Forenaughts will be treated to some Friday Night Lights action tonight when Naas host Old Belvedere, while Division 1B’s schedule on Saturday includes a bottom of the table clash between Munster rivals UL Bohemians and Dolphin.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, January 27
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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NAAS (6th) v OLD BELVEDERE (4th), Forenaughts, tonight, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WWLLLLWLWDL; Old Belvedere: LLWDWWLWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 63; Tries: Fionn Higgins 6; Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 90; Tries: Shane McDonald 5
Preview: This is a key fixture for both clubs, with Naas winless in the last two rounds and slipping into the bottom half of the table, while Old Belvedere’s back-to-back home wins over Ballymena and Banbridge have them in the top four.
Tim Foley’s late drop goal sealed a gritty comeback victory over Bann for Eddie O’Sullivan’s side, who had prop Omar Dahir sent off for punching before they came out on top in the final quarter. They will need to show that resilience again tonight.
Naas were well-beaten by ‘Belvo (28-10) back in November and Johne Murphy’s men will be hungry for revenge. They have been boosted by international recognition with prop Jordan Duggan included in the Ireland Under-20 squad and Paulie Tolofua and Fionn Higgins are both involved with the Ireland Club international panel.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 25, 2017: Old Belvedere 28 Naas 10, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
BALLYMENA (8th) v SHANNON (1st), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WLLLWLLLWLL; Shannon: WWWWWWLWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 78; Tries: Rodger McBurney 5; Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 125; Tries: Conor Fitzgerald 7
Preview: Having played for Ulster ‘A’ last week, Ireland international Luke Marshall is set to get further game-time tomorrow with Ballymena. Returning from an Achilles injury, he is due to line out in the centre alongside Callum Patterson.
The Braidmen certainly need a boost after losing two games on the trot and the bottom two are now snapping at their heels. Ulster’s Andrew Warwick will also the strengthen their front row this weekend, although Brett Herron, Rodger and Adam McBurney are ruled out through injury.
Table toppers Shannon, whose out-half Conor Fitzgerald continues to top the division’s scoring charts with 125 points, will have changes of their own. Their Ireland Under-20 call-up Ronan Coffey is unavailable this weekend, while Munster hooker Duncan Casey, who has scored four tries this season for Shannon, is departing for pastures new in France.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 15, 2017: Ballymena 13 Shannon 10, Eaton Park; Saturday, November 25, 2017: Shannon 27 Ballymena 15, Thomond Park back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win
BALLYNAHINCH (2nd) v UCC (5th), Ballymacarn Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: LWWWLWWWWLW; UCC: LDLWWWWLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 83; Tries: Conor Kelly 6; UCC: Points: James Taylor 100; Tries: Kevin Slater 4
Preview: Ballynahinch trail leaders Shannon by just four points and they will want to make it six matches unbeaten at home when they host fellow promotion hopefuls UCC, who sit just a point outside of the top four at present.
‘Hinch will have some notable absentees tomorrow with top scorer Johnny McPhillips (83 points) and Peter Browne not released by Ulster, while Jack Regan and Aaron Hall are with the Ireland U-20s. However, Aaron Cairns, Zack McCall and Rory Butler will feature after helping Ulster ‘A’ through to the British & Irish Cup quarter-finals.
UCC started 2018 without a bang when losing their derby clash with Dolphin (12-9). Head coach Brian Walsh will have his troops primed for a stronger showing up north, particularly in attack as they have only scored one try in their last 160 minutes of rugby.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 11, 2017: UCC 39 Ballynahinch 18, the Mardyke; Saturday, November 25, 2017: UCC 18 Ballynahinch 22, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
BANBRIDGE (3rd) v OLD WESLEY (7th), Rifle Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: WDWWWLWLWWL; Old Wesley: LLLDLWWWLDL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 93; Tries: Andrew Morrison 6; Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 96; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 6
Preview: Banbridge boss Daniel Soper will demand a full 80-minute performance from his side after their failure to put 14-man Old Belvedere away last time out. Their third defeat of the campaign saw them lose ground in the promotion race.
Bann, who have club captain Adam Ervine back from injury and Mike Bentley out of retirement, face Dublin opposition again tomorrow with Old Wesley their round 12 visitors. Only a point separated the sides when they met at Donnybrook in November – Jack Maybury’s 11-point kicking haul proved crucial for Wesley in a 21-20 victory.
However, Morgan Lennon’s men are in the midst of a three-match losing streak and are a full 12 points behind the top four. This is a must-win game if they are to reel in the clubs currently above them. Two of the division’s leading try scorers will take to the pitch tomorrow – Bann centre Andrew Morrison and Wesley winger Tommy O’Callaghan have both touched down six times so far.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 11, 2015: Banbridge 29 Old Wesley 24, Rifle Park; Saturday, November 25, 2017: Old Wesley 21 Banbridge 20, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v DOLPHIN (10th), University of Limerick 4G pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LLWLLLLWLLW; Dolphin: LWLLLLLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 40; Tries: James Ryan 4; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 76; Tries: Brian Scott, James Rochford 2 each
Preview: This is a hugely significant clash for these relegation-threatened Munster rivals. They both began 2018 on a winning note, with UL Bohemians edging out Old Wesley 17-15 in the capital, while Barry Keeshan booted all 12 points, including two drop goals, in Dolphin’s derby success at home to UCC.
Bohs gave a very good account of themselves in last week’s Munster Senior Cup final against Garryowen, and the final scoreline of 18-3 was not a true reflection of a closely-fought game. Christy Neilan’s side will have to lift themselves again for this must-win league tie.
Dolphin won the corresponding fixture 16-10 last season but were beaten 13-6 at home by UL in November. Another tight tussle looks likely here and it may come down to the respective boots of Robbie Bourke and Dolphin assistant coach Keeshan, whose All-Ireland League record now stands at an incredible 1684 points.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 15, 2017: UL Bohemians 10 Dolphin 16, University of Limerick 4G pitch; Saturday, November 25, 2017: Dolphin 6 UL Bohemians 13, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win