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Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Previews

Banbridge have their destiny in their own hands as they face into the final two rounds with a two-point lead at the summit. Meanwhile, four clubs are still battling to avoid the dreaded relegation play-off spot.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, April 8

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Cashel (7th) v Nenagh Ormond (3rd), Spafield, Friday, April 7, 7.30pm

Motivation will not be lacking for either team in this Tipperary derby. Cashel are still not completely clear of the relegation play-off spot, while Nenagh Ormond remain in the running for automatic promotion despite last week’s setback.

Nenagh lost their unbeaten home record for the season, going down 29-22 to top-four rivals Malone. A 24-point first half deficit proved too much to make up, although Clayton Stewart converted Kieran O’Gorman’s closing try for a losing bonus point.

Cashel, whose pack can slug it out with the best of them, went down 30-14 to Nenagh when the sides met in September. They will have to curb the influence of Kiwi out-half Stewart who scored 20 points that night, including two tries.

Banbridge (1st) v Queen’s University (5th), Rifle Park

This is Queen’s third away fixture on the trot, including last week’s rescheduled clash with Corinthians. The promotion play-offs appear to be out of their reach – even if they collect two bonus point wins in the next week.

Successive defeats to Nenagh, Malone and Corinthians have really hurt the students’ top four hopes and Banbridge, who have their sights set on the Division 2A silverware and automatic promotion, are unlikely to be welcoming hosts. Queen’s regular Nick Timoney has made the Ulster senior squad this week.

With five victories in-a-row since January, Daniel Soper’s men are deserving of their current position and they know that every point will count in what looks to be a fascinating conclusion to the title race. Kallan Martin will start in the second row for Bann, with winger John Porter replacing Simon Lloyd who has returned home to New Zealand.

Belfast Harlequins (10th) v Corinthians (8th), Deramore Park

Fielding an unchanged team, Belfast Harlequins are bound to put in a big performance in their final home match in the division. Suffering relegation for the second straight year means some summer rebuilding is needed at Deramore Park.

Corinthians’ 32-24 defeat of Queen’s last Saturday has given them a fighting chance of avoiding the relegation play-off. They are out of the bottom two and armed with a two-point advantage over Sunday’s Well.

Just one win from eight away trips is a disappointing return for the Galway men who will be doubly keen to put one over on ‘Quins after September’s 16-11 home loss, during which Connacht Academy hooker Pat O’Toole scored their only try.

Blackrock College (6th) v Sunday’s Well (9th), Stradbrook

Sunday’s Well began their block of four games in as many weeks with an encouraging 32-17 victory over Harlequins, but they were held try-less by Highfield in last week’s 20-6 derby reversal and now sit in the relegation play-off spot.

Mathematically, sixth-placed Blackrock are not yet free of relegation trouble as the ‘Well are only five points behind them. So, this will be a hotly-contested affair at the south Dublin venue.

Blackrock’s ability to pick up bonus points is effectively the difference between the sides in the standings – ‘Rock have nine compared to the ‘Well’s four. Is a fifth try-scoring bonus on the cards here for Billy Ngawini’s charges?

Highfield (2nd) v Malone (4th), Woodleigh Park

Quite probably the match of the weekend in the league’s third tier. Tim Ryan and Paddy Armstrong have two talented squads at their disposal and both are yearning for Division 1B rugby next year.

Keeping a strong nucleus of players together has been crucial as back-to-back Division 2B champions Highfield contend for promotion, with Dave Kelly and Miah Cronin continuing to lead by example up front.

The ‘Field have to win – otherwise Banbridge could be crowned champions a week early – and while fourth-placed Malone still have an outside title chance, they can only concentrate on trying to repeat their heroics from the last two rounds against Queen’s and Nenagh. Notably, no Ulster team has won at Woodleigh Park since Ballymena did so three years ago.