Malahide’s first assignment since moving to the top of Division 2C is a visit to fellow promotion hopefuls Bangor, while Thomond and Sligo – both beaten last time out – return home looking for a swift return to winning ways.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, February 17
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Bangor (4th) v Malahide (1st), Upritchard Park
This should be a cracking contest as Bangor, who boast the division’s best defence at present, come up against the leading scorers and new table toppers, Malahide.
The Dubliners maintained their unbeaten start to 2018 with a 15-8 victory over Thomond a fortnight ago, which knocked the Soda Cakes off the summit. Eoin Crowley chipped in with another try off a maul, with their scrum forcing the match-winning penalty try.
Despite a lengthening injury list, which includes captains Phil Whyte and David Bradford, Bangor are relishing the visit of Malahide. Dave Caughey and Chris Jordan return to the squad, but full-back Phil Broderick, who scored a superb try against Bruff, is unavailable and replaced by Gareth Wright.
Seapoint (8th) v Bruff (5th), Kilbogget Park
Seapoint fell from seventh to eighth place after losing 12-0 at Omagh last time out, and Eric Miller’s young side still have a battle on their hands to avoid the drop.
Miller has freshened up his starting XV with Brian Lyons and Brian Duggan added to the tight five, with Alex McCauley switched to the back row and Paddy Crown also starting. Scrum half Cian Buckley and full-back Declan Byrne come in behind the scrum.
Bruff showed their battling qualities with prop David Horan’s try earning them a share of the spoils against Bangor. Just five points off the top, the Limerick men are chasing their fifth away win of the campaign after triumphing at Bective, Tullamore, Midleton and Thomond.
Sligo (3rd) v Bective Rangers (9th), Hamilton Park
Sligo really need to put the past few weeks behind them and get back down to the business of winning. 2018 has provided a series of setbacks so far, chiefly four defeats in-a-row.
Bective are the visitors to Strandhill today, scrapping for their Division 2C lives. They climbed back above Tullamore in the bottom two thanks to a 29-15 success against the Offaly men, which was topped off by Tom McDonagh’s 76th-minute try.
Rangers will fancy their chances of upsetting the Connacht Senior Cup champions, but it is more likely that Sligo will return to their form of the first half of the season and steady the ship with a much-needed home win.
Thomond (2nd) v Midleton (7th), Liam Fitzgerald Park
A Munster derby bringing together two clubs with plenty to play for over the remainder of the season. Thomond may be five places ahead of Midleton, but the sides are only separated by 10 points currently.
Although not yet clear of relegation trouble, the east Cork side have found an extra gear in recent weeks with momentum-building wins over Tullamore and Sligo – Louis Farnham and Rory Horgan both touched down twice as they racked up nine tries and 66 points in all.
Thomond won 28-23 at Towns Park in October and should complete a season’s double if their attack starts to fire again. They have only scored 28 points in three games since the turn of the year, a complete contrast to Midleton’s free-scoring exploits of late.
Tullamore (10th) v Omagh (6th), Spollanstown
Tullamore have gone from ringing in the New Year with a morale-boosting win over then-leaders Sligo, to falling to the bottom rung after leaking 60 points in back-to-back defeats to Midleton and Bective.
There is a 10-point gap between Tulliers and mid-table Omagh, who are out for revenge after losing 23-19 at home in the sides’ first clash in late Octover.
“We have already been caught out once by Tullamore this year,” admitted Accies boss Phil Marshall, who has lock Jamie Sproule returning on the bench from a fractured fibula. “They did a number on us and we got sucked into a game we didn’t want to get into. This campaign is all about learning and survival. We are aware of the way they play, their forward-orientated game, what to look out for, and we won’t be sucker-punched again.”