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Ulster Bank League: Permutations Preview

Ulster Bank League: Permutations Preview

Only 80 minutes remain in the Ulster Bank League’s regular season, but plenty of sharp twists and turns await on a nerve-jangling afternoon for clubs chasing promotion and those seeking to avoid the dreaded drop.

Lansdowne’s handsome haul of 15 wins has guaranteed them top spot in Division 1A and a home semi-final. Five clubs are still challenging for the three other play-off places.

Cork Constitution climbed into second thanks to last week’s 30-27 win over Terenure College, who are now third but level with Con on 56 points. Con and ‘Nure are both assured of knockout rugby, but home advantage in the semis will be decided by how Con fare at fifth-placed Clontarf – in a repeat of last season’s final – and ‘Nure’s hosting of Dublin University.

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Garryowen, who entertain second-from-bottom St. Mary’s College, have a one-point lead over their rivals for fourth place. ‘Tarf and Young Munster, who travel to UCD, are hoping to capitalise on any slip ups, but a first league semi-final since 2009 is tantalisingly close for the Dooradoyle side.

With a luckless run of results, relegated Buccaneers are heading straight back to Division 1B. Mary’s need to find some form or they could join them via the relegation play-offs.

DIVISION 1A RUNDOWN:

Division 1A semi-finalists: Lansdowne, Cork Constitution, Terenure College (finishing order to be confirmed); One of Garryowen, Clontarf or Young Munster to join them (1st v 4th, 2nd v 3rd)

Relegated: Buccaneers (automatic); St. Mary’s College to compete in Division 1B promotion/relegation play-offs

The second tier’s title race could hardly have been scripted better, with Shannon (59 points), Ballynahinch (58) and Banbridge (57) split by just two points. It would be some achievement, in his first full season as coach, for Tom Hayes to lead Shannon back to Division 1A after a five-year absence. Their current top scorer, out-half Conor Fitzgerald (177 points), was only 15 when they were relegated.

Fourth-placed UCC have a chance to spoil the party at Thomond Park, while ‘Hinch and Bann will both press hard for maximum points in home ties. There is no great escape for bottom-placed Dolphin this time, but Naas, Ballymena, Old Wesley and UL Bohemians are still scrapping to avoid the relegation play-offs.

DIVISION 1B RUNDOWN:

Division 1B champions/Promoted: Shannon, Ballynahinch or Banbridge

Division 1B clubs to contest promotion/relegation play-offs: UCC plus two from Shannon, Ballynahinch and Banbridge

Relegated: Dolphin (automatic); One club to face play-offs (UL Bohemians, Old Wesley, Ballymena or Naas)

Division 2A silverware and promotion will be Malone’s if they can get the job done at home to fourth-placed Nenagh Ormond. Highfield, who are three points off the summit, travel to Blackrock College and are hoping that Nenagh can do them a favour. Corinthians need a five-pointer at Queen’s University to avoid automatic relegation and send arch rivals Galwegians down in their place. ‘Wegians can ensure that doesn’t happen with a positive result at home to Cashel.

DIVISION 2A RUNDOWN:

Division 2A champions/Promoted: Malone or Highfield

Division 2A clubs to contest promotion/relegation play-offs: Three from Malone, Highfield, Cashel, Nenagh Ormond and City of Armagh

Relegated: Corinthians or Galwegians (automatic); One club to face play-offs (Corinthians, Galwegians, Blackrock College or Greystones)

Old Crescent have really been the team of the year, storming their way to promotion in Division 2B with an unbeaten 17-match run. Last week’s draw with MU Barnhall is the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record. Rainey Old Boys, Barnhall and Navan are boxed off for the promotion play-offs, while relegation has claimed City of Derry, and Belfast Harlequins could yet join them via the play-off route.

DIVISION 2B RUNDOWN:

Division 2B champions/Promoted: Old Crescent

Division 2B clubs to contest promotion/relegation play-offs: Rainey Old Boys, MU Barnhall and Navan

Relegated: City of Derry (automatic); Belfast Harlequins to compete in Division 2C promotion/relegation play-offs

The fixture planners deserve a pat on the back for their scheduling in Division 2C, with the top two – Sligo and Thomond (51 points each) – meeting in a winner-takes-all clash in Strandhill. Malahide and Omagh are both on course for top-four finishes, Bective Rangers’ relegation was confirmed last week, and Tullamore are currently in the jaws of the relegation play-off trap, with Bruff four points ahead of them.

DIVISION 2C RUNDOWN:

Division 2C champions/Promoted: Sligo or Thomond

Division 2C clubs to contest promotion/relegation play-offs: Three from Sligo, Thomond, Malahide, Omagh and Midleton

Relegated: Bective Rangers (automatic); One club to face play-off against Round Robin runners-up (Tullamore, Bruff or Seapoint)