How many of the first round winners can back up those results in All-Ireland League Division 2B? All that and more will be answered just after 4pm on Saturday when the final whistles are blown in Belfast, Greystones, Magherafelt and Sligo.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, October 6
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Skerries (6th) v MU Barnhall (1st), Holmpatrick, tonight, 8pm
Paul Devitt, Ben Jenkinson and Ruairi Woods are promoted from the bench to start for Skerries tonight. There are five changes to the side that fell to a 28-25 defeat in Dungannon, with Paul O’Loghlen and Devitt added to the back-three, Woods at scrum half, and John Sherwin and Ben Jenkinson featuring at tighthead prop and lock respectively.
Following their six-try heroics last week, MU Barnhall have stuck to the winning formula by naming an unchanged starting XV. Four of their backs opened their try accounts against Rainey Old Boys – Darren Hudson, who started at inside centre, Conor Lacey (2), Eoghain Quinn and Rob Holt.
Skerries will not want to be reminded that Barnhall’s pace-laden attack put 84 points on them in two meetings last December. The Goats leaked 11 tries across those 160 minutes, and their defence will have to be at its watertight best if they are to get anything out of this rematch.
Belfast Harlequins (3rd) v Sunday’s Well (5th), Deramore Park
These are two of the division’s form teams. Including their play-off wins, Belfast Harlequins are chasing their seventh league victory on the bounce, while Sunday’s Well are unbeaten in Division 2B since mid-January – an enviable eight-match run which includes February’s 26-22 triumph at Deramore Park.
Last week saw Peter O’Brien convert Michael Moynihan’s early second half try and land a 64th-minute penalty to guide the ‘Well past newcomers Sligo on a 20-17 scoreline. They did the double on Harlequins last season, winning 17-12 at home, so they are a battle-hardened lot when it comes to winning tight games.
‘Quins showed a good deal of character and improving game management to take a close verdict against Corinthians (15-11). Their hooker Mark Herdman told the Belfast Telegraph: “This time last year we probably would have bottled that, but we just kept going and got the win. We haven’t lost at Deramore this season so hopefully we can keep the ball rolling.”
Greystones (2nd) v Corinthians (8th), Dr. Hickey Park
Judging by their opening night success at the Aviva Stadium, Greystones are a team to watch this season. Head coach Kevin Lewis praised his charges for ‘rolling their sleeves up and playing some great rugby’, the culmination of which was new centre Ryan O’Loughlin’s break from inside his own half which led to winger Padraig Geoghegan’s match-winning try.
There were six new signings on duty for ‘Stones that night, some smart business seeing the likes of St. Mary’s pair O’Loughlin and Ian Cullinane, Ballynahinch hooker Ben Pentland, and fellow front rowers Joel Pender, who is a former Brumbies Under-20 player, and Hungarian international Viktor Zelenka join Lewis’ squad.
New Corinthians supremo JP Cooney will not have been too downbeat following their narrow loss at home to Harlequins. It was a decent enough start from the young Galway side, although they will not want to make a habit of dropping points at Cloonacauneen as the season progresses.
Rainey Old Boys (10th) v Wanderers (9th), Hatrick Park
You would have got long odds on these two clubs being in the bottom two positions in the early part of the season. Rainey are smarting from a comprehensive 36-14 reversal at the hands of Barnhall. Turnovers in attack directly led to three of the Blue Bulls’ tries – yet the obvious positive for head coach John Andrews was that his side won the second half 14-7.
South African hooker George Fritz makes a welcome return to the Rainey squad this weekend and is expected to start. His presence is needed in the front row as props Stephen Rutledge (AC joint) and Kieran Donaghy (calf) are both currently sidelined. A rearranged back-line should see Andrew Magrath starting at out-half, Conor Fitzsimons and Oisin Quinn pairing up in the centre, and Scott McLean stationed on the left wing and the returning Damien McMurray on the right.
Wanderers played a lot through their forwards against ‘Stones and got some reward, but defensive lapses cost them in the end. Their new head coach Paddy Collins told Irish Rugby TV: “Rainey come with a reputation. Quality side, they’ve proven that over the last couple of seasons. It’s a tough task playing them up there but we’re building, so there’s a learning curve for these lads.”
Sligo (7th) v Dungannon (4th), Hamilton Park
Sligo endured a scoreless second half in their opening clash with Sunday’s Well, but the losing bonus point and sheer competitiveness of their players and combinations across the pitch would have pleased coaches Paddy Pearson and Jason East. Posting a home win here would really bed them into the division early on.
The Sligo forwards, including Ireland Under-20 prop Kuba Wojtkowicz, will have to match up to a Dungannon eight that got the better of Skerries last Saturday. Mervyn Brown and Argentinian signing Lucca Avelli, who was the man-of-the-match, dovetailed very well in a new centre partnership. Brown injured his ribs but is expected to be fit to face the Connacht men.
Sligo have switched their Australian signing Jason Havea into the second row and reshuffled their back row, following Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill’s hamstring injury. Matt Davey and Ross Hickey are bumped up from the bench to start in the loose forwards, while 30-year-old Tongan Mata Fifita, who played for Connacht between 2012 and 2015, comes in at inside centre.