While Old Crescent are odds-on favourites to extend their unbeaten run to 14 matches against struggling City of Derry, Division 2B’s match of the day pits Navan against Wanderers in a Leinster derby that could have a big impact on the sides’ eventual finishing positions.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, February 17
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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MU Barnhall (3rd) v Belfast Harlequins (9th), Parsonstown
Both of these clubs faced Dungannon away in their most recent matches, with second-from-bottom Belfast Harlequins getting the better result by winning last week’s rescheduled fixture 20-7. Number 8 Toby Mannus kept up his enviable try-scoring rate with his four in six games, while full-back Mark Glover also touched down.
‘Quins are expected to field the same team, led by skipper Danny Annett from the second row. Jaz Andress and Paul Kerr will join the replacements bench. Nick Wells’ side drew 22-all with MU Barnhall in October, but the Kildare men have won seven of their eight league ties since then.
Darren Hudson’s early try, and the goal-kicking of Simon Gillespie, got the Blue Bulls over the line at Dungannon, winning 10-5. Another winning performance here would set them up nicely for the next round and a cut at second-placed Rainey Old Boys, who are currently eight points better off than Barnhall.
Navan (4th) v Wanderers (5th), Balreask Old
It is crunch time for Wanderers who, having lost three of opening four games of 2018, are in real danger of losing touch with the top four. They have five points to make up on today’s hosts Navan, but another defeat would leave Greg Lynch’s squad with a mountain to climb.
On the positive side, the Chaps were only four-point losers to Navan when they met in October. They also dominated territory against Rainey last time out with their pack providing a steady stream of ball, albeit that they could convert their pressure into points in a 31-22 defeat.
As Navan press hard for promotion just ten months on from being crowned Division 2C champions, they have decided to make admission free of charge at Balreask Old today in an effort to increase crowd support and draw in newcomers.
Old Crescent (1st) v City of Derry (10th), Rosbrien
This one has home win written all over it given Old Crescent’s incredible march to 13 straight victories – scoring 407 points in the process – and City of Derry’s ongoing struggles at the foot of the table.
Crescent were 26-22 winners at Skerries a fortnight ago when tries from player-coaches Brendan Guilfoyle (2) and Brian Tuohy were followed up by centre Larry Hanly’s 57th-minute bonus point score.
Derry would love to have that firepower at their disposal. They did have backs coach Richard McCarter and Simon Logue back together at half-back against Navan, the former scoring a try in what was a much-improved second half from the basement side.
Rainey Old Boys (2nd) v Dungannon (6th), Hatrick Park
Dungannon head coach Andy Hughes will want a big reaction from his side after they faltered at home to Belfast Harlequins, losing 20-7. Another Ulster derby offers them the chance to quickly make amends.
February has been a disappointing month for ‘Gannon with back-to-back defeats. Out-half Chris Swash, a recent Ulster ‘A’ call-up, missed both games and Hughes is hoping he can make a difference this afternoon on his return to the team.
Second-placed Rainey have been hit hard by injuries, with winger Andrew Donaghy, the scorer of two tries against Wanderers, their latest long-term absentee. Scott McLean, Callum Smyth and Darren Corrigan come into the squad, while Tim Barker will start at blindside flanker with Ronan and John McCusker in the engine room.
Sunday’s Well (8th) v Skerries (7th), Irish Independent Park
Sunday’s Well look in much better shape after piecing together victories over Navan (10-0) and Harlequins (26-22), with influential out-half Shane O’Riordan kicking 21 points across the two games.
Mid-table safety is the aim for both the ‘Well and Skerries, who showed enough recently against the leading two clubs in the division to suggest that they should be a good deal further up the table.
It should be quite the duel at number 10 as the Goats’ play-maker Billy Mulcahy was man-of-the-match last time out against Old Crescent. Former captain Joe Glennon also showed his class with a crucial try that led to them pocketing a losing bonus point.