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Ulster Bank League: Promotion/Relegation Play-Off Final Previews

Ulster Bank League: Promotion/Relegation Play-Off Final Previews

Along with Belfast Harlequins who are looking to hold onto their Division 2B status, seven clubs lie 80 minutes away from gaining promotion to the next tier of the Ulster Bank League as the divisional play-offs reach an exciting climax today.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: Saturday, April 28

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.

DIVISION 1A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

BANBRIDGE (2nd, Div 1B) v UCC (4th, Div 1B), Rifle Park

Banbridge showed huge character to come from 24-12 down to beat Ballynahinch in last week’s semi-final, earning home advantage against a UCC side they have yet to defeat this season. The Cork students will fancy their chances after drawing 31-all on their last visit to Rifle Park, and winning the rematch 32-31 at the Mardyke just three weeks ago.

It would be a tremendous achievement for University rugby if UCC were to join Dublin University and UCD in the top flight, and head coach Brian Walsh has helped youngsters like James Taylor, Jack O’Sullivan and Tadgh McCarthy quickly shine at this level. They certainly lay down a marker with last Saturday’s 36-24 win at St. Mary’s.

Banbridge also stand on the cusp of an historic rise to Division 1A rugby, 20 years on from their initial promotion from the junior ranks. Their Kiwi boss Daniel Soper, who played for the club back in 1998, has Greg Jones, Caleb Montgomery, Eric O’Sullivan and James Hume released from the Ulster ranks, while John Porter returns on the wing and captain Adam Ervine faces a late fitness test.

“From a team point of view, we’re not talking about promotion,” admitted Soper. “We’re just talking about winning this game. I think that’s very important. In the past we’ve been in similar positions where we’ve been distracted by the talk about promotion and how good it would be to get up and that sort of thing, but if you lose sight of actually just going and winning the game on Saturday you can become undone.”

DIVISION 1B PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

CITY OF ARMAGH (3rd, Div 2A) v NENAGH ORMOND (4th, Div 2A), Palace Grounds, 1.30pm

An earlier kick-off at the Palace Grounds where Armagh go in search of their second successive promotion, having come through the play-offs twelve months ago, while Nenagh Ormond are back exactly where they were last year when Dolphin denied them on the final day, winning 13-6 in Cork.

Nenagh demoted UL Bohemians with an excellent 23-18 victory on the University’s 4G pitch last Saturday, propelling themselves into a winning position with 20 first half points. Their commitment and will to win was summed up by captain John Healy and John Coffey doubling up with a try-saving tackle in the dying seconds.

It would be some day for the Muldoon family if Nenagh head coach Ivan and hooker Conor could secure promotion in Armagh and middle brother John bows out for Connacht with a derby win over Leinster. Nenagh team manager John Long said: “It’s a huge game for the club, the biggest in its history. Armagh are a very good outfit and we’re expecting a tough, tough game from them. It was one win apiece during the league campaign, so there’s not much between us.”

Armagh assistant coach Chris Parker says their terrific performance in winning 27-13 at Highfield will count for nothing if they do not back it up today. Prop Daryl Morton is back to full fitness this week, while 19-year-old out-half Cormac Fox continues to score well from the tee, knocking over a decisive 17 points in Cork.

DIVISION 2A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

RAINEY OLD BOYS (2nd, Div 2B) v NAVAN (4th, Div 2B), Hatrick Park

If Navan can repeat their 15-6 success from three weeks ago at Hatrick Park, then a hard-earned place in Division 2A will be their reward. Goal-kicking scrum half Brian Haugh bagged all of their points that day and they will need to take most if not all of their opportunities in this rematch, as Rainey are hungry for revenge.

Whoever wins this afternoon will pull off the enviable feat of back-to-back promotions, with Navan having topped Division 2C last season and Rainey following them via the play-offs. Experienced out-half Willie Staunton starred for Navan with a 17-point kicking haul at Greystones last Saturday, including a brilliant long-range drop goal.

Rainey and Navan have similarly big packs, with opposing back rowers Michael McCusker and Conor Ryan both key men in terms of their ball-carrying and ability to get over the gain-line. The presence of Tommy O’Hagan and Tim Barker may give Rainey the edge up front, and flanker Paul Pritchard could make the bench if he is passed fit.

One of the most inspiring stories across the league has been the return to rugby of Rainey’s Scott McLean. The versatile young back-three player received a kick to his arm during last year’s play-offs which developed into a clot. He had a long injury lay-off but is now back on form, running in a classy solo try against MU Barnhall last weekend.

DIVISION 2B PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:

BELFAST HARLEQUINS (9th, Div 2B) v OMAGH (2nd, Div 2C), Deramore Park

Belfast Harlequins are the only team left in the play-offs looking to stay up in their respective division. After suffering relegation twice in the last two years, ‘Quins got themselves into another bad situation but stringing together four wins on the trot has given them a lifeline.

Nick Wells’ charges have really improved in the final weeks of the campaign, and they hope to have young half-back Conor McAuley available depending on his recovery from a hamstring injury. The Danny Annett-led ‘Quins pack is motoring along well, putting in a very good shift in the 19-13 semi-final triumph over Malahide.

Omagh were playing junior rugby last year and it would be a remarkable achievement for the Accies to immediately bounce up to Division 2B after their first season. Four second half tries powered them past Thomond (34-13) and the majority of that team will remain intact, apart from Stephen MacLaine’s switch from full-back to centre to cover Scott Barr’s absence. Ali Beckett will don the number 15 jersey, with Adam Beattie and Jack Mitchell added to the bench.

Omagh head coach Phil Marshall is relishing the trip to Deramore, noting: “It’s our biggest test, but whatever happens, we have had an excellent season and passed any expectations. There’s no pressure on us so we will just go out and enjoy it. I’m delighted that we’ve remained true to playing attractive rugby all season. We anticipate a really fast, free-flowing game. In one way that will suit us, because the ante is upped here.”