All-Ireland League Division 2B resumes tonight with Skerries, who have fallen to eighth place, looking to make home advantage count against Dublin rivals Wanderers. MU Barnhall could go a step closer to the perfect season and secure promotion with two rounds to spare when they visit fourth-placed Sligo tomorrow.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, March 23
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Skerries (8th) v Wanderers (6th), Holmpatrick, tonight, 8pm
A north-versus-south Dublin derby gets the Division 2B action underway this weekend. Skerries were the only team to drop down a place in the last round, a dogged five-try effort away to Greystones – including a superb team try finished off by replacement Mark Oliver – earning them a bonus point.
Skerries’ old defensive frailties were evident as ‘Stones built a 33-5 lead with 42 minutes on the clock, so a much-improved first half is top of the Goats’ check list for tomorrow. Three draws, including a 16-all stalemate at Wanderers in October, have held them back from challenging in the top half of the table.
March has not been a good month for Wanderers whose play-off ambitions were severely dented by losses to Belfast Harlequins and Sligo. The 36-29 reversal at the hands of the Yeats men was particularly disappointing given they were outscored by five tries to four at home and failed to profit from a Sligo sin-binning late on.
Belfast Harlequins (9th) v Dungannon (7th), Deramore Park
Relegation-threatened Harlequins gave unbeaten leaders MU Barnhall a right rattle a fortnight ago, pressing right to the end in a 20-17 defeat on the road. Full-back Mark Glover remains a fine finisher in the ‘Quins back-line having touched down twice against the Blue Bulls.
Avenging October’s 16-9 loss to Dungannon would give the Belfast side a huge boost, and head coach Nick Wells is expected to field a largely settled line-up. There is a lot riding on this result for ‘Gannon too, as they could guarantee their Division 2B safety with their fifth victory in seven rounds since the turn of the year.
Nonetheless, the Co. Tyrone outfit have lost all seven of their away league fixtures to date. John Russell and Caolan Mulgrew are back this week to improve Andy Hughes’ selection options, although he may decide to stick with the side that started the 20-17 triumph over Sunday’s Well. Argentinian centre Lucca Avelli led the scoring with 15 points, including a first half try.
Rainey Old Boys (3rd) v Greystones (2nd), Hatrick Park
Former Ulster lock Tim Barker is among Rainey Old Boys’ returning players as they reinforce their starting XV for the visit of second-placed Greystones. Scott McLean, Andrew Damien McMurray, Martin Millar, Andrew Donaghy and Paddy Magowan are also pressing for selection.
A change at openside flanker is necessary with Ulster Under-19 captain Charlie Clarke on Cara Cup duty in Boston with the province’s ‘A’ squad. The injuries are also clearing for Greystones who, as things stand, would host Rainey in a promotion play-off semi-final next month.
Kevin Lewis’ charges have shown their strength in depth and versatility, with Killian Marmion, who tallied up a handsome 18 points against Skerries, switching to scrum half, Matt O’Brien at out-half and Andy Roberts moved to full-back. “I think it’s very important that lads are given a chance to play in different positions, when the need arises due to injuries, or when they are brought on as subs,” he said.
Sunday’s Well (10th) v Galway Corinthians (5th), Irish Independent Park
Sunday’s Well cannot afford another slow start after playing catch-up against too many of their recent opponents. An extremely elusive first win since late October is the carrot in front of Peter Scott’s bottom-placed side who have rallied to pick up losing bonus points in each of the last three rounds.
Talismanic captain Cyprien Jouve’s last-minute try against Dungannon registered their latest bonus point, which keeps them only five behind second-from-bottom Harlequins. A word too for hooker Willie McCarthy who has slotted in almost seamlessly on his step up from junior rugby to senior level.
JP Cooney’s Corinthians have slipped up with back-to-back losses to Dungannon and Rainey, losing crucial ground in the race for the play-offs. Still, a return to winning ways on the all-weather pitch in Cork, combined with favourable results elsewhere, would keep them in contention for a top-four finish.
Sligo (4th) v MU Barnhall (1st), Hamilton Park, 3pm
It is a big weekend for Sligo with their seniors hosting table toppers MU Barnhall and the development team playing in the Connacht Junior Plate final on Sunday. After Kiwi winger Calum Goddard’s hat-trick of tries against Wanderers, one more win could secure a play-off place for Paddy Pearson’s side.
They certainly have a well-balanced team capable of troubling Barnhall’s outstanding record, and did claim the scalps of Rainey and Greystones recently. They finished eight points in arrears (25-17) when they visited the Kildare men in October, the hosts overhauling them with two final quarter tries and a late Stephen O’Dwyer penalty.
Since then the Blue Bulls have really been a class apart. The wing-playing Mellett brothers, Michael and Luke, scored a try apiece during the hard-fought win over ‘Quins. Clinching the Division 2B title and automatic promotion out west would be a fantastic achievement for Tom McKeown and his team-mates, who lost to Rainey at the play-off stage last season.