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Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Previews

Three of Division 2B’s opening fixtures are in Ulster with promoted Rainey Old Boys hosting Old Crescent, Nick Wells’ new Belfast Harlequins side entertaining Division 2C champions Navan, and Dungannon and Skerries, who were sixth and seventh respectively last season, clashing at Stevenson Park.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, September 16

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Belfast Harlequins v Navan, Deramore Park

Life in Division 2B begins for Belfast Harlequins after suffering relegation two years running. They are hoping for a revival under new head coach Nick Wells, who has won six Ulster Schools Senior Cups with Methody. He also gained senior club coaching experience at Ballymena.

Centre Mark Gribben, full-back Mark Glover and lock Danny Annett, who is also assistant coach, look like being key men for Harlequins in these opening rounds, while BRA’s 2017 captain Conor McAuley impressed with two tries from scrum half against Queen’s last week.

2016/17 was a dream season for Navan who came up as Division 2C champions and their Under-20s also won the coveted Fraser McMullen Cup. The future looks bright for the Meath club, with versatile young forward Cormac Daly, who only turns 20 next May, earning an Ireland Under-20 call-up in the summer as injury cover.

Dungannon v Skerries, Stevenson Park

Dungannon look like they have the personnel to mount a promotion challenge after a busy summer of recruitment. England Students centre Chris Swash, Armagh winger Andrew McPhillips, former Natal underage out-half Duran Krummeck and Kiwi pair Connor McGeough and Jonah Mau’u, who won the U-18 Carrick Sevens title with ‘Gannon earlier this year, are among the new additions.

Former captain and talisman James McMahon, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to be back playing by December. Andy Hughes’ management team includes Ulster’s Peter Nelson, with the Tyrone club targeting the top four after finishing sixth last season.

Skerries are a battle-hardened bunch after scrapping to avoid relegation in the lower reaches of the division. Mark Harrington’s second season in charge of the Goats sees versatile former Ireland Under-20 back Mikey Sherlock take over the captaincy.

MU Barnhall v Sunday’s Well, Parsonstown

Just one more win would have put MU Barnhall in the promotion play-offs last season. Their fifth place finish will undoubtedly motivate them to aim higher, with their summer arrivals including South African scrum half Matthew Alborough, former L’Aquila full-back Gianmarco Cialente and Newbridge College prop Ben Howlett.

Their first round visitors, Sunday’s Well, have a new coaching team at the helm – head coach Peter Scott, the Pres Cork games master and ex-UCC forwards coach, and backs coach Anthony Horgan, the former Munster and Ireland winger who scored a then-record 41 tries for his home province.

With a number of new personnel on the pitch too, it may take the ‘Well some time to settle. They lost to Cashel and Bruff over the last two weekends, while Barnhall’s Blue Bulls leaked 56 points to Blackrock before beating Bective 34-24 at home last Saturday.

Rainey Old Boys v Old Crescent, Hatrick Park

Rainey have recruited particularly well as they make the step up to Division 2B following their promotion via the play-offs. Ireland Club international flanker Paul Pritchard and talented young centre Josh McIlroy, who have both played Division 1 rugby with Ballymena, are now playing at Hatrick Park along with ex-Dungannon scrum half Jason Bloomfield.

McIlroy scored 14 points against Omagh in the Ulster Premiership last Saturday. Although Ricky Andrew has departed, fellow former professional Tim Barker remains in the Old Boys’ pack. One takeaway away from the Omagh game is that they need to improve their passing and be more clinical in attacking positions.

Old Crescent, who were just one game away from back-to-back promotions in April, last visited Rainey eight years ago. Player-coach Brendan Guilfoyle has taken the reins from Joe Nix and Crescent have been in free-scoring early season form, putting 55 points on Bruff and 45 on Midleton.

Wanderers v City of Derry, Aviva Stadium main pitch

Wanderers begin their league campaign on the Aviva Stadium’s main pitch, weather permitting. Going on last season’s table positions, this should be a straightforward result in favour of the home side, who finished third while City of Derry staved of relegation with a post-Christmas revival.

Derry’s new head coach Trevor Will is missing upwards of eight starters in these opening weeks of the season, meaning he has had to rely on Under-20s to fill in. Heavy defeats to Ballymena and Malone (twice) will have dented confidence, but Kiwi scrum half Tyler Rogers-Holden is expected to be available for the Dublin trip. Captain David Ferguson is also back from injury.

When Wanderers met Derry last term, they won 30-24 up at Judge’s Road before registering a 20-11 victory on the back pitch at headquarters. The latter result saw the Dublin 4 club end Derry’s five-match winning run, with Hayley Murray and Eoin O’Shaughnessy scoring tries in each half.

This season sees the introduction of the #UBLTry of the Month award with a prize of 250 euro for each monthly winner and entry into the Try of the Year award.