryan Murphy 6

Preview: Undoubtedly the match of the day in the second tier, given what is riding on the result. A home win would push Galwegians at least seven points clear of Dolphin and almost certainly relegate the Corkmen.

However, Dolphin have dug out big results recently at home to Shannon and Ballymena, the latter game seeing league veteran Barry Keeshan boot two drop goals. The key now is can they do it on the road?

Galwegians have been leaving wins behind them, and fell agonisingly short away to UL Bohemians in the last round. It is time for their back-line, which has included Connacht’s Rory Parata and Darragh Leader of late, to cause some damage.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 1, 2016; Dolphin 27 Galwegians 18, Irish Independent Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win

OLD WESLEY (4th) v UL BOHEMIANS (2nd), Donnybrook

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WWLWWWLDWLLLWDW; UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWLWWLLLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 117; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte, David Poff 4 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 103; Tries: Finbar Aherne, Harry Fleming 6 each

Preview: With Buccs on the cusp of being crowned champions, this match might just be about deciding the top four’s finishing order. Second-placed UL Bohemians are currently four points ahead of Old Wesley in fourth.

Both sides will give the promotion play-offs a good rattle next month. Wesley are unbeaten in three rounds, aided by centre David Poff’s four-try contribution, while UL’s in-form number 13 Harry Fleming is gunning for his fourth try in as many games.

The Red Robins had the edge when they hosted the Dubliners back in October, two late first half tries from Jamie McNamara and Rick McKenna sending them on their way to a 29-21 bonus point victory.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 16, 2016: Old Wesley 23 UL Bohemians 24, Donnybrook; Saturday, October 1, 2016: UL Bohemians 29 Old Wesley 21, University of Limerick 4G pitch

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win

SHANNON (8th) v BALLYNAHINCH (7th), Thomond Park back pitch

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: LLLLLWLDLWWWLWL; Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLLWWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 57; Tries: Niall Mulcahy 4; Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 49; Tries: Jordan Grattan 5

Preview: Shannon entertain Ballynahinch, the team directly above them in the standings. A win is vital for both as they look to draw away from the relegation play-off spot currently occupied by Galwegians.

It has been a bad spell for ‘Hinch with three losses on the trot. Three of their remaining four games are away, although the availability of Ulster players John Donnan, Aaron Cairns, David Busby and Craig Trenier should aid their mission in Limerick.

Shannon showed huge grit in picking up a losing bonus point at high-flying Naas, with player-coach Tom Hayes and Australian recruit Riley Winter combining again to great effect in the engine room. More of the same will be needed tomorrow.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 1, 2016: Ballynahinch 18 Shannon 12, Ballymacarn Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win