Thomond Park is the venue tonight for another mouth-watering derby meeting of UL Bohemians and Shannon, the current Division 1B leaders. The second tier action continues on Saturday with Banbridge and Ballynahinch battling for Ulster bragging rights at Rifle Park.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, October 28
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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UL BOHEMIANS (7th) v SHANNON (1st), Thomond Park, tonight, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LLWL; Shannon: WWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: James Hart 23; Tries: James Ryan 2; Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 43; Tries: Eathon Moloney 3
Preview: What a difference a year makes. Shannon lost their first five games last season, but are now on a four-match winning streak at the top of Division 1B. Tom Hayes and David O’Donovan have worked their coaching magic and the players have wholeheartedly responded.
With feet firmly planted on the ground, they know the first rounds will count for little if they do not pass a test such as tonight’s Limerick derby against UL Bohemians. The Red Robins were in a similar position in 2016/17, having flown out of the traps before being reeled back in and losing out in the play-offs.
You would have to favour Shannon on current form, especially with young half-backs Conor Fitzgerald and Jack Stafford growing in authority. 43-20 was the scoreline in their favour when they last met Bohs, but UL could rattle the leaders if returning winger Jamie McNamara sees enough possession.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 12, 2016: UL Bohemians 14 Shannon 13, University of Limerick 4G pitch; Friday, February 10, 2017: Shannon 43 UL Bohemians 20, Thomond Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
BANBRIDGE (3rd) v BALLYNAHINCH (2nd), Rifle Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: WDWW; Ballynahinch: LWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 56; Tries: Tom Caesar, Andrew Morrison, Chris Allen, Ian Porter 2 each; Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 39; Tries: Richard Reaney, Conor Kelly 3 each
Preview: Banbridge and Ballynahinch are level on 16 points and occupants of two of the play-off positions. Captain Ian Porter continues to point the way for Bann, his 18-point contribution during their recent derby win at Ballymena taking his league tally to 56 already.
The availability of Caleb Montgomery and Chris Allen, a try scorer last time out for Banbridge, will depend on fitness tests, while Greg Jones and Robert Lyttle return from Ulster ‘A’ duty and props Eric O’Sullivan and Tom O’Toole are also in the mix.
Ballynahinch will have Blane McIlroy back at scrum half in place of Aaron Cairns, who will start for Ulster tomorrow. McIlroy will partner top scorer Johnny McPhillips (39 points). Ulster Academy recruit Jack Regan reverts to blindside flanker from the second row, while backs coach Tom Rock may be pressed into action as a starting centre.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
DOLPHIN (9th) v OLD BELVEDERE (5th), Irish Independent Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LWLL; Old Belvedere: LLWD
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 26; Tries: Brian Scott 2; Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 40; Tries: Pat Hughes, Ed Rossiter, Max Ludwig 1 each
Preview: Winning at Irish Independent Park is a difficult task for any visiting club, and although Old Belvedere are unbeaten in the last two rounds, they will be expecting a backlash from second-from-bottom Dolphin who were hammered 52-0 by Shannon last time out.
Coaches Chris Rowe and Barry Keeshan will have stewed over that result from three weeks ago, pinpointing key areas for improvement. Dolphin have been very suspect in defence, leaking a combined 63 points to Naas and Ballynahinch as well as that annihilation in Limerick.
Belvedere have yet to really hit their stride under Eddie O’Sullivan, but this next block of matches contains some crucial fixtures. They desperately need to get their attack firing as they are the second lowest scorers in the division and are without a bonus point. Tim Foley’s boot had contributed 40 of their 55 points so far.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
NAAS (4th) v BALLYMENA (8th), Forenaughts
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WWLL; Ballymena: WLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Johne Murphy 23; Tries: Fionn Higgins 3; Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 27; Tries: Rodger McBurney 2
There were two home defeats for these sides in round 4, with Naas slipping from second to fourth after a disappointing home reversal to UCC (13-5). They are out at Forenaughts again tomorrow, with player-coach Johne Murphy bringing in centre Donal Droney and hooker Charlie Kings as the only two changes.
Powerful carrier Henry Bryce returns to the Naas matchday squad and will hope to have an impact off the bench. David O’Hara replaces the injured David Shanahan at scrum half for Ballymena who will give a late fitness test to centre Alan Smyth (shoulder).
Both Rea brothers could feature in the visitors’ back row, depending on the availability of Matthew who was a Champions Cup debutant last week. Murphy will have Ulster youngster Brett Herron to contend with in an individual battle at out-half, one which could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the match.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 24, 2016: Ballymena 15 Naas 8, Eaton Park; Saturday, April 8, 2017: Naas 40 Ballymena 15, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
UCC (6th) v OLD WESLEY (10th), the Mardyke
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LDLW; Old Wesley: LLLD
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: James Taylor 38; Tries: Cian Bohane 3; Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 8; Tries: Josh Pim, Eoghan O’Reilly, Donnchadh Phelan, David Rowley, James O’Donovan, Darren Horan, Tommy O’Callaghan 1 each
Preview: UCC broke their duck with that eight-point victory at Naas, set up by flanker John Hodnett’s first half try. The Rosscarbery youngster followed up by making his British & Irish Cup debut for Munster ‘A’ last weekend, with his absence felt by UCC in their 44-10 Munster Senior Cup defeat to Cork Con.
Old Wesley showed plenty of grit to earn a 15-all draw with Old Belvedere – thanks to winger Tommy O’Callaghan’s late try – but they are still the only team without a win. Their 6ft 4in centre James O’Donovan is unavailable this week as he has earned a call-up to the Ireland Sevens squad.
The Dubliners book-ended the 2016/17 regular season with wins over UCC – 23-20 at the Mardyke and 19-5 at Donnybrook. But, given the additions of Cian Bohane and John Poland this term, you would have to favour Brian Walsh’s students to exact some revenge.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 17, 2016: UCC 20 Old Wesley 23, the Mardyke; Saturday, April 15, 2017: Old Wesley 19 UCC 5, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win