The bottom half of All-Ireland League Division 2B is drawing much of the focus today with five clubs still fighting to avoid the relegation play-off spot. Meanwhile, title winners MU Barnhall head north in pursuit of their 18th and final win against Rainey Old Boys, one of the teams preparing for the promotion play-offs.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, April 13
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Belfast Harlequins (6th) v Galway Corinthians (9th), Deramore Park
Belfast Harlequins and Corinthians are two of the five teams who could still finish in the dreaded relegation play-off spot. The Galway side currently occupy ninth place, but only two points separate them from Wanderers in fifth and a losing bonus point may even prove enough in the final shake-up.
The well-thumbed form book points to a home win here as Corinthians have lost their last four games, while Nick Wells’ Harlequins triumphed against Dungannon (10-8) and relegated Sunday’s Well (54-19) most recently. Last week’s trip to Cork saw scrum half Connor Young score an impressive 17 points.
With Mark Kettyle and Callum Leckey both unavailable for this final round fixture, Paul Kerr and Danny Annett come in at inside centre and lock respectively. They are the only two changes for ‘Quins who finished second-from-bottom twelve months ago and held onto their Division 2B status via the play-offs.
Greystones (2nd) v Wanderers (5th), Dr. Hickey Park
A Leinster derby with a lot more than just bragging rights on the line, particularly for Wanderers. Four successive defeats have left the Chaps in a worrying position, lying in mid-table but with only a two-point advantage over Corinthians in ninth. In addition, their hosts will not be too accommodating.
Greystones, who have been a solid second to MU Barnhall for much of the season, are looking to tune up for the promotion play-offs with another win in front of their home support. A season’s double is on the cards as ‘Stones’ fight-back from last year’s relegation began with that memorable 24-17 success against Wanderers under the Aviva Stadium floodlights.
Centre Ryan O’Loughlin caught the eye for the Wicklow men at Corinthians last Saturday afternoon, his defence-splitting break setting up Andy Roberts’ try and he deservedly claimed the second from his own 50-metre surge to the whitewash. Wanderers’ midfield defence has been warned.
Rainey Old Boys (3rd) v MU Barnhall (1st), Hatrick Park
Despite no impact to the final league placings, there is plenty of interest in this clash between two of the division’s most consistent teams. New champions MU Barnhall are 80 minutes away from a perfect season of 18 straight wins, a feat not achieved in the league since Terenure College in Division 1B in 2014/15.
While Barnhall’s season comes to a close today, Rainey Old Boys are hoping to prolong theirs past Easter weekend. This is an ideal warm-up for next Saturday’s promotion play-off semi-final trip to Greystones, with head coach John Andrews having a full 39 players at training on Thursday and huge competition for places.
Taking the opportunity to rest captain Paul Pritchard and others, Andrews retains only six players in the starting XV from their 49-3 win at Wanderers. The history-chasing Blue Bulls will field their strongest possible line-up, with back-three flyers Eoghain Quinn and Michael Mellett aiming to follow up on the braces they scored against Skerries.
Skerries (7th) v Dungannon (8th), Holmpatrick
Argentinian ace Lucca Avelli is back at out-half for Dungannon’s must-win encounter with Skerries, who also need the points to get to safety. Poor decision-making has let ‘Gannon down and contributed to narrow back-to-back losses, albeit that they made a bright start against Sligo with two early tries.
They are expected to field a similar side in Dublin today, although John Buckley could step in at full-back with doubts over Andrew McGregor’s availability and Jordan McIlwaine (calf). Skerries went down by 31 points at Barnhall but have won their two most recent home games against Rainey and Wanderers.
A close contest looks likely here, in the same vein as September’s league opener when Dungannon prevailed 28-25, holding off a three-try fight-back from the Goats who had a brace from winger Kevin McGrath. ‘Gannon are hoping to give a winning send-off to team manager Brian ‘Maxi’ McGowan, who is stepping after 24 years in the role.
Sligo (4th) v Sunday’s Well (10th), Hamilton Park
Sligo have done really to mount a third successive challenge for promotion having come up from Division 2C as champions last year. They will want to put in a momentum-building performance against relegated Sunday’s Well, with next Saturday’s promotion/relegation play-off semi-final at Blackrock College on the horizon.
The ‘Well’s consistent streak deserted them this season. The year had begun so promisingly for them with three wins out of four and they have some fine players in captain Cyprien Jouve, Conor O’Brien and Cormac Kelliher. Their ups and downs were summed up by the last two results – a 55-13 home win followed by a 54-19 home loss.
Sligo head coach Paddy Pearson has taken the opportunity to rest some players and keep the competition for places high. There are six personnel changes and two positional switches – Euan Brown moves to full-back with Mark Butler at number 10. Front rowers Conor Mitchell and James O’Hehir are promoted from the bench.