The all-Munster meeting of Nenagh Ormond and Highfield commands most of the attention in Division 2A this weekend, while Belfast Harlequins’ survival hopes hinge on a must-win trip to Sunday’s Well.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, March 25
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Blackrock College (7th) v Banbridge (1st), Stradbrook
It has been a frustrating few weeks for Blackrock, their third defeat in a row seeing them go down 9-7 to bottom side Belfast Harlequins. Their push for the play-offs has not materialised.
Banbridge may be top of the pile but the table is slightly misleading as second-placed Highfield, who trail by two points, have a game in hand. They ran out 38-15 winners over ‘Rock at home in October.
Bann boss Daniel Soper knows his side have to keep the pressure on the chasing pack, and the return of half-backs Andrew Magrath and Ian Porter as well as flanker Robin Sinton boosts his selection options.
Corinthians (9th) v Cashel (6th), Corinthian Park
Unless Belfast Harlequins pull off the great escape, it looks like a two-way battle between Corinthians and Sunday’s Well to avoid the relegation play-off spot which is currently filled by Ene Fa’atau’s Galway men.
Corinthians gave a very good account of themselves at Highfield two weeks ago, going down 22-10 in the end, and they were resounding 38-15 winners when they last played Cashel.
However, Cashel are a much-improved force now as they chase their fourth straight victory. They have one of the division’s best back row units in Aidan Butler, Ed Leamy and forwards coach James Ryan, and Corinthians must limit the kicking opportunities for in-form scrum half Ollie McGlinchey.
Malone (4th) v Queen’s University (5th), Gibson Park
A big response is expected from Malone after they were thrashed 51-15 by Banbridge a fortnight ago. They will benefit from Jack Owens’ release by Ulster this week and the availability of Philip Eadie and Andy Bryans.
Queen’s, who lost 23-17 to Nenagh last time out, are only two points behind Malone in the current standings and could have Ulster representatives Zack McCall, Alex Thompson, Marcus Rea and Nick Timoney in their matchday squad.
30 points was the margin when the students won October’s league derby clash at the Dub, but it should be much tighter this time around with home advantage possibly the deciding factor.
Nenagh Ormond (3rd) v Highfield (2nd), New Ormond Park
An all-Munster cracker in store here as third takes on second at New Ormond Park where the hosts have not played since late January’s hard-fought 10-7 win over Sunday’s Well.
Three of Nenagh’s remaining four fixtures are at home so they need to make the most of it. Making up a four-point deficit on Highfield would be a great start to this block of matches.
The out-half duel between Nenagh’s Kiwi star Clayton Stewart and Highfield’s ever-reliable captain Paddy O’Toole should be a treat to watch. It was honours even back in October when Stewart’s last-minute penalty saw the sides draw 16-all in Cork.
Sunday’s Well (8th) v Belfast Harlequins (10th), Irish Independent Park
Belfast Harlequins are poised to field the same team that overcame Blackrock 9-7 to keep alive their hopes of staying up in Division 2A. Out-half Adam White fired over three penalties in a man-of-the-match performance.
Sunday’s Well, who lie eighth overall, are not yet safe and are facing into a crunch period with four games in as many weeks. They are performing well but not getting the results, with luck certainly not on their side in Cashel.
That will change if they keep plugging away and working hard for each other. Harlequins head coach Andrew Gillespie will deliver a similar message to his players, looking for the ‘same positive intent’ that they displayed against ‘Rock.