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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

The final Ulster Bank League Division 1B matches of the calendar year take place tomorrow afternoon, with much of the focus on the lunchtime duel between Shannon and new leaders Ballynahinch, as well as third-placed Banbridge’s long trip south to bottom side Dolphin.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, December 9

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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This season sees the introduction of the #UBLTry of the Month award with a prize of 250 euro for each monthly winner and entry into the Try of the Year award.

SHANNON (2nd) v BALLYNAHINCH (1st), Thomond Park back pitch, 1pm

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: WWWWWWLWL; Ballynahinch: LWWWLWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 93; Tries: Conor Fitzgerald 5; Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 83; Tries: Conor Kelly 5

Preview: Three key members of the Shannon squad this season – Conor Fitzgerald, Duncan Casey and John Foley – are all on the Munster ‘A’ bench tonight, so it is unclear if they will be involved against Ballynahinch.

Out-half Fitzgerald was badly missed as Shannon were comprehensively beaten 42-15 in Co. Down, but ‘Hinch will have to cope with the absence of Ulster ‘A’ half-backs Johnny McPhillips and Aaron Cairns tomorrow.

Their unavailability offers others an opportunity to shine in this second successive top of the table clash. Without key personnel, the ‘Hinch backs will struggle to repeat last week’s second half fireworks, so Shannon’s physical pack should be able to drive the hosts back to winning ways.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 25, 2017: Shannon 30 Ballynahinch 14, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, December 2, 2017: Ballynahinch 42 Shannon 15, Ballymacarn Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win

OLD BELVEDERE (5th) v BALLYMENA (8th), Anglesea Road

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: LLWDWWLWL; Ballymena: WLLLWLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 82; Tries: Shane McDonald, Pat Hughes 3 each; Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 65; Tries: Rodger McBurney 5

Preview: With three wins and a draw, Old Belvedere are unbeaten at home this season and determined to avenge last week’s 25-16 reversal when they host Ballymena in the reverse fixture.

Aaron Sheehan’s move to the left wing seems to be working well with two tries in as many games, with ‘Belvo out-half Pat Hughes also gunning for his third successive try.

Ulster ‘A’ commitments have impacted on Ballymena’s selection. They have the likes of Adrian Hamilton, David Whann and James Taggart back in harness up front, but new combinations in the centre (Matthew Norris and Alan Smyth) and at half-back (Glenn Baillie and Michael Stronge) will need to quickly get up to speed.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 2, 2017: Ballymena 25 Old Belvedere 16, Eaton Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win

OLD WESLEY (7th) v NAAS (6th), Donnybrook

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: LLLDLWWWL; Naas: WWLLLLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 83; Tries: Jack Maybury 4; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 42; Tries: Fionn Higgins 6

Preview: Going down to a late Fionn Higgins try from a grubber kick was tough to take for Old Wesley last week, given they matched Naas’ three-try tally at Forenaughts.

The Kildare men, who have leapfrogged Wesley into sixth place, make five changes for tomorrow’s rematch with Ben O’Connor, Ross Bailey-Kearney and Peter Osborne starting behind the scrum, and Conor Doyle and Will O’Brien coming into the front row and back row respectively.

It is just over a year since Naas’ last outing on Donnybrook’s 4G surface. That Friday Night Lights clash ended in a hard-earned 19-16 victory for Wesley, David Benn touching down twice for Naas but Barry McLaughlin’s boot had the biggest say for the hosts.

Recent League Meetings – Friday, January 27, 2017: Naas 27 Old Wesley 8, Forenaughts; Saturday, December 2, 2017: Naas 30 Old Wesley 25, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

UCC (4th) v UL BOHEMIANS (9th), the Mardyke

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LDLWWWWLW; UL Bohemians: LLWLLLLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: James Taylor 92; Tries: Kevin Slater 4; UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 40; Tries: James Ryan 4

Preview: The UCC backs seem to be stepping up – one by one – with some crucial scores this season. The latest to do so was winger Kevin Slater who bagged a vital brace during last week’s 22-15 comeback win at UL Bohemians.

It was frustration all round for Bohs who had led 12-3 heading towards half-time. Two quick-fire tries later, UCC were ahead and then a 67th minute turnover allowed the pacy Slater to race the length of the pitch for the killer score.

Captain Ian Condell continues to lead by example for UL, chipping in with one of their tries in the first game, but they will need an improved collective effort, particularly in attack, if they want to lower UCC colours at the Mardyke.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 28, 2017: UCC 9 UL Bohemians 18, the Mardyke; Saturday, December 2, 2017: UL Bohemians 15 UCC 22, University of Limerick 4G pitch

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win

DOLPHIN (10th) v BANBRIDGE (3rd), Irish Independent Park, 4pm

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LWLLLLLLL; Banbridge: WDWWWLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 58; Tries: Brian Scott, James Rochford 2 each; Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 82; Tries: Andrew Morrison 6

Preview: Dolphin belied their league position again with a fiery second half fight-back away to Banbridge, so they can take a good deal of confidence and momentum into this return match despite the 26-25 defeat.

Bann boss Daniel Soper said ‘that was as poor as we’ve been’ after watching his side falter having led 19-6 at half-time. They are without Robert Lyttle, who is away with Ulster ‘A’ this weekend, but Dale Carson and Mike Bentley are back from long-term shoulder and knee injuries respectively.

“We need to get a reaction from the players,” Soper said ahead of their long trip south. “Some of the fault lies with individual standards and some of it is organisational stuff. We’re going to need to be much improved when we go to Cork.”

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 2, 2017: Banbridge 26 Dolphin 25, Rifle Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win