With Highfield’s match at Corinthians postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, Malone have an opportunity to extend their lead at the top of Ulster Bank League Division 2A, while Galwegians take their newfound winning form north to Queen’s University.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, February 17
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Corinthians (10th) v Highfield (2nd), Corinthian Park (match postponed due to a waterlogged pitch)
Corinthians are keen for a dose of home comforts this week after losing away to Blackrock College and Cashel in the last two rounds. With city rivals Galwegians winning their rescheduled game against Nenagh Ormond, Ene Fa’atau’s men are now bottom of the table with five rounds remaining.
This is the first of three remaining home matches for Corinthians, and a lone win could do wonders for their confidence and their league position. In contrast, Highfield’s focus is fixed on the race for promotion. After losing to Cashel on their last road trip, the Corkmen have allowed Malone to open up a seven-point lead at the summit.
Tim Ryan’s charges host Malone in early April, so their aim up until then is to keep chipping away and picking up as many points as they can. They did just that two weeks that, out-half Paddy O’Toole nailing a late penalty to down Nenagh 15-13. Their preparations, in the meantime, have included some time well spent using the impressive training facilities at Cork IT.
Greystones (8th) v Cashel (4th), Dr. Hickey Park
These are the only two Division 2A clubs who have had players called up to the Ireland Club International squad, Greystones’ lightning-quick winger Jack Keating and Cashel’s tighthead prop James Kendrick, who previously wore the green jersey at Under-18 level. ‘Stones will need Keating at his best after slipping back into relegation trouble.
Four points currently separate the bottom four sides with the Wicklow men stuck in the middle on 21 points. Keating bagged a brace of tries away to Galwegians last time out, but ‘Stones, with their forwards being outscrummaged, allowed a 17-point lead to ebb away as the Blues bit back to claim a 27-17 success.
Cashel are known for having a big set piece-orientated pack, so Kevin Lewis’ men will need to match their physicality and intensity. The Tipperary outfit are back on the road after defeating Highfield and Corinthians, with Kendrick touching down in both games. The margins are tight in the top four, but Cashel are beginning to find form at just the right time.
Malone (1st) v Blackrock College (7th), Gibson Park
Malone had 17 points to spare when they visited Blackrock back in October, and the double looks well within their capabilities here. Their next two fixtures are against teams in the lower half of the table, so head coach Paddy Armstrong will be keen to avoid any potential pitfalls and he has no fresh injury concerns following the 34-18 triumph at City of Armagh.
“We’re happy with where we are, but nothing’s been achieved yet,” he said. “The key is we don’t get ahead of ourselves, every game is a tough game and if you look ahead you’re not focusing on the next game. With the way the league is, everyone has got something to play for in the remaining games. It is just about focusing on this game.”
Two tries in the closing stages saw Blackrock pip Queen’s University 15-14 in a thrilling contest, which was their second successive narrow home win. There are three personnel changes this week as hooker Dylan Hanney and scrum half Jack O’Carroll are promoted from the bench, while Mark Prendergast comes in on the right wing with Hugo Godson Treacy reverting to midfield where he partners Ben Mahon.
Nenagh Ormond (3rd) v City of Armagh (5th), New Ormond Park
The entertainment value should be high at New Ormond Park if these sides can reach the heights of October’s clash which saw Nenagh prevail 38-32. They would likely settle for a win of any kind at the moment, given the frustration of two tight back-to-back losses to Highfield and lowly Galwegians.
A Nicky Irwin try and three penalties from Clayton Stewart were not enough for Ivan Muldoon’s men in a bitterly cold Glenina. They can expect a stiff test from Armagh who have 10 points to make up on third-placed Nenagh. Ali Birch will be at the coaching helm as Willie Faloon and Chris Parker have Schools Cup commitments with the Royal School.
There could be some late alterations to the Armagh line-up, with doubts over the availability of some players and the likes of Neil Faloon and Jonny Morton undergoing fitness tests. What is certain is that prop Philip Fletcher is sidelined with an ankle injury, which could keep him out for the rest of the campaign.
Queen’s University (6th) v Galwegians (9th), Dub Lane
There were contrasting emotions for Queen’s and Galwegians at the end of their two most recent outings, with the Belfast students floored by a late match-winning try from Blackrock, and ‘Wegians erupting in celebration after Morgan Codyre coolly converted Paul Hackett’s try in the final play against high-flying Nenagh.
To achieve such a result without their regular centre pairing of Brian Murphy and Dave Clarke shows what Brian McClearn’s young Blues are capable of. Two wins in the space of six days have lifted them off the bottom of the table and, with confidence on the up, they will feel they can turn their season around now and avoid the relegation trap door.
Queen’s welcome back captain Nigel Simpson to the back row, with Ali Burke, David Whitten and Marc Campbell in the running for the second row spots, and John Creighton is due to be partnered by either Richie McMaster or Jack Milligan at half-back. Mark Keane, who is part of the extended Ireland Under-20 Six Nations squad, starts on the left wing.