The leading three clubs are all at home in All-Ireland League Division 2B today, including a tasty third-versus-fourth contest at Hatrick Park where Rainey Old Boys have won their last five games.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, February 23
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Galway Corinthians (5th) v Skerries (7th), Corinthian Park
JP Cooney’s Corinthians are back at their Cloonacauneen base after road trips to Sligo and table-topping MU Barnhall. Last week’s 41-10 defeat to the Blue Bulls showed the areas they need to improve in if they want to be playing play-off rugby at the end of the regular season.
Completing a season’s double over Skerries could send them back into the top four. It will take a strong collective performance as the Goats, who were edged out 20-19 in their home fixture in November, have improved since then. They return west a week on from scoring three tries in a 27-all draw with Sligo.
Corinthians’ superior scrum was a key factor in their November victory and it is sure to be an area they will target again. Skerries were resilient that day, hanging in there and almost snatching the result with a late penalty effort. Their captain Mikey Sherlock has started 2019 in very good form with two tries in three outings.
Greystones (2nd) v Belfast Harlequins (9th), Dr. Hickey Park
It is second hosts second-from-bottom on the north Co. Wicklow coastline. There may be 30 points between the sides in the table but you write off Belfast Harlequins at your peril. All three of their wins so far have been on the road, including two in Leinster where they overcame Wanderers (25-24) and Skerries (11-7).
Stringing together scores remains a problem for ‘Quins, though, with the second lowest points-for tally (146) across all five divisions. In contrast, Greystones have been putting their chances away in a variety of ways. Their full-back, captain and goal-kicker Andrew Kealy continues to lead by example with a whopping 148 points to date.
‘Quins fell back into the bottom two last Saturday and need to come out fighting, with fixtures against Wanderers and Barnhall following this rematch with ‘Stones. Big shifts are needed from the likes of skipper Danny Annett, number 8 Ben Alexander and key backs Connor Young and Mark Glover, their try scorer against Rainey Old Boys.
MU Barnhall (1st) v Dungannon (8th), Parsonstown
Gorey recruit Shane Stokes’ impressive form with the Under-20s has been rewarded with a call-up to the MU Barnhall pack for today’s home clash with eighth-placed Dungannon. They have opened up a nine-point lead on Greystones in the race for the title and automatic promotion.
Dungannon’s current league position belies the fact that they gave Barnhall one of their toughest tests so far, finishing only seven points behind them (22-15) when the sides met in Tyrone in November. Hooker Daniel Maxwell is their only change following on from last week’s tidy 25-10 success against Wanderers.
Dungannon boss Andrew Hughes said: “We have to get better at finishing off the opportunities that we’re creating. Barnhall are a very good side, the key to playing them is to stick with them in the first 20 minutes. We have to be switched on defensively right from the off, and if we can disrupt them, I feel we can get something out of the game.”
Rainey Old Boys (3rd) v Sligo (4th), Hatrick Park
A real cracker in prospect with Rainey chasing a season’s double over Sligo, the team closest to them in the current standings. The injury-hit Old Boys, whose most notable absentees include Tim Barker (back) and Michael McCusker (knee), have added a couple of dual-status locks in Lee Bicker (Portadown) and Timmy Woods (Ballymoney).
Woods starts in the second row this afternoon with Mattie Millar moving to openside and captain Paul Pritchard donning the number 8 jersey as the benched George Fritz has a slight knock. Conor Fitzsimons switches to inside centre in place of the unavailable Damien McMurray, with Mark Mulholland taking the wing berth.
Sligo, who lost 27-17 at home to the Magherafelt outfit in November, have made four personnel changes and two positional switches as Niall Gray, Calum Goddard and Philip Carter form a freshened-up back-three and fit-again flanker Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill makes a welcome return on the blindside.
Wanderers (6th) v Sunday’s Well (10th), Merrion Road
It has been a testing start to 2019 for both of these teams with three defeats each since the turn of the year. Bottom side Sunday’s Well have lost eight in a row, but their all-round performance against second-placed Greystones in Cork last Saturday suggests that improved results are on the way.
The selected Wanderers XV shows three changes to the side that went down 25-10 to Dungannon. Belgian Martin Bosch slots back in on the right wing and Ronan O’Mara and Brian Hanratty are added to the front row and back row respectively.
The Chaps will hope that Merrion Road is a happy hunting ground for them again. This is their fourth league outing of the season at the venue and they are unbeaten in the first three – registering victories over both Dungannon (28-3) and Corinthians (14-8) and drawing with Skerries (16-16).