Division 1B’s three Ulster clubs, Ballymena, Ballynahinch and Banbridge, are all at home in Saturday’s second round, while early pacesetters Naas have Fionn Carr and James Connolly in the mix for the visit of UL Bohemians.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, September 23
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYMENA (5th) v DOLPHIN (10th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: W; Dolphin: L
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 11; Tries: Callum Patterson, Rodger McBurney 1 each; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan, Brian Scott 10 each; Tries: Brian Scott 2
Preview: Ballymena showed plenty of character to turn a 12-point interval deficit into a 21-18 win at Old Wesley. First half yellow cards for Stephen Mulholland and Adrian Hamilton had the Braidmen in obvious trouble, but they found their way with Ulster out-half Brett Herron kicking 11 points.
Half-backs Herron and David Shanahan are on the Ulster bench tonight, so Glenn Baillie and Michael Stronge are set to deputise for them in Ballymena colours. Dolphin deserved something from their opener against Naas, but fell 10 points short despite Munster prop Brian Scott’s brace of tries.
Although Ballymena are the stronger side on paper and have home advantage, Dolphin showed in last season’s meeting that they are more than capable of winning at Eaton Park. Three Barry Keeshan penalties had them in a good position at half-time before they eventually lost 24-16.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 8, 2016: Ballymena 24 Dolphin 16, Eaton Park; Saturday, March 11, 2017: Dolphin 18 Ballymena 16, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BALLYNAHINCH (8th) v OLD WESLEY (6th), Ballymacarn Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: L; Old Wesley: L
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Tim Cossens 6; Tries: -; Old Wesley: Points: Josh Miller, Josh Pim, Eoghan O’Reilly 5 each; Tries: Josh Pim, Eoghan O’Reilly 1 each
Preview: Ballynahinch and Old Wesley played out two of the most entertaining Division 1B ties last term, with the Dublin 4 outfit winning both games and outscoring ‘Hinch by 63 points to 46 in the process.
‘Hinch were not clinical enough with ball in hand as they went down 13-6 at Old Belvedere in round 1. Kiwi out-half Tim Cossens was their only scorer in Dublin. Ireland Under-20 international Johnny McPhillips is poised to return from injury, while fellow Ulster squad members Peter Browne, Aaron Cairns and Jonny Simpson are also in the selection mix.
First half tries from Josh Pim and Eoghan O’Reilly should have propelled Wesley to an opening win against Ballymena. However, Morgan Lennon’s men lost their grip on a 12-point advantage and they can ill-afford a similar slump against Ulster opposition again this week.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 8, 2016: Old Wesley 35 Ballynahinch 32, Donnybrook; Saturday, March 11, 2017: Ballynahinch 14 Old Wesley 28, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
BANBRIDGE (2nd) v UCC (7th), Rifle Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: W; UCC: L
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 15; Tries: Ian Porter, Tom Caesar 1 each; UCC: Points: James Taylor 11; Tries: Murray Linn 1
Preview: Banbridge made quite a statement with their 20-13 first round victory at UL Bohemians. Debutants Nick Timoney, who was superb in and around the breakdown, and Robert Lyttle, who set up the match-winning try for fellow newcomer Tom Caesar, both impressing.
Back rowers Timoney and Greg Jones will miss Bann’s date with UCC, while Lyttle’s involvement will depend on his Ulster game-time. Locks Robin Sinton and Kallan Martin are both injured. Head coach Daniel Soper said: “UCC have been a good side for a number of years and already had a season in Division 1B. They’ve recruited well and I expect another tight affair.”
The Cork students fell just short against Shannon, losing out to a late try. James Taylor, CBC Cork’s 2016 Munster Schools Senior Cup-winning out-half, kicked 11 points for Brian Walsh’s young side who will be looking to get the most out of retired Munster centre Cian Bohane.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 31, 2015: UCC 22 Banbridge 24, the Mardyke; Saturday, April 23, 2016: Promotion/Relegation Play-Off: Banbridge 21 UCC 41, Rifle Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
NAAS (1st) v UL BOHEMIANS (9th), Forenaughts
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: W; UL Bohemians: L
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Johne Murphy, Fionn Higgins, Michael Skelton 10 each; Tries: Fionn Higgins, Michael Skelton 2 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 8; Tries: Ed Kelly 1
Preview: Naas will look to unleash Fionn Carr off the bench after he missed last week’s bonus point triumph away to Dolphin. Player-coach Johne Murphy has made two changes up front, David Benn coming in to captain the team from the second row with Connacht’s James Connolly filling the openside berth.
Leaking a last-minute converted try, UL Bohemians were beaten at home by Division 1B new boys Banbridge. Bohs will need to take more of their try-scoring opportunities, a couple of times they got within five metres of the Bann line but came away with nothing.
Robbie Bourke remains a reliable goal-kicker for the Limerick club and his duel with Murphy could decide the outcome. Naas won both meetings last season by just three points, Murphy landing a late drop goal in a 13-10 home win and 12 points from the tee seeing them prevail 27-24 at UL.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 26, 2016: Naas 13 UL Bohemians 10, Forenaughts; Saturday, February 4, 2017: UL Bohemians 24 Naas 27, University of Limerick 4G pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
SHANNON (4th) v OLD BELVEDERE (3rd), Thomond Park main pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: W; Old Belvedere: W
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 8; Tries: Tony Cusack 1; Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 8; Tries: Pat Hughes 1
Preview: Shannon were one of only two Limerick clubs to win last Saturday, across the entire Ulster Bank League. It was a memorable day for their front row against UCC, a maul forcing a penalty try and Conor Glynn’s strong run leading to fellow prop Tony Cusack’s match-winning try.
Eddie O’Sullivan’s new-look Belvedere team got the job done against Ballynahinch, winning 13-6 thanks to out-half Pat Hughes’ 68th-minute try. Their trip to Thomond Park will be something of a homecoming for ‘Belvo’s player/forwards coach Fergal ‘Stretch’ Walsh, who was a fixture in the Shannon second row for a number of years.
The clubs have not met in league action since February 2013 when Walsh, Duncan Casey and Niall Ronan were part of the Shannon pack. Flanker Ronan was one of the try scorers in Shannon’s 28-17 defeat of ‘Belvo at Thomond that day.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win