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All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

The chasing pack are gaining in number behind Division 1B leaders Malone as the battle for automatic promotion and the play-off places intensifies heading towards the All-Ireland League’s Christmas break.


Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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BALLYMENA (10th) v BALLYNAHINCH (4th), Eaton Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballymena: LLWLLLW; Ballynahinch: LDWWLWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 56; Tries: Connor Smyth 4; Ballynahinch: Points: Hilton Gibbons 28; Tries: Rhys O’Donnell 4

Preview: The first of two Ulster derbies for Ballynahinch before Christmas as they look to build on their recent winning performances against Banbridge and Old Wesley. Versatile Ulster back Peter Nelson kicked 22 points across those two games.

They are likely to have Nelson, Tommy O’Hagan, Zack McCall and possibly Iwan Hughes, who won the Dubai 7s International Invitational tournament with Ireland last weekend, available for this trip to Eaton Park. ‘Hinch won a Ulster Premiership tie there in September, triumphing 20-17.

Lock Connor Smyth’s try tally stands at four after his brace in Ballymena’s much-needed 28-14 victory over ‘Belvo. Their head coach Andy Graham told Irish Rugby TV: “Going forward we have to tighten up our defence, and there’s other aspects as well just in our general play. There’s lots to work on but there’s a good base there as well. Hopefully we can build on what we produced last week.” 

Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 10, 2017: Ballymena 0 Ballynahinch 27, Eaton Park; Saturday, January 6, 2018: Ballynahinch 28 Ballymena 13, Ballymacarn Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win

CITY OF ARMAGH (6th) v NAAS (2nd), Palace Grounds

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: LDWLWWL; Naas: WWLWWLL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Cormac Fox 42; Tries: Andrew Smyth 4; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 71; Tries: Andy Ellis 6

Preview: Two of the best young coaches in the division go head to head as Willie Faloon’s Armagh side play host to the Johne Murphy-coached Naas. Number 8 Neil Faloon is coming back from injury and could start for the hosts, following a 50-minute run-out with the seconds.

Smarting from a 24-17 loss to Buccaneers, Armagh did well to recover from an awful start in Athlone and earn a losing bonus point. Picking up points when not playing well is crucial for both of these clubs in terms of staying in the hunt for a top-four finish.

Naas are without their injured top try scorer Andy Ellis (6 tries) for the trip north, replacing him at outside centre with recent league debutant Jordan Fitzpatrick. Ben O’Connor and Richie Fahy also start behind the scrum, with tighthead Conor Doyle and flanker Ryan Casey promoted from the bench.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 14, 2012: Naas 5 City of Armagh 15, Forenaughts; Saturday, February 23, 2013: City of Armagh 28 Naas 13, Palace Grounds

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win

MALONE (1st) v OLD WESLEY (7th), Gibson Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WWLWWWL; Old Wesley: WDLWLWL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 37; Tries: Ben McCaughey 3; Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 56; Tries: Paul Harte, Tom Kiersey 3 each

Preview: Adam McBurney and Ross Kane have been released by Ulster to join Peter Cooper in a powerful Malone front row tomorrow afternoon. 19-year-old Academy back rower Joe Dunleavy also comes in at number 8.

Teenage winger Ben McCaughey, who has scored three league tries so far, also returns after playing his part in the Ulster Under-19s’ excellent win over Australia Schools & U-18s. Malone will need to be back to their sharpest as visitors Old Wesley have already defeated three Ulster clubs – Armagh, Banbridge and Ballymena.

Darren Horan, who captained Wesley for the last two seasons, returns at blindside flanker in their only change from last Saturday’s 27-16 reversal at the hands of ‘Hinch. The Dubliners have been able to follow losses with wins in the earlier rounds, but Malone may prove too tough to crack at home.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 2, 2010: Old Wesley 3 Malone 39, Donnybrook; Saturday, February 18, 2012: Malone 39 Old Wesley 5, Gibson Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win

OLD BELVEDERE (9th) v BUCCANEERS (8th), Anglesea Road

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WDLLWLL; Buccaneers: LLWLLLW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 53; Tries: Jack Keating 5; Buccaneers: Points: Luke Carty 61; Tries: Darragh Corbett 4

Preview: Having climbed above Old Belvedere and out of the bottom two, Buccaneers now visit the Dubliners knowing that another win could push them towards mid-table. However, they make the trip without several of the Connacht players who helped them to beat Armagh 24-17.

Those include Kieran Joyce, Eoghan Masterson and Dave Heffernan, who captains Connacht against Perpignan tomorrow. Academy out-half Luke Carty, the division’s second top scorer (61 points), is set to come up against his older brother Ben, the Old Belvedere centre.

‘Belvo have lost back-to-back games, both in Ulster, and return home with three changes made to their pack. Props Adam Howard and Declan Lavery swap in and Eoin O’Neill will don the number 7 jersey, with Eoin Sweeney switching to the second row to partner Jack Kelly.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 10, 2009: Buccaneers 12 Old Belvedere 36, Dubarry Park; Sunday, January 31, 2010: Old Belvedere 33 Buccaneers 12, Anglesea Road

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (5th) v BANBRIDGE (3rd), Templeville Road

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: WLLWLWW; Banbridge: LWWWLLW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 42; Tries: Mark Fogarty, Cormac Foley, Richie Halpin 2 each; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 54; Tries: Peter Cromie 5

Preview: St. Mary’s College will unsurprisingly field an unchanged team for the visit of third-placed Banbridge. Hooker Richie Halpin, who scored his second try of the campaign during their impressive win at Naas, has to be content with a place on the bench again.

Banbridge make two personnel changes to the side that overcame Malone 21-11, with Ben Carson returning at centre, Jonny Little shifting to out-half, Ethan Harbinson coming in at openside flanker, Greg Jones moving to number 8 and Stevie Irvine, who has scored three tries in the last four rounds, repositioned to lock.

Previewing their second trip of the season to Dublin, Bann head coach Simon McKinstry said: “I understand that Mary’s have a very big pack – three tries from mauls against Naas would support that. But we’ll give it a good rattle and hopefully keep up the pressure on the top two.”

Recent League Meetings – N/A

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Banbridge to win

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