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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Previews

The Division 1B title race remains delicately poised with only a single point covering the top three – Ballynahinch (56 points), and Shannon and Banbridge (both 55). All three are on the road in this weekend’s penultimate round.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, April 7

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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This season sees the introduction of the #UBLTry of the Month award with a prize of 250 euro for each monthly winner and entry into the Try of the Year award.

DOLPHIN (10th) v BALLYMENA (8th), Irish Independent Park

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dolphin: LWLLLLLLLLWLDLLL; Ballymena: WLLLWLLLWLLWLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 101; Tries: Daryl Foley 4; Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 94; Tries: Rodger McBurney 6

Preview: Dolphin’s rebuilding plans begin this weekend, after their brave fight against relegation ended in defeat to Shannon last Saturday. Completing a season’s double over Ballymena would be the ideal riposte from Chris Rowe’s charges.

The Corkmen, who won 10-6 away to the Braidmen in round 2, have at least carried more of a scoring threat in their recent outings. Scrum half Daryl Foley has impressed with three tries in as many games.

31-7 winners over UL Bohemians a fortnight ago, Ballymena still have work to do to avoid finishing in the bottom two. That result certainly gave them a timely lift. Adam McBurney and Marcus Rea are set to return from Ulster ‘A’ duty if they can shake off knocks, with flanker Clive Ross taking on the captaincy role.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 11, 2017: Dolphin 18 Ballymena 16, Irish Independent Park; Saturday, September 23, 2017: Ballymena 6 Dolphin 10, Eaton Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win

OLD BELVEDERE (5th) v SHANNON (2nd), Anglesea Road

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: LLWDWWLWLWWLLWLL; Shannon: WWWWWWLWLWWLDLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 107; Tries: Shane McDonald 6; Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 170; Tries: Conor Fitzgerald 7

Preview: Shane McDonald’s sixth try of the campaign saw Old Belvedere fight back for a losing bonus point against UCC, but they are in limbo-land now – nine points outside the top-four and 11 clear of the bottom two.

Mathematically they can still catch the fourth-placed Cork students and they will be staying positive, as will Shannon who are still right in the hunt for the Division 1B title and automatic promotion, breathing down Ballynahinch’s neck.

After enduring a three-match winless streak, Shannon have responded with victories over Old Wesley and Dolphin, aided by the efforts of former Ireland Under-20 internationals Conor Fitzgerald and Kelvin Brown who combined for 31 points in those two games.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 23, 2017: Shannon 18 Old Belvedere 3, Thomond Park back pitch

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win

OLD WESLEY (7th) v BALLYNAHINCH (1st), Donnybrook

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: LLLDLWWWLDLLDLWL; Ballynahinch: LWWWLWWWWLWWWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 126; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 7; Ballynahinch: Points: Richard Reaney 99; Tries: Conor Kelly 8

Preview: The bonus point win over Dolphin last time out has front-runners Ballynahinch still with their destiny in their own hands. They feel the all-weather Donnybrook surface will suit their game tomorrow, particularly if Conor Kelly (eight tries) continues to sniff out scores.

Hooker Zack McCall’s involvement against Old Wesley is dependent on a late fitness test, but Aaron Cairns, Peter Nelson, Peter Browne and Jack Regan have been released for game-time with ‘Hinch, and back rower Conall Boomer is back from injury.

It has been a season of near misses for Wesley, whose haul of seven losing bonus points tells its own tale. With two teams still nipping at their heels, Morgan Lennon’s men need a big performance and win here to steer them to Division 1B safety.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 11, 2017: Ballynahinch 14 Old Wesley 28, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, September 23, 2017: Ballynahinch 27 Old Wesley 6, Ballymacarn Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win

UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v NAAS (6th), University of Limerick 4G pitch

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LLWLLLLWLLWWWWLL; Naas: WWLLLLWLWDLWLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 76; Tries: James Ryan 5; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 110; Tries: Fionn Higgins 11

Preview: Mathematically, four clubs could still finish second-from-bottom and have to go through the minefield of the relegation/promotion play-offs. UL Bohemians are currently the worst placed of the quartet, trailing eighth-placed Ballymena by two points.

Bohs’ prospect looked much brighter after they strung together wins over Old Belvedere and local rivals Shannon in February. Losing to Ballynahinch and the Braidmen last month dented confidence, but the Red Robins are a resilient bunch and will fight to the bitter end.

Visitors Naas have scored 30-plus points in their last two matches, including a 36-31 success at UCC last Saturday, and player-coach Johne Murphy has unsurprisingly kept faith with that winning side. The only change sees current Ireland Under-20 prop Jordan Duggan come in at loosehead.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 4, 2017: UL Bohemians 24 Naas 27, University of Limerick 4G pitch; Saturday, September 23, 2017: Naas 28 UL Bohemians 13, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

UCC (4th) v BANBRIDGE (3rd), the Mardyke, 3pm

Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCC: LDLWWWWLWWLLWWWL; Banbridge: WDWWWLWLWWLWDWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCC: Points: James Taylor 149; Tries: Paul Kiernan 7; Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 103; Tries: Andrew Morrison 10

Preview: Third-placed Banbridge are hoping to make it six league games without defeat and take the three-way title race to the final weekend. Their only change for the Cork trip sees Eric O’Sullivan return from injury in the front row, taking on from Ulster debutant Tom O’Toole.

UCC picked up two bonus points against Naas to take a step closer to a promotion play-off spot. Captain and former Ireland U-20 international Paul Kiernan is scoring for fun from midfield, running in six tries in the last four rounds.

He will come up against Bann’s own scoring star, 10-try centre Andrew Morrison, tomorrow afternoon, and another high-scoring contest could be in the offing. When the sides played each other at Rifle Park back in September, a superb three-try comeback from UCC earned them a share of the spoils in a 31-all draw.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 23, 2016: Promotion/Relegation Play-Off: Banbridge 21 UCC 41, Rifle Park; Saturday, September 23, 2017: Banbridge 31 UCC 31, Rifle Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win