The leading two clubs face the bottom two in Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division C this weekend, while Tullamore host Midleton in a top four duel in the midlands.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 2C – ROUND 4:
Saturday, October 29
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BALLINA (10th) v INSTONIANS (1st), Heffernan Park
This match-up brings back memories of past meetings between the two teams, including Ballina’s 41-18 Round Robin Series victory at Instonians in April 2018. It was the year of their long-awaited promotion back to the All-Ireland League.
Back to the here and now, it is a reinforced Instonians side that have promotion on their minds. Clem Boyd’s men have already gathered plenty of early season momentum with three bonus point wins on the trot.
Their lineout maul has been in unstoppable form at times, with hooker Neil Saulters helping himself to seven tries so far. Newly-engaged player coach Paul Pritchard leads a dynamic back row combination.
BANGOR (2nd) v BRUFF (9th), Upritchard Park
Bangor fought back to earn a losing bonus point against Ulster rivals Instonians, but it was a frustrating outing for Tom Rock’s side. A high penalty count cost them and they are determined to bounce back to winning ways against Bruff.
“To compete at the top of the league we need to fix up one or two areas and we continue to work hard to do so,” said the Seasiders’ director of rugby Rock. “It is always a tough encounter with Bruff, but we’ll look to make home advantage count.”
Bruff have suffered two losses on the bounce to fall to ninth in the table. Facing the top two, this is an important block of matches for the Limerick men who lost the corresponding fixture 22-13 at Upritchard Park last year.
OMAGH ACADEMICALS (5th) v SUNDAY’S WELL (8th), Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
With one win and four bonus points so far, Omagh sit just outside the top four. Cork opposition again for the Accies on Saturday and they will not want a repeat of their sluggish start in their recent defeat to Midleton.
Captain Ryan Mitchell’s fourth and fifth tries of the campaign launched their fight-back for an eventual losing bonus point in east Cork. For tomorrow’s fourth round clash, Jamie Sproule and Stewart McCain return to the Omagh starting XV.
McCain should have quite a battle at scrum half with Fabien Loughrey, who scored a try and kicked two conversions and a penalty in a 27-9 win for Sunday’s Well at home to Ballina. Reece Mintern and captain Conor O’Brien set the tone for the ‘Well pack.
SKERRIES (6th) v CLONMEL (7th), Holmpatrick
Returning scrum half Ruairi Woods came off the bench to score Skerries’ match-winning try at Bruff. Clonmel, their fourth round visitors, look to have improved a good deal since last season’s 40-14 defeat at Holmpatrick.
Tries from Luke Hogan and Dean Slattery were not enough for the Tipperary side who were overhauled by Tullamore in a wind-hit tussle last time out. They will field a rejigged back-line at the start of this second block of games.
Luke Noonan, who was on the wing last week, pairs up with Alex Sheehan at half-back, Czech international Albert Fronek switches to full-back, and winger Darren Slattery is promoted from Clonmel’s bench. Brian O’Dea and Rob Wynne also come into the back row.
TULLAMORE (4th) v MIDLETON (3rd), Spollanstown
A good early season test of where both clubs are at in terms of their promotion ambitions. Tullamore used a second half wind advantage to triumph 21-18 at Clonmel, winger Liam Farrell’s well-taken 75th-minute try edging them ahead.
With tighthead Mark Kennedy and number 8 Barry Bracken driving them on up front, it was a character-building result for Darin Claasen’s charges and one that bodes well for the rest of their season.
However, in-form Midleton make the trip seeking their third straight victory. Sharpshooting half-back Stuart Lee already has 38 points to his name, while their South African signing JB du Toit opened his AIL try account against Omagh a fortnight ago.