There are Ulster Bank League Division 2A matches in all four provinces this weekend, with leaders Malone facing a short trip to play mid-table Queen’s while top four rivals Highfield and City of Armagh duel it out at Woodleigh Park.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, January 6
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Nenagh Ormond (3rd) v Cashel (6th), New Ormond Park, Friday, 7.30pm
Cashel are gunning for their third successive league win over Nenagh Ormond, having won 13-10 and 10-6 in the Tipperary rivals’ most recent encounters, both at Spafield. New Ormond Park should be rocking for this floodlit New Year’s contest.
Nenagh ended 2017 with seven victories on their Division 2A record and scooped the Limerick Charity Cup too. Their Kiwi play-maker Clayton Stewart averaged 12 points per game over the first half of the season and his influence will be crucial as they look to keep pace with the leaders.
Denis Leamy’s Cashel side have been licking their wounds since losing 37-19 in Armagh before the Christmas break. Their defence is usually a strong point so the former Munster and Ireland back rower will want them back at their miserly best for this much-anticipated local derby.
Corinthians (9th) v Galwegians (10th), Corinthian Park, Friday, 7.45pm
It is disappointing to see both of the division’s Galway clubs in the bottom two, with only four wins between them. Since drawing seven-all when they met in Glenina in November, Corinthians and Galwegians have both suffered three defeats on the bounce.
Those games are in the past now and coaches Ene Fa’atau and Brian McClearn will have been emphasising that the New Year brings a clean slate as the Connacht pair look to climb out of trouble in the coming weeks and months. Corinthians will also want to quickly banish memories of losing last month’s Connacht Senior Cup final to Sligo.
Corinthians back rower Sean Masterson was one of the young Academy players to ‘make a terrific impression’ during their recent involvement with Kieran Keane’s Connacht senior squad, while out-half Morgan Codyre and prop Conor Kyne, a recent entrant into the Connacht Academy, have stood out for bottom side Galwegians.
Greystones (7th) v Blackrock College (8th), Dr. Hickey Park
Greystones had a great finish to 2017 with a season’s double over a highly-rated Queen’s side which moved them up to seventh in the table. They scored nine tries and 63 points in the process, including two tries each from danger man Jack Keating, David Baker and Ferdia Kenny.
They will be out for revenge against Blackrock who were 17-8 winners when the sides faced off at Stradbrook in November. The Dubliners’ scrum earned a penalty try that night and helped to tee up a crucial 67th-minute penalty from David Scott-Lennon.
Mick Carroll’s men lost twice to Nenagh Ormond before Christmas and there are six personnel changes compared to his last selection, including Steve McLaughlin and Daryl Charmant-Dunne in the front row and Shane Brennan and Mark Prendergast in a rejigged back-line. They have also added Under-20 talent Adam Larmour to the bench.
Highfield (2nd) v City of Armagh (4th), Woodleigh Park
The last time Highfield hosted an Ulster club, they were pipped 16-14 by Queen’s at the end of September. However, since then, Tim Ryan’s charges have strung together seven successive victories, and they picked up a full 10 points from their December double header with struggling Galwegians.
City of Armagh had a busy December, maintaining their push for promotion in the league and winning the Ulster Senior Cup for the first time. They thrashed City of Derry 82-0 last week in the Ulster Premiership and will host Cork Constitution in next Saturday’s Bateman Cup semi-finals.
Armagh are expected to field a similar side to the one that got the better of Ballymena in the Ulster Senior Cup decider, during which young out-half Cormac Fox produced a man-of-the-match display. They are hoping to have the injured Peter Starrett and Andrew Willis back for round 12 at the end of the month.
Queen’s University (5th) v Malone (1st), Dub Lane
Captain Nigel Simpson and David Whitten return to the Queen’s pack as the students look to halt a three-match losing streak in the league. Curtis Stewart, who impressed as a ball carrier against Bangor last week in the Ulster Premiership, has earned a start at number 8, alongside Simpson and Gary Dillon.
Ulster have released Alexander Clarke to start at hooker, but there could be some late alterations to the back-line with doubts over the fitness of centres Conor McKee and Rory Bell and Ireland Under-20 winger Mark Keane. The students won 20-11 when they visited Malone in November.
However, that has been Malone’s only defeat of the campaign so far. The table-topping Cregagh Red Sox bounced back with three wins, including a pre-Christmas double against Corinthians. Ulster’s Jack Owens and Peter Cooper are both available this week, but Matthew Dalton and Joe Dunleavy miss out through injury.