Having defeated leaders Naas last week to move to the summit, Malone face another acid test of their Division 1B title credentials with an Ulster derby trip to third-placed Banbridge. The bottom two, Ballymena and Buccaneers, need to make home advantage count in an increasingly furious scrap for wins.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, December 1
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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OLD WESLEY (7th) v BALLYNAHINCH (5th), Energia Park, Donnybrook, 2pm
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Wesley: WDLWLW; Ballynahinch: LDWWLW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 45; Tries: Paul Harte, Tom Kiersey 3 each; Ballynahinch: Points: Hilton Gibbons 28; Tries: Rhys O’Donnell 4
Preview: Old Wesley and Ballynahinch both returned to winning ways at home last Saturday, with the Dubliners’ out-half Tom Kiersey notching his third try of the campaign and ‘Hinch scrum half Rhys O’Donnell running in his fourth.
However, ‘Hinch make the trip to Donnybrook tomorrow without the injured James Simpson (knee), Stuart Morrow (foot), Rory Butler (finger) and Conor Kelly (knee), as well as Ulster’s Johnny McPhillips who kicked their match-winning penalty against Banbridge.
Old Wesley feel they owe Brian McLaughlin’s men one following last season’s 21-point defeat at Ballymacarn Park and a draw at home (14-all). This is their third successive home match and they have to make it count, especially with only three points separating the middle six clubs in the table.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 23, 2017: Ballynahinch 27 Old Wesley 6, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, April 7, 2018: Old Wesley 14 Ballynahinch 14, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win
BALLYMENA (10th) v OLD BELVEDERE (8th), Eaton Park
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballyymena: LLWLLL; Old Belvedere: WDLLWL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 50; Tries: Connor Smyth 2; Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 49; Tries: Jack Keating 5
Preview: Results continue to evade bottom side Ballymena, who faltered in the second half against Old Wesley last Saturday having led 9-5 thanks to the boot of out-half Tim Small. He has been responsible for 50 of their 80 points so far.
The Braidmen, who have now lost three on the trot, are hoping to have Ulster hooker John Andrew available to start as well as Clive Ross and Marcus and Matthew Rea. Glenn Baillie is still sidelined with a hamstring injury and concussion rules out fellow back Dean Reynolds.
Old Belvedere were frustrated to be held try-less by Armagh last week, going down 15-9. An area of strength is their Limerick-influenced front row of James Bollard, Ed Rossiter and Declan Lavery, with the battle between Andrew and Rossiter a mouth-watering prospect.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 2, 2017: Ballymena 25 Old Belvedere 16, Eaton Park; Saturday, December 9, 2017: Old Belvedere 26 Ballymena 7, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win
BANBRIDGE (3rd) v MALONE (1st), Rifle Park
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Banbridge: LWWWLL; Malone: WWLWWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 43; Tries: Peter Cromie 5; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 34; Tries: Ben McCaughey 3
Preview: Banbridge have fallen off the boil a little bit, going down to Wesley and Ballynahinch, but they have a proud record to protect against new leaders Malone. They are unbeaten against the Cregagh Red Sox in seven games across the league and Ulster competitions, stretching back to September 2015.
It will be interesting to see what Ulster representatives both sides are able to field. Bann are hoping to have Greg Jones available with fellow back rower David McCann tied up with Ireland Under-19 training, while Malone could have Graham Curtis and Stewart Moore on board. Their in-form winger Ben McCaughey is set to play for the Ulster Under-19s against Australia next Tuesday.
Bann assistant coach Ian Porter said: “We’ve played Malone a lot over the last few years, we’ve nearly mirrored each other through the divisions. We were pleased with how we performed against ‘Hinch – the result just didn’t go our way. So we’re very much looking forward to the Malone game.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 8, 2016: Malone 13 Banbridge 19, Gibson Park; Saturday, March 11, 2017: Banbridge 51 Malone 15, Rifle Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win
BUCCANEERS (9th) v CITY OF ARMAGH (4th), Dubarry Park
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LLWLLL; City of Armagh: LDWLWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Luke Carty 52; Tries: Darragh Corbett 4; City of Armagh: Points: Cormac Fox 35; Tries: Andrew Smyth 3
Preview: History will be made at Dubarry Park where Buccaneers and City of Armagh play each other in an All-Ireland League fixture for the first time. Buccs are sitting second-from-bottom after leaving wins behind them against Malone and St. Mary’s.
There was a distinct Connacht flavour to the Pirates’ team line-up at Mary’s, with Ireland-capped hooker Dave Heffernan, Eoin Griffin and try-scoring debutant Joe Maksymiw among their starters. Second row Peter Claffey is their main injury concern.
Armagh head coach Willie Faloon has named an unchanged starting XV as they head for the midlands in pursuit of their third win in a row. With a high level of competition for places across the squad, Tim McNiece and Jonny Pollock have displaced Chris Cousens and Evin Crummie at full-back and centre respectively.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win
NAAS (2nd) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th), Forenaughts
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: WWLWWL; St. Mary’s College: WLLWLW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 68; Tries: Andy Ellis 5; St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 36; Tries: Mark Fogarty, Cormac Foley 2 each
Preview: Naas’ time at the top was brief as a 36-20 defeat to Malone saw the Belfast club leapfrog them. Player-coach Johne Murphy will be demanding a big reaction from his squad – he has opted to make two changes in the backs and two up front.
Former professional Fionn Carr returns on the right wing, replacing the injured Fionn Higgins, while Andy Ellis, the Cobras’ top try scorer with five so far, joins Murphy in midfield. Graham Reynolds and Leinster-capped tighthead Adam Coyle come back into the front row.
Mid-table Mary’s have found some decent form with victories over Armagh and Buccs in the last three rounds. Steven Hennessy’s charges have averaged 28 points per game of late, aided by the impact of Connacht Academy recruit Conor Dean, flying full-back Dave Fanagan and number 8 Nick McCarthy, their man-of-the-match last week.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win
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