Two of Division 1B’s unbeaten teams will go head-to-head at Rifle Park tomorrow as third-placed Banbridge entertain Johne Murphy’s table-topping Naas side. Meanwhile, Shannon, who occupy second spot, are on the road to the capital to face Old Wesley.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, September 30
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BANBRIDGE (3rd) v NAAS (1st), Rifle Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: WD; Naas: WW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 21; Tries: Ian Porter, Tom Caesar, Adam Doherty, Eric O’Sullivan, Peter Cromie, Michael Lowry, Andrew Morrison 1 each; Naas: Points: Johne Murphy 23; Tries: Fionn Higgins 3
Preview: Fionn Carr, Peter Osborne and Will O’Brien all return to the Naas starting XV as they look to continue their perfect start to the new season. The fit-again Osborne comes in at full-back with Michael Skelton moving to the out-half position vacated by player-coach Johne Murphy this week.
The division’s pacesetters travel north to third-placed Banbridge who are without the Ulster-tied Nick Timoney and Robert Lyttle and the injured Tom O’Toole and Greg Jones. On the positive side, Bann are unbeaten after the first two rounds, with captain Ian Porter top-scoring with 21 points so far.
Their head coach Daniel Soper said: “Naas are carrying a lot of momentum into this game, having finished second in this league last season and kicking off this campaign with two bonus point wins. In the history of the clubs there’s been nothing between us and them, so we’ll just get on and do our job.”
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
DOLPHIN (7th) v BALLYNANHINCH (4th), Irish Independent Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LW; Ballynahinch: LW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 15; Tries: Brian Scott 2; Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 12; Tries: Johnny McPhillips, Conor Kelly, Richard Reaney, Aaron Cairns 1 each
Preview: Dolphin and Ballynahinch both opened their win accounts last week and approach round 3 with renewed confidence. Half-backs Daryl Foley (try) and Barry Keeshan (five points) did the damage for the tough-tackling Corkmen in Ballymena, with workhorse flanker Kevin Allen in man-of-the-match form.
Fit-again number 10 Johnny McPhillips was ‘Hinch’s leading light in their 27-6 dismissal of Old Wesley, racking up 12 points on his return. For the trip to Cork, they will have the same Ulster contingent on board bar Peter Browne who is on PRO14 duty.
Centre Stuart Morrow is ‘Hinch’s main injury concern, while full-back Conor Kelly and prop Campbell Classon are also nursing knocks. Look out for Zac Ward, the 18-year-old son of former Ulster captain Andy Ward, who has already made two league starts in the Co. Down club’s back row.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
OLD WESLEY (10th) v SHANNON (2nd), Donnybrook
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: LL; Shannon: WW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Adam Kennedy 6; Tries: Josh Pim, Eoghan O’Reilly 1 each; Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 16; Tries: Tony Cusack, Sean McCarthy, Stephen Fitzgerald 1 each
Preview: Old Wesley are playing catch-up already after a narrow home defeat to Ballymena and a tryless outing in Ballynahinch. Despite the best efforts of lock Mark Robinson, a malfunctioning lineout is one area Morgan Lennon’s side really need to get to grips with.
Shannon are at the opposite end of the table thanks to two well-judged opening wins, the latter one seeing second row Sean McCarthy play a starring role against Old Belvedere. The 24-year-old Kerry native has earned a call-up to the Munster bench for tomorrow’s clash with Cardiff.
Tom Hayes’ charges seem to be on a roll with brothers Stephen and Conor Fitzgerald both enjoying strong starts to the campaign. But, if Wesley can make the necessary tweaks and improvements, they are more than capable of halting their losing run.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
UCC (6th) v OLD BELVEDERE (8th), the Mardyke
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LD; Old Belvedere: LL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: James Taylor 22; Tries: Cian Bohane 3; Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 11; Tries: Pat Hughes 1
Preview: A second successive away fixture in Munster for Old Belvedere who must raise their game after a lacklustre 18-3 loss to Shannon at Thomond Park. ‘Belvo have lacked a clinical edge so far, too often coming away with little or no reward from visits to the opposition 22.
Eddie O’Sullivan will no doubt have been working hard on finding the fixes that will lead to better results. Behind a relatively unchanged pack, ‘Belvo will want new Kiwi out-half Ben Brooking to have more of an influence in the coming rounds.
Cian Bohane’s hat-trick of tries helped UCC pick up three hard-earned points in Banbridge. The students, who are now under Brian Walsh’s tutelage, are always a tough nut to crack on home turf and will relish the prospect of taking down a former Division 1A club.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win
UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v BALLYMENA (5th), University of Limerick 4G pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LL; Ballymena: WL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 8; Tries: Ed Kelly, Daragh Frawley, James Ryan 1 each; Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 11; Tries: Callum Patterson, Rodger McBurney 1 each
Preview: Neither UL Bohemians or Ballymena can afford to linger over last week’s missed opportunities with matches coming thick and fast. There was no happy ending in JJ Hanrahan’s comeback game for Bohs against Naas. Locks Ed Kelly and Daragh Frawley have contributed two of UL’s three tries so far.
Dolphin’s resilient defence got the better of Ballymena in a 10-6 reversal for Andy Graham’s men. They really need to get their approach right tomorrow after head coach Graham noted: “(Last week) the players weren’t trying to go to the depths needed to win a rugby match. That mindset has to change this week.”
Bohs won both of the sides’ meetings last season, 25-15 in Limerick and 30-23 at Eaton Park. Hooker Adam McBurney, who has made the Ulster bench, is a notable absentee for the Braidmen’s revenge mission, while out-half Brett Herron is doubtful after picking up an injury training with Ulster.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win