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All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

Table-topping Naas’ winning start to All-Ireland League Division 1B will come under threat from Simon McKinstry’s Banbridge side on Saturday, at the same time as City of Armagh and second-placed Malone duel it out in another bruising Ulster derby.


Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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BALLYMENA (10th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th), Eaton Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballymena: LL; St. Mary’s College: WL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 3; Tries: -; St. Mary’s College: Points: Sean Kearns 25; Tries: Liam Corcoran, Sean Kearns, Marcus O’Driscoll, Cormac Foley, Dave Fanagan 1 each

Preview: Ballymena boss Andy Graham felt last week’s 28-3 defeat to Naas was not a true reflection of his side’s performance. A solid return at set piece time and improved discipline were some of the positives to take forward into the third round.

Scrum half Michael Stronge and flanker Marcus Rea are both back from Ulster ‘A’ duty and set to start along with lock David Whann who missed the Naas match. The Braidmen will be looking to get their attack going after two try-less outings.

St. Mary’s second successive trip north sees Connacht Academy recruit Conor Dean start at out-half, replacing Sean Kearns who is emigrating. Conor Toolan and Cormac Foley also come into the back-line following the 18-10 defeat to Malone, with Daragh McDonnell shifting to lock and Mark Fallon promoted from the bench to number 8.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 31, 2015: St. Mary’s College 26 Ballymena 18, Templeville Road; Saturday, February 6, 2016: Ballymena 12 St. Mary’s College 15, Eaton Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win

BUCCANEERS (9th) v OLD WESLEY (4th), Dubarry Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LL; Old Wesley: WD
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Michael Hanley 8; Tries: Colm Reilly 1; Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 16; Tries: Paul Harte 2

Preview: Second-from-bottom Buccaneers were held scoreless by Banbridge last week and have another tough task in round 3, hosting an Old Wesley team that is currently unbeaten after holding highly-rated Old Belvedere to a draw.

New Buccs head coach Peter O’Donnell is hoping injuries clear for captain Rory Moloney and tighthead Niall Farrell, while ever-consistent prop Martin Staunton should be back to bolster the front row. One of their former team-mates, Alan Gaughan, is now part of the Wesley midfield.

The Donnybrook outfit made one change to the side that battled all the way with ‘Belvo. Knee injury victim Jack Maybury makes way for captain Paul Harte, another former Buccaneer who returns on the wing in search of his third try of the new season.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 12, 2016: Old Wesley 22 Buccaneers 49, Donnybrook; Saturday, February 11, 2017: Buccaneers 36 Old Wesley 14, Dubarry Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

CITY OF ARMAGH (7th) v MALONE (2nd), Palace Grounds

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: LD; Malone: WW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Cormac Fox, Andrew Smyth, Ryan Purvis, Gerard Treanor 5 each; Tries: Andrew Smyth, Ryan Purvis, Gerard Treanor 1 each; Malone: Points: Josh Pentland, David Irvine 10 each; Tries: Josh Pentland, David Irvine 2 each

Preview: The two clubs who came up from Division 2A meet in an early test of their current progress. Armagh picked up their first points in a hard-fought draw with Ballynahinch and now host in-form Malone in their second Ulster derby in the space of a week.

Ireland Under-18 Schools and Ulster Under-19 back rower Ryan O’Neill is poised to make his first league start for Armagh, who also bring in fit-again winger Tim McNiece, Harry Doyle and Daryl Morton. Ulster ‘A’ representatives Peter Cooper and Joe Dunleavy are back available for Malone.

Cooper and Dunleavy are due to start up front for the Cregagh Red Sox, along with club captain Ross Todd who joins Dunleavy and Matthew Agnew in an all-new back row. Malone boss Paddy Armstrong says Armagh are ‘a quality team, very tough and physical’, and that Willie Faloon has them well-drilled and very organised.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 4, 2017: Malone 28 City of Armagh 26, Gibson Park; Saturday, February 3, 2018: City of Armagh 18 Malone 34, Palace Grounds

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win

NAAS (1st) v BANBRIDGE (5th), Forenaughts

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: WW; Banbridge: LW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 24; Tries: Andy Ellis 3; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty, Peter Cromie 15 each; Tries: Peter Cromie 3

Preview: Fionn Carr returns to the Naas back-line for their this round match against Banbridge, featuring on the right wing with Fionn Higgins reverting to full-back and Peter Osborne moving to out-half – his third different position in as many games.

Paul Monahan and David Benn swap in as the Cobras’ starting locks, while Banbridge are hoping to have Ulster forwards Schalk van der Merwe, Alex Thompson and Caleb Montgomery released for the trip to Kildare. South African prop van der Merwe was in try-scoring form against Buccs last Saturday.

Bann head coach Simon McKinstry commented: “It’s always hard to come away from Naas with points. But we did beat them away last season (40-31 in March). We went up a level against Buccaneers and we’re going to have to go up another level if we hope to beat Naas.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 30, 2017: Banbridge 42 Naas 35, Rifle Park; Saturday, March 24, 2018: Naas 31 Banbridge 40, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

OLD BELVEDERE (3rd) v BALLYNAHINCH (8th), Anglesea Road

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WD; Ballynahinch: LD
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 26; Tries: Jack Keating 3; Ballynahinch: Points: Hilton Gibbons 12; Tries: Zack McCall, Rhys O’Donnell, Conor Piper 1 each

Preview: Old Belvedere head coach Andy Kenny has reacted to their draw with Old Wesley by making four personnel changes, including handing David Butler his second start of the season at outside centre. He pairs up with Ben Carty, brother of Connacht out-half Jack.

Adam Howard and Roman Salanoa, the former American footballer, are swapped in as the starting props, while Colin Mallon gets the nod at number 8 and Eoin Sweeney switches to the second row. Belvedere won two tight games with Ballynahinch last season, including a 13-6 home triumph.

Brian McLaughlin’s ‘Hinch are on the hunt for their first win of the new campaign. His selection options should be boosted by Ulster ‘A’ representatives Zack McCall, Campbell Classon, Claytan Milligan and Bradley Luney following the province’s final Celtic Cup outing, but Aaron Hall, Jack Regan and Tommy O’Hagan are currently injured.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 16, 2017: Old Belvedere 13 Ballynahinch 6, Anglesea Road; Saturday, April 14, 2018: Ballynahinch 13 Old Belvedere 16, Ballymacarn Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win