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All-Ireland League: Division 2B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2B Previews

The back-to-back fixtures conclude in Division 2B with front-running pair MU Barnhall and Greystones facing off at Parsonstown, while the bottom two, Dungannon and Belfast Harlequins, are both at home and in serious need of a New Year boost.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, January 19

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Belfast Harlequins (9th) v Sligo (5th), Deramore Park

December was a month of contrasting fortunes for these clubs. Belfast Harlequins recorded two defeats and a draw, while it was three wins out of three for Sligo who triumphed at Skerries and Corinthians before overcoming ‘Quins 24-14 at home.

Tomorrow’s rematch will see Nick Wells’ side gunning for revenge, with their mission aided by the return of captain Danny Annett, centre Mark Gribben, prop James Harrison and back rower Zac Jordan. However, the injured Saul Herdman and unavailable Connor Young will be notable absentees.

Sligo’s scrum was a crucial factor in that win in Belfast, providing the platform for co-captain Ryan Feehily’s seventh try of the campaign and also a second half penalty try. If the set piece goes well again, Paddy Pearson’s men should maintain their winning momentum.

Dungannon (10th) v Rainey Old Boys (3rd), Stevenson Park

There is plenty of familiarity between these teams with two meetings last month in the league and the Ulster Premiership. Rainey Old Boys won both, taking a 29-0 verdict at home in Division 2B before winning the provincial fixture 20-12 at Stevenson Park.

It is vital that bottom-placed Dungannon pick up a win here, given they face four promotion-chasing clubs during the first four rounds of 2019. Injured duo James McMahon and Lucca Avelli cannot return quick enough, but they do have Andrew McGregor, Mervyn Brown, John Buckley and Malcolm Allister back to full fitness.

Although Rainey will line out without injured captain Paul Pritchard and Tim Barker, they have enough strength-in-depth to make it seven straight league wins. In-form scrum half Jason Bloomfield is chasing his sixth try, and the fit-again Brad Roberts starts at hooker with South African George Fritz continuing at number 8.

Corinthians (6th) v Wanderers (4th), Corinthian Park

Corinthians and Wanderers both began 2019 with disappointing losses. A controversial late penalty saw the Galway men edged out by Buccaneers in a very close Connacht Senior Cup final, while Wanderers’ rescheduled trip to MU Barnhall ended in a crushing 55-3 reversal last Saturday.

The Dubliners are still in a strong position in fourth place, five points better off than Sligo with Corinthians a further three behind. 14-8 winners over JP Cooney’s side last month, the Chaps bring in full-back David Gaynor and forwards David O’Sullivan and Ruairi and Conor O’Donnell for the rematch.

Corinthians head coach Cooney said: “The lads have put in some great work so far but i still think there’s an awful lot more in them. They fully believe in themselves and know their rugby ability and the way that they can play – that if they do go out and execute their game-plan, it will take a very good team to stop us.”

MU Barnhall (1st) v Greystones (2nd), Parsonstown

The division’s dominant forces collide again. Can Greystones avenge their pre-Christmas defeat to MU Barnhall? Or will the Blue Bulls make it ten wins on the trot and extend their lead? They moved back to the summit last week after hammering Wanderers.

The rampant Kildare men ran in nine tries with full-back Eoghain Quinn bagging a brace, taking his season’s haul to seven tries. Winger Conor Lacey is just ahead of him on eight. Greystones’ leading scorers are seven-try winger Ferdia Kenny, and Killian Marmion and Ian Cullinane with five each.

‘Stones goal-kicking captain Andrew Kealy has contributed 118 points so far, but Barnhall’s try-scoring prowess was the difference in the first encounter. Storm Deirdre made for extremely difficult conversions with abrasive lock Brendan McSorley emerging as the Bulls’ two-try hero.

Sunday’s Well (7th) v Skerries (8th), Irish Independent Park

A lone unconverted try from centre Kevin McGrath in awful weather conditions secured Skerries’ first win of the season. The well-earned result moved the Goats to within a point of seventh-placed Sunday’s Well ahead of tomorrow’s return clash in Cork.

The ‘Well line-up is strengthened this week by the return of Peter O’Brien at out-half and Conor O’Brien at openside flanker. Captain Cyprien Jouve switches to the back row as Ryan Buckley rejoins Eoin Geary in the centre.

With their own injuries clearing up and more players returning, Skerries should also be able to field a stronger starting XV. It gives head coach Mark Harrington some welcome selection headaches as the Dubliners aim for their first away victory in the league since September 2017.