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All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

Two of Division 1B matches that stand out on Saturday see winning teams from the opening round go head-to-head, as St. Mary’s College visit Malone in Belfast and there is a juicy Dublin 4 duel between Old Wesley and Old Belvedere.


Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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BALLYNAHINCH (8th) v CITY OF ARMAGH (6th), Ballymacarn Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: L; City of Armagh: L
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Hilton Gibbons 12; Tries: Zack McCall, Rhys O’Donnell, Conor Piper 1 each; City of Armagh: Points: Andrew Smyth, Ryan Purvis, Gerard Treanor 5 each; Tries: Andrew Smyth, Ryan Purvis, Gerard Treanor 1 each

Preview: Ballynahinch are missing hooker Zack McCall, one of their try scorers from last week’s 37-27 defeat at St. Mary’s. Scoring three tries away from home was certainly a positive but there was frustration with how ‘Hinch ended the game and left possibly two bonus points behind them.

Having picked up a point in their opener against Old Wesley, Armagh are relishing this first clash with one of their four Ulster rivals in the division. Philip Fletcher is set to come into the front row, while Neil Faloon (shoulder) should be fit to start at number 8 with winger Ryan Purvis’ availability dependent on a late fitness test.

Ballynahinch have hosted Armagh already this season, claiming a 24-7 victory in the SONI Ulster Premiership. Neither side were at full strength that August day but Rhys O’Donnell, the former Ulster Senior Schools Cup-winning scrum half with RBAI, caught the eye and he has taken that form into the All-Ireland League, touching down against Mary’s.

Recent League Meetings – N/A

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win

BANBRIDGE (7th) v BUCCANEERS (9th), Rifle Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: L; Buccaneers: L
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Peter Crombie, Adam Ervine 10 each; Tries: Peter Cromie, Adam Ervine 2 each; Buccaneers: Points: Michael Hanley 8; Tries: Colm Reilly 1

Preview: This is Banbridge’s first All-Ireland League outing at Rifle Park since their heartbreaking play-off final defeat to UCC last April. After a sticky start, their efforts in claiming a late bonus point try at Old Belvedere last week suggest that they can contend again for promotion.

With four league debutants on show against Naas, Buccaneers took heart from their depleted team’s performance. The presence of assistant coach Aidan Wynne in a young back-line will see them develop as the rounds go by. Flanker Rory Moloney, also a former Connacht senior squad member, notably delivered a man-of-the-match display as Buccs captain.

Ruairi Byrne’s return will boost Buccs’ options up front for this first ever meeting between the clubs. The Pirates are still missing some key players, however, and Bann should profit especially if they get their lineout working. It should improve with Ulster Academy back rower David McCann getting more time with the squad.

Recent League Meetings – N/A

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win

MALONE (4th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (3rd), Gibson Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: W; St. Mary’s College: W
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Josh Pentland 10; Tries: Josh Pentland 2; St. Mary’s College: Points: Sean Kearns 22; Tries: Liam Corcoran, Sean Kearns, Marcus O’Driscoll, Cormac Foley 1 each

Preview: In his testimonial year with Ulster, flanker Chris Henry is set to relive his youth with his first appearance for Malone in over a decade. The 33-year-old member of the Malone coaching staff, who is coming back from a calf injury, is due to start at openside in place of unavailable captain Ross Todd.

The Cregagh Red Sox were very impressive 27-0 winners at Ballymena in the opening round, with two-try centre Josh Pentland running in an early Try of the Month contender. Tomorrow’s visitors, St. Mary’s, had their own star performer in out-half Sean Kearns who shone with 22 points against Ballynahinch.

That bonus point triumph augurs well for Mary’s, but they did cough up 27 points and need to cut down on the number of missed tackles and breakdown penalties. Malone boss Paddy Armstrong wants his players to build on what they achieved last Saturday, with their preparations including some guidance from Ulster lock Alan O’Connor at training this week.

Recent League Meetings – N/A

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win

NAAS (1st) v BALLYMENA (10th), Forenaughts

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: W; Ballymena: L
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 16; Tries: Andrew Ellis 2; Ballymena: Points: -; Tries:

Preview: Naas player-coach Johne Murphy has made three personnel changes and three positional switches for the visit of Ballymena. Murphy shifts to inside centre in a rejigged back-line that sees Peter Osborne revert to full-back and Richard Fahy come in at scrum half. Pierce Dargan and Ryan Casey are introduced in the pack.

The breakdown and discipline have been areas of focus for Ballymena following their disappointing opener against Malone. They have a lengthy injury list, including lock David Whann who is a major doubt with a knee injury, but Glenn Baillie slots back in at scrum half after late changes saw him move to centre last Saturday.

Sam Millar will don the number 12 jersey on his league debut for the Braidmen whose head coach Andy Graham is expecting ‘a tough test’ from Naas. He is hoping they can recapture the form which saw them do the double over the Kildare outfit last season, winning 19-13 at Forenaughts and 26-8 at home.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 28, 2017: Naas 13 Ballymena 19, Forenaughts; Saturday, February 17, 2018: Ballymena 26 Naas 8, Eaton Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

OLD WESLEY (5th) v OLD BELVEDERE (2nd), Energia Park, Donnybrook

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: W; Old Belvedere: W
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Paul Harte 10; Tries: Paul Harte 2; Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 18; Tries: Jack Keating 3

Preview: Two of the winning sides from the first round face off in a mouth-watering Dublin 4 derby. Chief among the attacking threats will be Jack Keating, who scored a hat-trick on his league debut for Old Belvedere, and Old Wesley captain Paul Harte who bagged a brace against Armagh.

Tighthead Declan Lavery, the fulcrum of the ‘Belvo pack, made his 100th league appearance for the club in their 42-28 bonus point success against Banbridge. Out-half Steve Crosbie, who was most recently playing for Connacht, marked his first outing as ‘Belvo’s player-backs coach and captain with 18 points.

That scoring power will have to be quelled by Wesley who are expected to start new signing Alan Gaughan at inside centre. Back-to-back wins would be a significant improvement on the Donnybrook dwellers’ start to last season which saw them go five rounds within a victory.

Recent League Meetings – Friday, October 6, 2017: Old Belvedere 15 Old Wesley 15, Anglesea Road; Wednesday, March 7, 2018: Old Wesley 34 Old Belvedere 22, Donnybrook

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win