Three of Division 2B’s four Ulster clubs are currently in the lower reaches of the table, so Belfast Harlequins and Dungannon, in particular, will be looking to make home advantage count this afternoon.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, November 25
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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MU Barnhall (6th) v City of Derry (9th), Maynooth University North Campus, 2pm
There is a change of scenery for MU Barnhall as they move to Maynooth University’s North Campus for the visit of City of Derry, as part of the university’s Open Day. The Blue Bulls are protecting an unbeaten home record with three wins to date at Parsonstown.
Centre Eoghan Quinn, a newcomer at Barnhall this term, has been making a splash with three tries in his last three outings. Second-from-bottom Derry, meanwhile, have been licking their wounds since a disappointing 40-5 derby defeat to Rainey Old Boys.
Trevor Will is still getting to know what works best for this Derry side. Last year they found form in December and they will hope that the back-to-back clashes with Dungannon, who are still within reach in seventh place, can turn their season around.
Navan (4th) v Sunday’s Well (8th), Balreask Old, 2pm
The chilly winter afternoons and nights have brought out some red-hot recent performances from Alan Kingsley’s Navan, whose 27-0 dismissal of Skerries was their third win in a row – two of which have come against top four rivals.
Their upturn in form has coincided with backs Riaan van der Vyver, Vaa Mailei and Sean McEntaggart regularly getting over the whitewash, albeit that last year’s Division 2C champions have only mustered one try-scoring bonus point so far.
Former Shannon and Munster winger Luke O’Dea has quickly got up to speed with Sunday’s Well, however they emerged empty-handed after two battling performances against Skerries and leaders Old Crescent. They are the second lowest scorers in the division and really need to sharpen up their attack.
Belfast Harlequins (10th) v Old Crescent (1st), Deramore Park
Old Crescent are heavy favourites to continue on the winning trail this afternoon, having gained 32 out of a possible 35 points from the opening seven rounds. They are very much the team to beat, with themselves and second-placed Rainey opening up a decent gap on the chasing pack.
Belfast Harlequins, who went down 41-8 to Dungannon last time out, are in desperate need of a boost, lying bottom of the table as they were twelve months ago in Division 2A. Buccaneers, in the top flight, and ‘Quins are the only two clubs yet to win a game so far this season.
Larry Hanly, who typifies the high standards down Rosbrien way, scored the only try in Crescent’s hard-fought 16-6 success at the ‘Well in round 7. That was his fourth try in three games and the visitors’ prolific back-line should have too much firepower for ‘Quins.
Dungannon (7th) v Wanderers (3rd), Stevenson Park
Dungannon cut down on the unforced errors to run out convincing winners at Harlequins, aided by try doubles from Paul Armstrong and Kiwi lock Adam Batt. Winning at home has proven beyond them so far, although their three defeats have come against highly-ranked opponents.
Their head coach Andy Hughes knows his side can ill-afford to give away possession cheaply against such a dangerous counter-attacking team as Wanderers. The Dubliners had a well-balanced display against Barnhall, getting back to winning ways with two tries in each half.
‘Gannon will take heart from last February’s 30-23 defeat of the Chaps, a game in which key back Armstrong also touched down. One of the other try scorers that day was captain James McMahon, who could make his seasonal bow at Stevenson Park today after recovering from shoulder surgery.
Rainey Old Boys (2nd) v Skerries (5th), Hatrick Park
The wheels appear to have temporarily come off Skerries’ promotion bid with heavy losses to Old Crescent and Navan by a combined 72 unanswered points. The Goats are a much better team than that, so they will relish this trip to Rainey, the side who have replaced them in second position.
Rainey are not expected to slip up at home, having strung together six wins on the trot and with young Ulster prospects Tommy O’Hagan and John McCusker continuing to flourish up front. Oisin Quinn, one of the try scorers against Derry, is nursing an injury, so Kieran Devlin is standing by to make his senior debut at full-back.
There should be some fascinating individual battles in Magherafelt, particularly among the forwards where hookers Brad Roberts and Chris Tonge go head-to-head and Tim Barker and Joe Glennon, two talismen for their clubs, will take on key roles. The lineout is an area Skerries will target as Rainey have had issues with it.