A fascinating final day lies ahead in Ulster Bank League Division 1B with the leading three sides, who are split by only two points, all on home turf as the battle for automatic promotion comes reaches its climax. Leaders Shannon are a point clear of Ballynahinch, with Banbridge a further point back in third place.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, April 14
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Ulster Bank League Results Service: Send UBL to 51444. To unsubscribe send the word STOP to 0876445950. Search #UBL on Twitter for club updates.
BALLYMENA (7th) v OLD WESLEY (8th), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WLLLWLLLWLLWLWLWW; Old Wesley: LLLDLWWWLDLLDLWLD
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Brett Herron 107; Tries: Roger McBurney 6; Old Wesley: Points: Jack Maybury 135; Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan 7
Preview: Ballymena displayed their battling qualities to defeat UL Bohemians and Dolphin most recently, scoring 74 points in the process with Ulster out-half Brett Herron accumulating 29 of those. But they are still not out of relegation trouble.
Three points separate four clubs scrapping to avoid finishing second-from-bottom and having to contest the relegation play-offs. Two of those sides meet tomorrow – Ballymena and Old Wesley.
Eighth-placed Wesley would have been safe already if some of their four draws had been wins, with winger Paul Harte denied a late match-winning try against Ballynahinch last Saturday. The Braidmen welcome back talented teenagers Angus Kernohan and Azur Allison from Ireland Under-19 duty.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 18, 2017: Old Wesley 49 Ballymena 19, Donnybrook; Saturday, September 16, 2017: Old Wesley 18 Ballymena 21, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BALLYNAHINCH (2nd) v OLD BELVEDERE (5th), Ballymacarn Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: LWWWLWWWWLWWWLWWD; Old Belvedere: LLWDWWLWLWWLLWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Richard Reaney 108; Tries: Conor Kelly 8; Old Belvedere: Points: Tim Foley 109; Tries: Shane McDonald 6
Preview: Ballynahinch are unbeaten in three games, but last week’s 14-all draw with Old Wesley could scupper their title chances. Shannon are now a point ahead, and even a bonus point victory over Old Belvedere may not be enough for ‘Hinch.
Ulster’s Peter Browne, Aaron Cairns and Peter Nelson are available for Ballynahinch’s final home game of the regular season, while injuries rule out Zack McCall, Aaron Hall and Rory Butler.
Belvedere, who have nothing but pride to play for in mid-table, won 13-6 when the sides met in Dublin in mid-September. However, they have lost their last three matches, including two at home, so will be doubly determined to finish the season on a high.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 27, 2016: Old Belvedere 19 Ballynahinch 14, Anglesea Road; Saturday, September 16, 2017: Old Belvedere 13 Ballynahinch 6, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win
BANBRIDGE (3rd) v UL BOHEMIANS (9th), Rifle Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Banbridge: WDWWWLWLWWLWDWWWL; UL Bohemians: LLWLLLLWLLWWWWLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Ian Porter 103; Tries: Andrew Morrison 11; UL Bohemians: Points: Robbie Bourke 95; Tries: James Ryan 5
Preview: Third-placed Banbridge failed to capitalise on the results of other title challengers last weekend as they paid for a poor first half display in a 32-31 defeat to UCC in Cork.
That match was also costly in that Bann full-back Adam Doherty broke his hand and will miss the rest of the season. Head coach Daniel Soper said: “I think it would take a miracle of Shannon and Ballynahinch both to drop points this weekend. We have a very difficult game against Bohs and what we don’t want is to go into a play-off on the back of two defeats.”
UL raised their hopes of avoiding a ninth-place finish with a 29-20 defeat of Naas, aided by out-half Robbie Bourke’s 19-point kicking haul. Bohs have not won outside of Limerick since early January, but they certainly have the players to test Bann and potentially pull off a big result.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 16, 2017: UL Bohemians 13 Banbridge 20, University of Limerick 4G pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
NAAS (6th) v DOLPHIN (10th), Forenaughts
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WWLLLLWLWDLWLLLWL; Dolphin: LWLLLLLLLLWLDLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 120; Tries: Fionn Higgins 12; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 113; Tries: Daryl Foley 4
Preview: Naas need one final push to ensure their Division 1B status for another year. Dolphin’s relegation is confirmed, but the rebuilding mission would certainly start on a sweeter note with a win here.
Replacing a legendary club figure like Barry Keeshan, who is bowing out after 16 years at out-half, will be extremely tough. He scored 12 points in his final home match against Ballymena to extend his Ulster Bank League points record to 1733 points.
Naas player-coach Johne Murphy kicked 10 points in their 30-20 September win away to Dolphin. For tomorrow’s rematch, there are four changes to the side that lost 29-20 at UL – Henry Bryce, Ross Bailey-Kearney, Graham Reynolds and Andrew Kearney all come in to the starting XV.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 11, 2017: Naas 30 Dolphin 8, Forenaughts; Saturday, September 16, 2017: Dolphin 20 Naas 30, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
SHANNON (1st) v UCC (4th), Thomond Park back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: WWWWWWLWLWWLDLWWW; UCC: LDLWWWWLWWLLWWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Conor Fitzgerald 177; Tries: Conor Fitzgerald 8; UCC: Points: James Taylor 161; Tries: Paul Kiernan 8
Preview: Relegated by UCD in 2013, Shannon face student opposition again tomorrow as they bid to end their absence from the top flight. They take a one-point lead over Ballynahinch into the final round, looking to end Tom Hayes’ first full season in charge with promotion.
This Munster derby brings together two of the most promising young out-halves in the province – Shannon’s Conor Fitzgerald, who is coming towards the end of his first year in the Munster Academy, and Ireland Students number 10 James Taylor who has struck up an exciting half-back pairing with John Poland, a UCC Sports Star award recipient earlier this week.
UCC have sealed fourth place and, as things stand, they will travel to St. Mary’s College in the promotion/relegation play-offs next Saturday. First things first, they will want to avenge September’s 20-16 home defeat to Shannon.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 4, 2017: Shannon 20 UCC 14, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, September 16, 2017: UCC 16 Shannon 20, the Mardyke
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Shannon to win