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All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

Tim Wallace secures lineout possession for Division 2C leaders Ballina during their recent defeat to Malahide at Estuary Road ©Ballina RFC

The All-Ireland League Division 2C champions, the three promotion play-off teams and the side relegated to junior rugby could all be decided shortly after 4pm today as there are high stakes in every match of the penultimate round.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, April 6

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Ballina (1st) v Tullamore (9th), Heffernan Park

It could be a very special day in the history of Ballina RFC as they stand on the brink of winning the All-Ireland League Division 2C title, just a year on from their rise from the junior ranks. Relegation-threatened Tullamore stand in their way and are desperate for points coming into the final two rounds.

The second-from-bottom Tulliers always bring a high level of physicality and they make two personnel changes to the team that went down 31-5 at Bruff. Experienced prop Ger Molloy comes in at tighthead and Steven Pyke is named at openside flanker with Kevin Browne shifting to openside.

Despite their obvious disappointment at losing 38-17 away to Malahide, Ballina have had two weeks to get over that result and Heffernan Park has witnessed a perfect eight wins out of eight so far. Winger Bradley Nealon and number 8 Aiden McNulty are added to the starting XV as they chase a title-clinching ninth home victory.

City of Derry (7th) v Bruff (3rd), Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road

Another huge encounter with everything on the line for both teams. City of Derry remain in a dangerous position, lying just one point above the bottom two with the worst scoring differential (-167) of the sides around them. Visitors Bruff still have work to do in terms of cementing a promotion play-off place.

If this was the final table, the Limerick men would be away to second-placed Midleton in a promotion semi-final. However, in an intriguing finale, Bruff host the Corkmen in the final round next week and could yet overhaul them in the standings. There is no way Noel Davis will be allowing his players to look past Derry.

Derry are without Ireland Under-19 call-up Conor McMenamin, but Craig Huey steps in at number 8 and Simon Logue returns at full-back in a rejigged back-line. Winger Graham Whelan and hooker Rob Coates has been drafted into the Bruff selection, with captain John Clery and Mike Cooke redeployed to the blindside and number 8 respectively.

Malahide (4th) v Omagh (5th), Estuary Road

The equation is straightforward here – a home win for fast-finishing Malahide would confirm their place in the promotion play-offs and end Omagh’s hopes. If the outcome is reversed, the Accies will take the battle for fourth spot, and possibly third, down to the final weekend.

February and March have been profitable months for Malahide with five wins in a row, including that bonus point success at home to Ballina. They scored five tries against the league leaders, including a couple from a scrum and a maul and also a well-taken intercept effort from former Connacht back Danie Poolman.

Compared to the team that started their 24-10 victory over Thomond, Omagh boss Phil Marshall has promoted lock Jonny Sproule, centre Peter Scott and full-back Neil Brown from the bench. Marshall’s charges are chasing a season’s double over the Dubliners after winning 32-17 at home back in October.

Midleton (2nd) v Seapoint (6th), Towns Park

Second-placed Midleton won four of their five matches across February and March to keep the pressure on Ballina, but the destination of the league trophy may be out of their hands now. They dug out an extremely hard-fought 22-20 win at Bangor thanks to Stuart Lee’s last-minute drop goal.

Josh Deady and Rian Hogan, both in the back-three, lock Charlie Murphy and number 8 Rob Carey are the four personnel changes for the east Cork outfit’s final home game of the league phase. Visitors Seapoint, who lost 25-10 to Midleton in round 2, put together back-to-back wins last month.

Seapoint’s 33-13 triumph over Derry, which saw blindside flanker Peter Hipple produce a man-of-the-match performance, moved them up three places to sixth. Eric Miller has freshened up his starting line-up, bringing in number 8 Cian O’Gorman and backs Declan Byrne and Adam Philpott. Brian Guerin reverts to full-back.

Thomond (10th) v Bangor (8th), Liam Fitzgerald Park

Bottom side Thomond failed to pick up a point from their trip to Omagh, making it five defeats in a row. Although eight points adrift with two rounds to go, the Soda Cakes still have a fighting chance as they wrap up the league with fixtures against two sides who are also battling relegation – Bangor and Seapoint.

They need to take the positives from building an early 10-point lead against the Accies forward into this game. Number 8 Wayne Mullaney is Thomond’s only change up front, while a back-line reshuffle sees David O’Halloran at inside centre, Dermot Fitzgerald at full-back and Evan Cusack at out-half.

It seems a long time since Bangor put six tries past Thomond in a 39-10 bonus point victory to sit top of the table back in early October. Determined to put two recent narrow losses behind them, the Seasiders will need big performances in Limerick from captain David Bradford, Liam Preston and Mark Widdowson, who touched down twice in the first meeting.