There are two eagerly-awaited provincial derbies in Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League today – with both results set to impact the top four – as leaders Malone visit fourth-placed City of Armagh, and Woodleigh Park will witness another supercharged clash between Highfield and Nenagh Ormond.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, February 3
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Blackrock College (9th) v Queen’s University (6th), Stradbrook
Blackrock completed a season’s double over Corinthians last Saturday, giving themselves a much-needed lift with the spectre of relegation still hanging over them. Fighting back from 17-3 down, converted tries from Andrew Ellison and captain Peter McCague earned them a gutsy three-point success.
Gary Fenn’s inclusion at blindside flanker is ‘Rock’s only change for the visit of Queen’s, with McCague reverting to number 8. The students have fallen down the pecking order after losing their last five matches, and lie only seven points ahead of Blackrock in ninth position.
Impressive 49-14 winners over the Dubliners in early November, Queen’s could be without both Jonny Lees and Mark Keane who are carrying knocks. If Lees is unable to feature, Dave Whitten is likely to move to the openside berth with Ali Burke slotting into the second row alongside Marc Campbell.
Cashel (5th) v Corinthians (8th), Spafield
Cashel will not want a repeat of November’s 19-8 defeat to Corinthians as they have been motoring along nicely since then, picking up points in every game and scoring wins over the three teams directly above them in the table – Nenagh Ormond, City of Armagh and, most recently, Highfield.
Carving out a 10-0 victory last week in tough conditions, Denis Leamy’s men did all their scoring in the second half as Darragh Lyons kicked a penalty and converted James Kendrick’s all-important try from a maul. They must back up that performance with another home triumph.
Corinthians’ losing bonus point at Blackrock keeps them out of the bottom two, but it should have been so much more as they led 17-6 at half-time before turning into a strong breeze. They have not won away from home since the second round in Greystones – could today be the day?
City of Armagh (4th) v Malone (1st), Palace Grounds
Neil Faloon’s 66th-minute converted try was the difference between City of Armagh and Queen’s last week, with the 10-3 result keeping the Ulster Senior Cup champions in the top four. They have strong-running winger Andrew Willis back in the mix after his recovery from injury.
They face Belfast opposition again this afternoon in the form of table toppers Malone who were 28-26 winners when they hosted Willie Faloon’s charges back in November. Armagh gained revenge two weeks later at the semi-final stage of the Ulster Senior Cup, prevailing 26-19 at home.
The Cregagh Red Sox racked up a half-century of league points last time out by edging out Greystones 14-12, a result which moved them six clear at the summit. Two tremendous touchline conversions from Mark O’Connor and Rory Campbell proved vital as they extended their winning streak to five matches.
Galwegians (10th) v Greystones (7th), Crowley Park
Galwegians’ struggles to build any momentum were not helped by a waterlogged pitch in Glenina last Saturday, which forced their game against Nenagh Ormond to be postponed. It has been refixed for next Friday night, setting up a huge week for the division’s bottom side.
It really is make-or-break time for the westerners who trail second-from-bottom Blackrock by eight points. They have been starved of wins since last September, although their losing bonus point away to today’s visitors, Greystones, in round 6 does offer encouragement.
Nonetheless, ‘Stones’ ability to mix it with leaders Malone last week – scoring first half tries through David Baker and Barry Fitzpatrick – suggests they are operating at a higher level now. They have won three of their last four games, but cannot afford to rest on their laurels as they are currently only two points clear of relegation trouble.
Highfield (2nd) v Nenagh Ormond (3rd), Woodleigh Park
Nenagh Ormond’s title and promotion prospects will be a lot clearer by this time next week. They visit two teams at opposite ends of the table over the next six days, determined to stretch their current winning run to six matches.
Today’s trip to second-placed Highfield is their toughest assignment for some time, and it is a revenge mission after the Corkmen triumped 37-22 at New Ormond Park in November. Highfield made Nenagh pay for two yellow cards that day as Michael Dillane, James Daly, Paddy Ryan (2) and Lorcan Kavanagh all crossed for tries.
Rain showers are expected this afternoon in Cork, so this may turn into a low-scoring and defence-dominated contest. Highfield had just that against Cashel last Saturday, going down 10-0 at Spafield so it will be interesting to see what lessons Tim Ryan’s men learned from that frustrating one-try defeat.