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All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

Ulster scrum half Jonny Stewart takes on his opposite number Shane Kelly during Banbridge's December win over Malone ©Kayla Mullan

Tonight’s much-anticipated Leinster derby between St. Mary’s College and Naas launches the latest round of All-Ireland League Division 1B action, with the meeting of pace-setting duo Malone and Banbridge in Belfast topping the bill on Saturday afternoon.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 16

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (7th) v NAAS (3rd), Templeville Road, tonight, 8pm

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: WLLWLWWWLLL; Naas: WWLWWLLLLWD
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 59; Tries: Myles Carey, Hugo Conway 3 each; Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 102; Tries: Andy Ellis 7

Preview: The margins are as tight as ever in Division 1B with St. Mary’s as close to promotion as they are to relegation – it is six points to the top and six points to the drop. They were the pacesetters in mid-December but have slipped to three defeats on the bounce, including an 18-16 reversal at Banbridge.

Preparing to host Johne Murphy’s Naas, Mary’s are aiming to recapture the form which saw them overcome the Cobras 23-8 at Forenaughts over two months ago. They are also hoping for their injury list to lessen, with an ankle injury for key flanker David Aspil – picked up early on against Bann – causing most concern.

Naas player-coach Murphy returns from his assistant coach role with Ireland’s Dalriada Cup-winning Club side. Ireland Club XV prop Adam Coyle and Connacht flanker James Connolly are set to start tonight, while Peter Osborne, whether at scrum half or full-back, continues to impress with his season’s haul now standing at 102 points.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 1, 2018: Naas 8 St. Mary’s College 23, Forenaughts

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Naas to win

BALLYNAHINCH (5th) v OLD WESLEY (4th), Ballymacarn Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: LDWWLWWLWLW; Old Wesley: WDLWLWLWWWL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Rhys O’Donnell 30; Tries: Rhys O’Donnell 6; Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 100; Tries: Tom Kiersey 4

Preview: A scoring difference of five points is all that separates Old Wesley from Ballynahinch in the current table. ‘Hinch won 27-16 when the sides met in Donnybrook in December, but injuries are beginning to hurt them with Stuart Morrow set for a foot operation and young prop Campbell Classon out for four weeks after surgery on a thumb injury.

They are also without the Ulster-tied Peter Nelson for this rematch, and he was effectively the difference that day with a 17-point kicking haul. Wesley were justly proud of second row JJ O’Dea’s efforts in helping the Ireland Students team overwhelm Scotland in Belfast last Sunday, a game which saw ‘Hinch’s Conall Boomer produce a man-of-the-match display from number 8.

Wesley head coach Morgan Lennon also resumes his club duties fresh from overseeing the Ireland Club XV’s Dalriada Cup success. The Dublin 4 outfit have a canny knack of picking up victories in Ulster – they have triumphed already at Armagh, Banbridge and Malone – and will be quietly confident of adding another northern scalp to that list.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 7, 2018: Old Wesley 14 Ballynahinch 14, Donnybrook; Saturday, December 1, 2018: Old Wesley 16 Ballynahinch 27, Energia Park, Donnybrook

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballynahinch to win

MALONE (1st) v BANBRIDGE (2nd), Gibson Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WWLWWWLLLWW; Banbridge: LWWWLLWLLWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 63; Tries: Rory Campbell 4; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 73; Tries: Peter Cromie 6

Preview: There seems to be a top of the table clash almost every week in Division 1B given the chopping and changing of positions. The latest one brings together Ulster rivals Malone and Banbridge, with the visitors gunning for a league double after full-back Adam Doherty kicked them to a 21-11 home win in December.

Bann head coach Simon McKinstry has made five changes to the side that edged out St. Mary’s 18-16 last time out, with Ulster’s Greg Jones and current Ireland Under-20 international David McCann added to the back row and there are starts also for winger Hugo Harbinson along with Jonny Stewart and Caleb Montgomery, two more of the club’s Ulster contingent.

Malone also have a solid back-bone of provincial players, including Jack Owens at full-back, Adam McBurney and Ross Kane in the front row and Graham Curtis at scrum half. Paddy Armstrong has made two changes in personnel with Peter Cooper back from injury at loosehead and Ryan Clarke starting in the second row.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 11, 2017: Banbridge 51 Malone 15, Rifle Park; Saturday, December 1, 2018: Banbridge 21 Malone 11, Rifle Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win

OLD BELVEDERE (9th) v BALLYMENA (10th), Anglesea Road

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WDLLWLLWWLL; Ballymena: LLWLLLWWWLL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 74; Tries: Jack Keating 7; Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 89; Tries: Connor Smyth 4

Preview: Joe White will deputise for Daniel Riordan at full-back as Old Belvedere chase their first win in three league outings. That is the only personnel change ‘Belvo supremo Andy Kenny has made to the side that was held scoreless in the second half of their 20-12 reversal at Buccaneers.

Ballymena were double-scores winners (28-14) when they entertained Belvedere back in December, but they were disappointed not to wrestle the Ulster Senior Cup away from City of Armagh last week. Like ‘Belvo, the Braidmen had lapses in the second half which they were left to rue in a 9-7 final defeat.

With injuries and unavailability having an impact, Ballymena bring Josh Bill, James Taggart, JJ McKee and Dominic Gallagher into their pack, with Tim Small recovering from an eye injury to replace the sidelined Rodger McBurney at full-back. Darrell Montgomery, Jonny McMullan and Glenn Baillie also start in a Bruce Houston and Michael Stronge-led back-line.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 9, 2017: Old Belvedere 26 Ballymena 7, Anglesea Road; Saturday, December 1, 2018: Ballymena 28 Old Belvedere 14, Eaton Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win

CITY OF ARMAGH (6th) v BUCCANEERS (8th), Palace Grounds, 3pm

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: LDWLWWLWWLD; Buccaneers: LLWLLLWLLWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Cormac Fox 55; Tries: Andrew Smyth 4; Buccaneers: Points: Luke Carty 89; Tries: Darragh Corbett, Shane Layden 4 each

Preview: Despite being held try-less by Ballymena, City of Armagh celebrated back-to-back Ulster Senior Cup titles thanks to out-half Cormac Fox’s trio of penalties. The victory came at a cost with full-back Ryan Purvis’ AC joint injury ruling him out, but Nigel Simpson, Daryl Morton and Harry Boyd are back available.

It is one win apiece from Buccaneers’ two recent meetings with Armagh. The Pirates took the spoils in Athlone with a 24-17 league victory in December before Armagh triumphed 29-13 last month to book their Bateman Cup final place. However, Buccs are looking stronger now following back-to-back wins over Old Belvedere and Ballymena.

The midlanders are now out of the bottom two and only four points behind sixth-placed Armagh. Their talismanic centre and captain Shane Layden has scored four tries in the last three games, and John Sutton, who was part of the trophy-winning Ireland Club XV squad, is set for a big battle at hooker with Andrew Smyth, Armagh’s leading try scorer (four tries).

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 1, 2018: Buccaneers 24 City of Armagh 17, Dubarry Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win