Front-running clubs MU Barnhall and Greystones are both in Ulster today for the latest round of All-Ireland League Division 2B action. Bottom side Sligo, who lost heavily to ‘Stones last Saturday, are aiming to bounce back at home to Rainey Old Boys.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, November 10
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Belfast Harlequins (6th) v Greystones (2nd), Deramore Park
Leinster opposition for Belfast Harlequins for the third week running, and undoubtedly their toughest test so far. First half tries from forwards Ben Alexander, James Harrison and Toby Mannus guided ‘Quins past Wanderers by a single point in round 5, but second-placed ‘Stones look to have an all-round game that few can match.
From full-back and captain Andrew Kealy, who has already amassed 78 points, through to Joel Penders and Viktor Zelenka, two new front row recruits who have quickly made their mark, the Wicklow men are motoring along nicely and avoiding any speed bumps so far.
Harlequins expect to have their Kiwi lock Troy Webber back in the starting XV, meaning a return to the back row for Toby Mannus as flanker Jaz Andress is unavailable. Some of the best centres in the division will cross swords as Greystones’ talented pairing of Con Callan and Ryan O’Loughlin come up against the hosts’ attack-minded duo of Mark Gribben and Mark Glover.
Dungannon (7th) v MU Barnhall (1st), Stevenson Park
It is difficult to see Dungannon containing MU Barnhall on current form. They went down 36-12 to mid-table rivals Corinthians last week, albeit that they performed much better than the scoreline suggests. They missed sidelined centres Mervyn Brown and Lucca Avelli who are due to return today, along with full-back Andrew McGregor.
‘Gannon will have to improve their ball retention and cut down on the handling errors as leaders Barnhall have shown how deadly they can be from turnovers. The Blue Bulls’ opportunism was summed up by their two closing tries against Sunday’s Well, with winger Matthew Alborough scoring from a blocked kick and replacement Michael Mellett tagging on an intercept effort.
The hosts’ impressive number 8 Jonah Mau’u was not involved in Ulster’s friendly win over Uruguay last night, so he should feature in an intriguing head-to-head with Barnhall’s captain and pack leader Tom McKeown. Dungannon need to keep it tight and play a territorial game, otherwise the Kildare men will utilise the space and take control of the scoreboard.
Skerries (9th) v Corinthians (5th), Holmpatrick
Skerries’ wait for their first win goes on after they lost out 37-30 at Rainey Old Boys, the disappointment tempered by a brace of bonus points which are keeping them off the bottom rung. A look at the table shows that the Goats have the leakiest defence in the division – by a full 34 points – but their attack stands up well as the third best of the ten clubs.
With five tries scored against Dungannon and five precious points won, Corinthians had edged their way into fifth, just two points behind Wanderers in third. Head coach JP Cooney will want to take the performance level up another notch, especially with next Friday night’s Connacht Senior Cup semi-final at home to Galwegians in mind.
Skerries have not hosted Corinthians in league action since January 2016 when they ran out 21-0 winners at Holmpatrick, on a day when current Leinster out-half Ciaran Frawley scored a try and kicked three conversions. It was one home win apiece that season and that may prove to be the case again this year.
Sligo (10th) v Rainey Old Boys (8th), Hamilton Park
A chastening 42-point defeat sent Sligo to the bottom of the table. They should produce a big backlash on home turf in Strandhill, especially with the carrot of a win moving them above Rainey Old Boys and potentially out of the bottom two. In a rejigged pack, Conor Mitchell comes in at tighthead prop with Kuba Wojtkowicz swapping to blindside flanker with Matthew Cosgrove out injured.
Rainey are chasing their third victory on the bounce – and first away from Magherfelt. Their combinations are beginning to click with front rowers George Fritz and Aidan McSwiggan busy around the pitch last week against Skerries, while captain Paul Pritchard, Andy Harbinson and Paddy Magowan worked well together as a back row unit. Former Ulster lock Tim Barker will not be risked as he targets a return in the upcoming rounds.
Sligo boss Paddy Pearson will be glad to see his players up against opponents in a similar position in the standings, having taken on the top three in the last three rounds and come off bruised, battered and without a point. A consistent display is key for both teams today and whoever can string together the phases and convert their chances will take the spoils.
Sunday’s Well (4th) v Wanderers (3rd), Irish Independent Park
Given the searing pace being set by MU Barnhall and Greystones, it may end up being third and fourth positions that Sunday’s Well and Wanderers will be left fighting for as the season develops. They cannot focus on the gap above them, all that matters is getting back to winning ways after last week’s reversals at the hands of Barnhall (27-7) and Belfast Harlequins (25-24).
Despite the scoreline, Sunday’s Well gave a very good account of themselves against the division’s pacesetters. Captain Cyprien Jouve was an absolute workhorse in the back row. Today’s team selection sees key men Eoin Geary and Peter O’Brien return at centre and out-half respectively. James Mulcahy switches to lock and Cormac Kelleher comes in at number 8.
Wanderers did all the hard work in coming back from 22-10 down at half-time, only to fail to find the killer punch and lose out by a single point to ‘Quins. Head coach Paddy Collins makes two personnel changes up front, selecting Tom Walsh in the second row and Conor O’Donnell in the back row. Brian Hanratty moves to number 8.