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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B-2B Promotion/Relegation Play-Off Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B-2B Promotion/Relegation Play-Off Previews

Six promotion/relegation play-off semi-finals take place in the lower divisions of the Ulster Bank League this weekend, with three of them in Cork where Highfield, Dolphin and Sunday’s Well will be looking to extend their seasons.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: Saturday, April 22

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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DIVISION 1B PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS:

HIGHFIELD (2nd, Div 2A) v NENAGH ORMOND (3rd, Div 2A), Woodleigh Park, 1.30pm

Highfield fell two points short of automatic promotion, Nenagh Ormond were six points back in third. But that matters little now in the play-offs with the slate wiped clean for this crunch Munster derby.

Incidentally, Nenagh were one of only two teams to beat Tim Ryan’s Highfield side during the regular season, triumphing 36-24 at home in March as Derek Corcoran crossed for two tries and Clayton Stewart kicked 16 points. A late Stewart penalty produced a 16-all draw in October’s meeting.

However, Nenagh have looked slightly vulnerable in recent outings, going down to both Malone and Tipperary rivals Cashel, and Highfield’s impressive home form – seven wins and two draws – suggests they will still be in the promotion hunt next week.

DOLPHIN (9th, Div 1B) v MALONE (4th, Div 2A), Irish Independent Park

With five wins in their last six matches, Dolphin almost pulled off the great escape. Their hopes of staying up now hinge on extending that impressive form into the play-offs against the promotion hopefuls from Division 2A.

The recently-installed coaching duo of Chris Rowe and Barry Keeshan have certainly got the best out of the players in the latter stages of the campaign, with their pack coming to the fore and place-kicker Keeshan taking his season’s haul to 106 points.

Having done well to finish fourth in the third tier, Malone face their third trip to Munster in four weeks. Jack Owens returns to their in-form back-line which includes ex-Ulster and Connacht player Mark McCrea. Captain Neil Alcorn and his forwards will need to be at their best for the Cregagh Red Sox to prevail here.

DIVISION 2A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS:

ARMAGH (2nd, Div 2B) v WANDERERS (3rd, Div 2B), Palace Grounds

The two teams that finished behind Division 2B champions Greystones meet this weekend, and given they finished a full 21 points ahead of Wanderers in the table, Armagh are warm favourites to reach next week’s play-off final.

On paper, Alex McCloy’s men look to have the greater strength in depth, but Wanderers will be keen to remind them that they beat them 23-14 in January. The Dublin 4 outfit only have to look to last year’s play-offs for motivation when third-placed Sunday’s Well were promoted via the play-off route.

Still, if Armagh can keep up their rate of scoring – they have amassed 14 tries in the last two rounds – then Wanderers will struggle to beat them. Watch out for centre Stuart Lester, their man-of-the-match against Bective Rangers, who has notched four tries in his last three outings.

SUNDAY’S WELL (9th, Div 2A) v OLD CRESCENT (4th, Div 2B), Irish Independent Park, Sunday, 2.30pm

Twelve months on from vaulting up a division via the play-offs, the roles are reversed for Sunday’s Well who, having finished ninth in Division 2A, face a tough battle to avoid the drop back down.

They rested a few players for last week’s 40-12 home defeat to new champions Banbridge, but not for the first time this season, young flanker Conor O’Brien stood out with his work on restarts, carrying and a terrific solo try.

Old Crescent are their visitors this weekend, having booked their play-off berth a fortnight ago with a 51-33 bonus point victory over MU Barnhall. Crescent, the Division 2C champions in 2015/16, are making great strides under the direction of Joe Nix and Eugene McGovern.

DIVISION 2B PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS:

SLIGO (2nd, Div 2C) v RAINEY OLD BOYS (3rd, Div 2C), Hamilton Park

There is no let-up in big matches for Sligo as just a week on from losing the Division 2C title decider to Navan, they are back on home turf to host this play-off semi-final against Rainey Old Boys.

Ross Mannion’s charges overcame Rainey twice during the regular season, posting 19-18 and 17-13 wins respectively, with talented full-back Jack Keegan kicking 12 points in the latter game in Magherafelt last month.

Rainey boss John Andrews is hoping to have captain Jonny Lees, Ulster Academy prop Tommy O’Hagan and Ireland Under-19 lock John McCusker back for this play-off trip. The Derry side ran in seven tries against Bangor in round 18, making it 15 in three matches.

BECTIVE RANGERS (9th, Div 2B) v TULLAMORE (4th, Div 2C), Donnybrook, 5pm

Bective Rangers finished eight points clear of the relegation zone last season, but they were snared this time as last week’s 36-16 reversal up in Armagh confirmed their second-from-bottom finish.

They now need to make the most of home advantage against a hungry Tullamore side who are contesting the promotion/relegation play-offs for a second successive year. The Offaly men lost out to Wanderers (24-13) in a play-off final twelve months ago.

It is a big weekend for Tullamore whose Women’s team are gunning for glory in the All-Ireland Plate final, but if Bective can show the form which saw them score 28 points against Division 2B champions Greystones recently, they should move a step closer to retaining their divisional status.