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All-Ireland League: Division 2B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2B Previews

Skerries are looking to avenge a 37-30 away loss to Rainey Old Boys when they entertain the Magherafelt club at Holmpatrick ©David Ribeiro/M. Lee Media

It is another busy afternoon in Division 2B of the All-Ireland League where Cork-bound front runners MU Barnhall are chasing their 14th win in-a-row, while second-placed Greystones face a tricky assignment away to Sligo, another of the promotion-chasing sides.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, March 2

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Belfast Harlequins (9th) v Wanderers (6th), Deramore Park

The two bonus points picked up at Greystones last Saturday may prove very important for relegation-threatened Belfast Harlequins in the long run. Their outside backs impressed with Mark Glover (2), Kyle Adams and James McConnell sharing out the tries in a doughty 28-26 defeat.

Rory Winters’ unavailability today prompts the only personnel change for ‘Quins as Mark McGrath is promoted from the bench to start at hooker. Visitors Wanderers, who still have a shot at finishing third or fourth, will be gunning for revenge after losing 25-24 at home to the Belfast side in November.

The Chaps have also made a single change for the rematch, beefing up their scrum with the addition of former Ireland Under-20 international Diarmuid Higgins. Centres Martin O’Neill and Rob O’Beirn will be looking to make a big impact again, with the former crossing for a try against Sunday’s Well and O’Beirn involved in winning a penalty try.

Dungannon (8th) v Galway Corinthians (5th), Stevenson Park

If Dungannon could match the effort, intensity and accuracy of their performance against MU Barnhall each week, they would be much further up the table. Instead, the losing bonus point at Parsonstown keeps them just above the bottom two and they remain a couple of wins away from safety.

‘Gannon boss Andy Hughes is expected to swap Malcolm Allister in for Daniel Maxwell at hooker, while lock Alex Gormley’s shoulder injury may force a further change up front. Hughes’ charges need no reminding that they lost 36-12 away to Corinthians whose back-line looked particularly sharp against Skerries.

The Galway men came through a thrill-a-minute encounter with Skerries, emerging with all five points as out-half Simon Keller, who tallied up 25 points, Mark McDermott and two-try winger Micheal O’Reilly all shone. Plenty will be riding on the scrum battle today with both packs renowned for their set piece work.

Skerries (7th) v Rainey Old Boys (3rd), Holmpatrick

Skerries could have won at both Sligo and Corinthians in the last two rounds, but two points from each game keeps them in seventh spot. They ran in seven tries and scored 65 points across the two fixtures, so their attack is potent with cousins Mikey and Evan Sherlock now chasing their third tries in as many games.

Defensive frailties continue to let the Goats down, with an average of 26.6 points conceded per match. In contrast, third-placed Rainey’s try-scoring efforts were thwarted by Sligo last Saturday in a 16-12 reversal. Injuries are hampering their selection with dual status and seconds players called up.

Rainey boss John Andrews has made four personnel changes, boosted by the return of winger Michael O’Neill and number 8 George Fritz from their respective injuries. Lock Cameron Stewart replaces Timmy Woods who has returned to Ballymoney, while Ulster Under-19 captain Charlie Clarke resumes in the back row following a two-match suspension.

Sligo (4th) v Greystones (2nd), Hamilton Park

This is shaping up to be arguably the match of the day in the division. Two promotion-chasing teams with a lot of ambition, and the margin should be a lot closer than November’s runaway 42-0 victory for Greystones. Sligo, in fourth, are sure to provide some pitfalls for the second-placed side in Strandhill.

Scottish youngster Euan Brown starred at out-half for Sligo at Rainey, kicking three penalties and setting up Calum Goddard’s try with a pinpoint cross-field kick. Those losses to Barnhall have slowed Greystones’ scoring rate but their next place-kick or try will see them pass 400 points for the campaign.

‘Stones head coach Kevin Lewis will be drilling it into his players that they cannot afford to lapse like they did against Harlequins, losing a 21-5 lead and needing winger Matt O’Brien’s 68th-minute try – and Killian Marmion’s terrific touchline conversion – to prevail by just two points. Number 8 Ronan Mannion’s late try-saving tackle was also crucial.

Sunday’s Well (10th) v MU Barnhall (1st), Irish Independent Park

It is top versus bottom as unbeaten table toppers Barnhall pay a visit to struggling Sunday’s Well, who have now lost nine matches on the bounce. Indeed, that losing streak began four months ago when the Blue Bulls beat them 27-7 with free-scoring full-back Eoghain Quinn grabbing the first of their five tries that day.

Vastly-experienced hooker Gareth Murray and blindside Paul Nalty, another try scorer in the November tie, are the changes up front from Barnhall’s hard-fought 20-13 win over Dungannon. Stephen Dwyer’s promotion from the bench to inside centre sees Luke Mellett switch to the left wing.

Their five losing bonus points so far mean that Sunday’s Well are not detached at the foot of the table. A single victory could change their season around, but it is unlikely to come here given Barnhall are determined to maintain their 100% winning record and stay clear of Greystones in the race for the title and automatic promotion.