There are two huge encounters at both ends of the Division 1B table tomorrow as the leading promotion contenders, Shannon and Banbridge, collide on Thomond Park’s back pitch, while Donnybrook will play host to the basement battle between Old Wesley and Dolphin.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, November 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYMENA (7th) v UCC (5th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WLLLW; UCC: LDLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 41; Tries: Rodger McBurney 3; UCC: Points: James Taylor 54; Tries: Cian Bohane 3
Preview: UCC are chasing their third league win on the trot after outlasting Old Wesley in a 58-point thriller last week. Young out-half James Taylor seems to be taking to Division 1B rugby like a duck to water, landing another six successful kicks to move his season’s haul to 54 points.
Ballymena had their own match-winning number 10 in Ulster’s Brett Herron, whose 14-point tally guided them past Naas. He is available again this week, but the Braidmen will miss the influence up front of Adam McBurney, Clive Ross and Matthew Rea who are in South Africa with Ulster.
Marcus Rea and Stephen Mulholland still helm a strong back row for the hosts, who have paired Michael Stronge, fresh from Ireland Sevens duty, with Herron at half-back. The Cork students achieved a season’s double over Ballymena in 2016/17, winning 18-17 at home and 26-24 at Eaton Park.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 1, 2016: UCC 18 Ballymena 17, the Mardyke; Saturday, March 25, 2017: Ballymena 24 UCC 26, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BALLYNAHINCH (3rd) v NAAS (6th), Ballymacarn Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: LWWWL; Naas: WWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillip 49; Tries: Richard Reaney, Conor Kelly 3 each; Naas: Points: Johne Murphy 23; Tries: Fionn Higgins 3
Preview: It was not a happy Halloween for either Ballynahinch or Naas, with the Co. Down outfit’s three-match winning run ended by Banbridge while Naas succumbed to their third straight defeat, their indiscipline allowing Brett Herron to kick Ballymena to victory.
Naas player-coach Johne Murphy, who continues at out-half tomorrow, will come up against another Ulster prospect in Johnny McPhillips, who bagged all 10 of ‘Hinch’s points at Bann. Murphy’s three personnel changes see Michael Skelton and Cathal Murtagh come into the back-line, with flanker Paul Monahan promoted from the bench.
The Kildare men won last season’s corresponding fixture with a sizzling six-try performance, triumphing 41-26 against a ‘Hinch side that contained future Ireland cap Jacob Stockdale. Flanker David McGuigan’s late converted try saw ‘Hinch gain revenge – 16-14 – on their April visit to Forenaughts.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 29, 2016: Ballynahinch 26 Naas 41, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, April 1, 2017: Naas 14 Ballynahinch 16, Forenaughts
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
OLD BELVEDERE (4th) v UL BOHEMIANS (8th), Anglesea Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: LLWDW; UL Bohemians: LLWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 56; Tries: Shane McDonald 3; UL Bohemians: Points: James Hart 23; Tries: James Ryan 3
Preview: That was much more like it from Old Belvedere last week, winger Shane McDonald’s hat-trick of tries being the centre piece of an eye-catching 38-10 success away to Dolphin. Having vaulted into the top four, that is where Eddie O’Sullivan’s side need to stay.
O’Sullivan is expecting a strong challenge from UL Bohemians who have lost four-out-of-five so far but put in ‘a huge performance’ against Shannon, according to head coach Christy Neilan. They really gave it socks in the second half of the Limerick derby, but a three-try salvo – including a third of the season for flanker James Ryan – was only enough for a losing bonus point.
If ‘Belvo continue on an upward curve, aided by top-scoring centre Tim Foley (56 points), then a losing bonus may be a decent outcome for Bohs who will fancy their chances of picking up the pace before Christmas with fixtures against the bottom two – Old Wesley and Dolphin – and a double header with UCC.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
OLD WESLEY (9th) v DOLPHIN (10th), Donnybrook
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: LLLDL; Dolphin: LWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 30; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 2; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 31; Tries: Brian Scott 2
Preview: Second-from-bottom Old Wesley are still without a win but they gave it a right good go away to UCC in round 5. Tommy O’Callaghan’s run-in from halfway earned them a late losing bonus point, with talented 21-year-old full-back Jack Maybury scoring the other 22 points, including five penalties.
Dolphin need a big performance to answer their critics after a 28-point walloping at home to Old Belvedere. They must create more scoring opportunities off set piece ball and in the loose, with hooker Caolan O’Flynn’s maul try the highlight of their disappointing day against ‘Belvo.
There is quite a Cork flavour to the Old Wesley squad, with a number of Leeside-born players in Morgan Lennon’s panel. Indeed, John Fitzgerald, a former captain, and Cillian Monahan both joined Wesley from Dolphin in the summer, with Monahan featuring at outside centre against UCC last week.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 24, 2016: Old Wesley 21 Dolphin 10, Donnybrook; Sunday, April 9, 2017: Dolphin 22 Old Wesley 10, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
SHANNON (1st) v BANBRIDGE (2nd), Thomond Park back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: WWWWW; Banbridge: WDWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 65; Tries: Eathon Moloney, Conor Fitzgerald 3 each; Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 66; Tries: Andrew Morrison 3
Preview: It may be only November, but already Shannon and Banbridge have emerged as serious promotion contenders. Bann boss Daniel Soper is not paying too much attention to the table, instead focusing on improving performance levels from week to week.
They travel to Limerick without their talismanic captain Ian Porter who is unavailable due to family commitments. That is a big blow as the goal-kicking scrum half has contributed 66 points so far. Josh Cromie will don the number 9 jersey with Adam Doherty coming in at out-half, while Ulster’s Robert Lyttle returns from illness at full-back.
We are nearly one-third of the way into the season and Shannon supremo Tom Hayes, despite his side’s table-topping exploits, is understandably focusing on one game at a time. Although noting that recently-promoted Bann are something of ‘a surprise package’, he said: “Banbridge certainly haven’t been rolling over or being apologetic about being in this division. They’re going hammer and tongs for it, so we have a game on our hands.”
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win