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All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 1B Previews

In-form Buccaneers are gunning for revenge when they host Ballynahinch in Division 1B of the All-Ireland League this weekend ©Hugh Wilkinson

Ballymena are holding on at the bottom of the table and need a huge performance and result against Ulster rivals Banbridge, while the rest of Saturday’s Division 1B schedule is dotted with juicy clashes including current leaders Old Wesley’s trip to sixth-placed Naas.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, March 9

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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BALLYMENA (10th) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Eaton Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballymena: LLWLLLWWWLLLLL; Banbridge: LWWWLLWLLWWLLL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 103; Tries: Connor Smyth 5; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 78; Tries: Peter Cromie 7

Preview: The trap door to Division 2A is opening below Ballymena who, despite creating a high number of scoring chances, fell to a 27-15 defeat at City of Armagh last week. They are hoping to have Ulster’s John Andrews and Clive Ross available for this latest provincial derby in the second tier.

Three straight losses have seen Banbridge slip into the bottom two, but they are boosted for tomorrow’s trip by the presence of Ulster’s James Hume and Michael Lowry in their back-line, with the latter partnering Jonny Stewart at half-back. Another provincial player, Greg Jones, and Peter Cromie, Corrie Barrett and Robin Sinton are the changes up front.

Banbridge boss Simon McKinstry is expecting ‘a difficult game’ from the Braidmen who are scrapping for their lives. Bann had 30 points to spare when they hosted Ballymena at Rifle Park in late October. The outcome of this eagerly-awaited rematch could have a big bearing on promotion and relegation matters.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 23, 2013: Ballymena 15 Banbridge 17, Eaton Park ; Saturday, October 27, 2018: Banbridge 38 Ballymena 8, Rifle Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win

BUCCANEERS (7th) v BALLYNAHINCH (3rd), Dubarry Park

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LLWLLLWLLWWLWW; Ballynahinch: LDWWLWWLWLWLWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Luke Carty 106; Tries: Darragh Corbett, Shane Layden, Simon Meagher 4 each; Ballynahinch: Points: Johnny McPhillips 31; Tries: Rhys O’Donnell 6

Preview: The big encounters are coming thick and fast for Buccaneers who, having climbed up to seventh spot, are determined to continue on an upward curve. The midlanders have won four out of five and picked up a try-scoring bonus point in October’s 42-31 loss to Ballynahinch despite a series of hampering injuries.

Third-placed ‘Hinch are also a team in very good form, winning in three of the last four rounds. There were no additional injuries from their 13-5 comeback win over Naas, although second row James Simpson remains doubtful and fellow forwards Ollie Loughead and Aaron Hall are both sidelined.

The Co. Down outfit had Johnny McPhillips, Zack McCall and Jack Regan available last week, with out-half McPhillips landing some important kicks in very windy conditions. Backs Richard Reaney and Rhys O’Donnell had fond memories of the fourth round meetings when they scored a combined five tries against Buccs.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 15, 2017: Buccaneers 40 Ballynahinch 10, Dubarry Park; Saturday, October 27, 2018: Ballynahinch 42 Buccaneers 31, Ballymacarn Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win

CITY OF ARMAGH (4th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (5th), Palace Grounds

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: LDWLWWLWWLDWLW; St. Mary’s College: WLLWLWWWLLLWLW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Cormac Fox 68; Tries: Andrew Smyth, Neil Faloon 4 each; St. Mary’s College: Points: Conor Dean 69; Tries: Hugo Conway 4

Preview: City of Armagh and St. Mary’s College, who both returned to winning ways last week, are separated by just two points in the table. Armagh will be out for revenge after losing 27-11 to Mary’s back in October, a game in which current Ireland Under-20 internationals Cormac Foley and Ronan Watters both touched down.

Armagh front rowers Jonny and Daryl Morton are back in the selection mix, with the latter getting game-time for the seconds. “Our defence did us proud against Ballymena,” said head coach Willie Faloon, “but we’ll have to step up a few more rungs in the ladder to get a result against St. Mary’s.”

Mary’s boss Steven Hennessy praised his side’s defensive grit after they edged out Old Belvedere last Saturday. Every point counts with teams bunching at both ends of the table. “We moved up to fifth and yet we’re three points off the relegation play-off spot. It’s a crazy league, it’s unbelievable,” said Hennessy.

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 27, 2018: St. Mary’s College 27 City of Armagh 11, Templeville Road

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Armagh to win

NAAS (6th) v OLD WESLEY (1st), Forenaughts

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: WWLWWLLLLWDLWL; Old Wesley: WDLWLWLWWWLWWW
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 115; Tries: Andy Ellis 8; Old Wesley: Points: Rory Stynes 133; Tries: Paul Harte 5

Preview: The Ireland Club XV coaches go head-to-head as Morgan Lennon’s table-topping Old Wesley side visit a Naas team licking their wounds after two defeats in the last three rounds. Johne Murphy’s men were 31-23 winners when the clubs met under the Energia Park floodlights in November.

Tomorrow’s victors will claim vital league points and also lift the Stephen Mooney Memorial Cup. There are five places and eight points currently between these Leinster rivals, who boast the division’s two leading scorers in Wesley full-back Rory Stynes (133 points) and versatile Naas back Peter Osborne (115).

Wesley’s enviable away form in Ulster shows they relish these road trips, short or long. Another successful outing would cement them as the team to beat over the final three rounds of an enthralling promotion race. Naas, though, are always tough to beat at home, especially if Murphy, Peter Hastie and Osborne can get the back-line firing on all cylinders.

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 9, 2017: Old Wesley 23 Naas 23, Donnybrook; Friday, November 9, 2018: Old Wesley 23 Naas 31, Energia Park, Donnybrook

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Wesley to win

OLD BELVEDERE (8th) v MALONE (2nd), Anglesea Road

All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WDLLWLLWWLLWWL; Malone: WWLWWWLLLWWWLL
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie 105; Tries: Jack Keating 10; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 75; Tries: Rory Campbell, Peter Cooper 4 each

Preview: Old Belvedere head coach Andrew Kenny has made five personnel changes to the side that lost 10-7 to St. Mary’s, including the selection of former England Counties Under-20 full-back Toby Robinson. Centre Jamie McAleese and forwards James Bollard, Ethan Baxter and Eoin Sweeney are also drafted in.

Malone went down by five points to Buccaneers, suffering their second successive defeat. The fit-again Ben McCaughey, who scored three tries earlier in the season, returns on the right wing, and the other changes are up front with Ben Halliday added to the front row and James McAllister partnering Matthew Dalton at lock.

‘Belvo boss Kenny commented: “There’s nobody stretching ahead, there’s no easy games in the league. Every game is incredibly tight. We’re five points behind Malone who are second – there’s nothing in it. Our home form for the last couple of weeks has been good, we’re hoping we can get the win back in Anglesea Road.”

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 27, 2018: Malone 39 Old Belvedere 8, Gibson Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win