Division 1B leaders Shannon are back on their travels up north, hoping to avoid a second away defeat when they visit third-placed Banbridge, while second-placed Ballynahinch’s trip to mid-table Naas is another potential cracker on Saturday.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 3
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BANBRIDGE (3rd) v SHANNON (1st), Rifle Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: WDWWWLWLWWLW; Shannon: WWWWWWLWLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 101; Tries: Andrew Morrison 8; Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 125; Tries: Conor Fitzgerald 7
Preview: Banbridge needed a dogged defensively display to see off Old Wesley 18-12, providing a timely boost ahead of two crunch clashes with the leading two sides. The results of which are ‘pretty key to the outcome of the season’, insisted Bann boss Daniel Soper.
It is leaders Shannon first up, and Tom Hayes’ charges return to Ulster seven days on from losing 10-5 to Ballymena. Flanker Kelvin Brown is a big doubt due to a calf injury as the Parish club try to avoid back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
Ben Carson, Adam Ervine and Dale Carson are all set to start for Banbridge, coming in for injured out-half Josh Cromie, winger Conor Field and back rower Nick Hayes respectively. A thumb injury will unfortunately sideline Cromie for the rest of the season. Shannon will have to curb centre Andrew Morrison’s influence after his two-try man-of-the-match performance against Wesley, which took his season’s haul for Bann to eight tries.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 4, 2017: Shannon 33 Banbridge 14, Thomond Park back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
DOLPHIN (10th) v OLD WESLEY (7th), Irish Independent Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LWLLLLLLLLWL; Old Wesley: LLLDLWWWLDLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 79; Tries: Brian Scott, James Rochford 2 each; Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 96; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 6
Preview: Last week’s basement battle went UL Bohemians’ way as bottom side Dolphin lost out 7-3. They came away with their fifth losing bonus point of the season, while they were held try-less for the second game running.
Their best performances have come on home turf and they will hope to get their back-line finishing chances again. A repeat of last April’s 22-10 victory over Old Wesley would do nicely, a third-minute try from scrum half Daryl Foley setting them on their way that day.
Wesley have slipped down the current pecking order after four winless outings, including last week’s six-point reversal at Banbridge. However, they showed enough in that game – with two forward passes denying them tries in the closing stages – to suggest that a win is well within their capabilities in Cork.
Recent League Meetings – Sunday, April 9, 2017: Dolphin 22 Old Wesley 10, Irish Independent Park; Saturday, November 4, 2017: Old Wesley 34 Dolphin 5, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
NAAS (6th) v BALLYNAHINCH (2nd), Forenaughts
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WWLLLLWLWDLW; Ballynahinch: LWWWLWWWWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 71; Tries: Fionn Higgins 7; Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 83; Tries: Conor Kelly 6
Preview: Naas’ 27-13 bonus point triumph over Old Belvedere was the performance of round 12, as Johne Murphy’s men clicked into gear with the scoring highlights provided by Niall Delahunt’s brace and Fionn Higgins’ seventh try of the season.
Player-coach Murphy will start on the bench against second-placed Ballynahinch, with Fionn Carr moving to centre to partner James Cherrington, and Ben O’Connor is introduced on the wing. Paul Monahan and Andrew Kearney are the two changes to the Cobras’ pack.
‘Hinch should have a few Ulster representatives available, although Johnny McPhillips and Peter Nelson are likely to be on provincial duty for the rest of the campaign, while injury rules out Jonny Simpson and Jack Regan this week. Ryan Wilson deputised for McPhillips at out-half last Saturday and played his part in a 23-7 success against UCC.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 1, 2017: Naas 14 Ballynahinch 16, Forenaughts; Saturday, November 4, 2017: Ballynahinch 18 Naas 10, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
UCC (5th) v BALLYMENA (8th), the Mardyke
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LDLWWWWLWWLL; Ballymena: WLLLWLLLWLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: James Taylor 102; Tries: Kevin Slater, Cian Bohane 4 each; Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 78; Tries: Rodger McBurney 5
Preview: It has been an unrewarding start to 2018 for UCC who have suffered back-to-back losses to Dolphin and Ballynahinch. Cian Bohane’s fourth try of the campaign had them leading 7-0 at half-time against ‘Hinch, but the game got away from them in the second half.
They have forwards Jack O’Sullivan and James French away on Ireland Under-20 duty in France, with tomorrow’s visitors, Ballymena, missing Angus Kernohan and Matthew Agnew who are also part of Noel McNamara’s national squad.
The Braidmen certainly owe UCC one after narrow defeats (26-24 and 35-34) in two high-scoring clashes in the last 10 months. Their forwards, including flanker Azur Allison who was a late inclusion at blindside, were excellent against Shannon, and an impressive twelve of their starters last week hail from the Ballymena area. Ulster prop Andrew Warwick is set to line out again, and possibly scrum half David Shanahan.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 25, 2017: Ballymena 24 UCC 26, Eaton Park; Saturday, November 4, 2017: Ballymena 34 UCC 35, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v OLD BELVEDERE (4th), University of Limerick 4G pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LLWLLLLWLLWW; Old Belvedere: LLWDWWLWLWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 42; Tries: James Ryan 4; Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 98; Tries: Shane McDonald 5
Preview: Contrasting results for these sides in the last round, with UL Bohemians showing a huge amount of grit to edge out Dolphin on the 4G surface, while Old Belvedere were outscored by four tries to one by a hungry Naas outfit.
It was a busy Saturday for Bohs out-half Robbie Bourke who converted prop Mike Lynch’s second try in as many games, and then played National League football for Limerick as a second half substitute that night. UL are not scoring a lot but their positive start to 2018 has enhanced their chances of avoiding relegation.
Eddie O’Sullivan’s Belvedere were 18-13 winners when they hosted the Red Robins in November. If they can sharpen up in defence after a poor showing under the Forenaughts floodlights, they should get back to winning ways and maintain their presence in the top four.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 4, 2017: Old Belvedere 18 UL Bohemians 13, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win