Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ulster Bank League Previews: Saturday 15th February

Ulster Bank League Previews: Saturday 15th February

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 1A

BALLYNAHINCH (9th) v OOLD BELVEDERE (2nd)

Another daunting fixture for the County Down side at Ballymacarn Park. Belvedere sit joint top of Division 1A with Clontarf on 40 points. Three of their team, Daniel Riordan, Dean Moore and Declan Lavery, played for the Ireland Club XV who defeated Scotland 28-3 in Cork last Friday. 'Hinch Captain, Stuart Morrow was also a member of the team. With six games remaining, coaches Derek Suffern and Charlie McAleese will look to their players to upset the form book against the Leinster side. Every game is a cup final for the 'Hinch players between now and 19th April. When the two sides met in Dublin in November, Ballynahinch lost 30-26 and another defeat looks likely.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 1B

DUNGANNON (10th) v SHANNON (6th)

A must win game for the County Tyrone side this weekend. With two games in hand, sixth placed Shannon would still harbour promotion ambitions this season. Several of the Shannon side including Luke O'Dea, Lee Nicholas, Niall Horan, Conor Glynn and Aidan Butler were involved with the Munster A side in their 15-13 win over Connacht Eagles at the Showgrounds last Friday. Centre Tadhg Leader was on the bench for the Connacht 1st XV at the weekend, while Munster player Paddy Butler has also been playing for the Shannon side. So the task confronting the Stevenson Park side will be challenging. Dungannon coach Paddy Johns will be looking to the release of Ulster players Peter Nelson, Adam Macklin and Paul Jackson to strengthen his playing resources. The return of Ulster Ravens player James McMahon from injury has been timely for the Dungannon side. Injuries continue to rule out Mark Jenkinson and Michael Dunleavy. When the two sides met in October, Shannon recorded a 17-6 home win and they will be favourites again.

BELFAST HARLEQUINS (5th) v TERENURE COLLEGE (1st)

A difficult trip to dublin for the Deramore side this weekend to face undefeated league leaders Terenure College. When the two sides met at Deramore Park in October, the visitors left with a narrow 12-13 win. Injuries in the Ulster squad will potentially deprive the Belfast side of their influential second row Neil McComb. Coach Adam Larkin will be hoping that fellow Ulster players Ricky Lutton, Michael Heaney and Rory Scholes will be released this weekend. Once again captain Neil Simpson will be looking to Ulster Ravens back row forward Daniel Dass and backs Liam Cambridge and Mark Best to keep their winning run in the Ulster Bank League going after three consecutive wins. After their surprise 18-7 defeat in the Ulster Senior League at Armagh last Friday night, the 'Quins side will want to bounce back with a UBL win. Terenure College to win.

MALONE (7th) v UL BOHEMIANS (4th)

After their backs-to-the-wall win over Buccaneers two weeks ago, the East Belfast side will travel with confidence to Limerick to face a UL Bohs outfit that emphatically defeated them 6-31 at Gibson Park in October. Despite losing their Senior League game 14-3 at Ballymena, coaches Jacque Benade and Gareth Fry will have been pleased by the performance of their squad players. The unavailability of forwards player/coach Michael Ferguson this weekend will be felt by this young side who are starting to show their potential. Ulster Raven Conor Joyce has been the outstanding forward for Malone in the Ulster Bank League, while captain Neil Alcorn along with back row James McAllister and hooker Daryl Maxwell will have key roles to play in dominating the forward exchanges against a physical UL pack. Backs Michael Barker, Nathan Barker and Mark Gribben will have key defensive roles. Bohs players Kevin O'Byrne, Mike Lynch and David Johnston were involved with the Munster A team against Connacht Eagles last weekend. Their number 8 Jack O'Donoghue has been in outstanding form for the Ireland U20s during the present Six Nations campaign. UL have lost their last two Ulster Bank League games at Belfast Harlequins and at home to Terenure College. A difficult game to call.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2A

BALLYMENA (5th) v BECTIVE RANGERS (10th)

The Eaton Park side will look to bounce back from back-to-back defeats against Cashel and City of Derry in the Ulster Bank League. Coach Andy Graham was impressed by the intensity of the performance of his side in their win over Malone last week. He will look for a similar performance when they entertain Dublin side Bective Rangers this weekend. Bective have only won one out of five of their last UBL games. The Ballymena side welcomed the return of fullback Timothy Small against Malone. Hughes Insurance Academy prop Andy Warwick looks an outstanding prospect for Ballymena and Ulster with his scrumaging ability and work rate in the loose. In number seven Michael Entwhistle they have a back row forward who is very competitive at the breakdown and secures ball for his forwards. Expect the Ballymena side to return to winning ways.

BANBRIDGE (12th) v HIGHFIELD (13th)

Another crucial game for Daniel Soper and his players. With a rearranged game at Bruff next Saturday, these are two fixtures the Rifle Park side will want to win as they look to push clear of the relegation zone. Cork side Highfield have strung together three wins in the UBL and surprised promotion contenders City of Derry at Judges Road when they won 14-17 two weeks ago. The Bann pack will have to put in another big shift if they are to build a platform for their talented backline. Expect another closely contested game. Can scrumhalf Ian Porter inspire his team to a much needed win?

CITY OF DERRY (4th) v OLD WESLEY (9th)

The North West side have slipped up in recent weeks after a 8-3 win over Ballymena. They have lost their last two UBL games against Banbridge and Highfield. A 12-40 win at Ards last Saturday in the Ulster Senior League will have lifted confidence in the playing squad. Coaches Mark Nicholl and Ashley Blair know that nothing less than a win is important for their side to maintain their promotion hopes. This will be another tricky game for the Judges Road side as Queen's struggled to defeat Old Wesley 18-10 at home two weeks ago. They cannot allow a 14-0 lead to slip as happened against Highfield where their forwards were outplayed. Old Wesley are a much improved team and will provide stiff opposition. Derry need to play for eighty minutes if they are to take the four points in this game but they should manage just that.

QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY (3rd) v RAINEY OLD BOYS (8th)

Ten points separate these two sides in the league. Queen's won a morale boosting Senior League fixture at Hatrick Park by 5-25 last Saturday to give them a psychological advantage going into this match on Saturday. Rainey know that with a rearranged game against Old Wesley the following weekend they have the opportunity to close the gap on the top sides if they can secure back to back wins. Rainey won their last two AIL games against Barnhall and Naas to turn around a losing run. Queen's will welcome back outhalf Ritchie McMaster after his winning debut for the Ireland Club XV against Scotland last weekend. Both sides are well matched up front with Queen's having the cutting edge in their backs with Skipper Stuart McIIwaine, Michael McAuley, Damon Hall and Chris Colvin providing a real cutting edge to their backline. Queen's to win.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2B

ARMAGH (4th) v SUTTONIANS (16th)

A potential banana skin for Coach Andy Hughes and his Armagh team, playing the bottom side. Their impressive 18-7 win over the in-form Belfast Harlequins last Friday night at the Palace Grounds will serve notice that the Orchard County side know they can't afford any slip ups as they push for promotion with five games remaining. With Suttonians the only side in the Ulster Bank League yet to win a game, the Armagh players will be looking for the maximum five points. Halfbacks Harry Doyle and Captain Richard Reaney, along with former Ulster centre Seamus Mallon, have crucial roles to play on Saturday. The backs will look for their hard working forwards to build that platform for their pacey backs to score tries. One player who is catching the eye for Armagh this season has been hard running number 8 Darryl Morton who continues to pose problems for opposition defences with his line breaks. Armagh to win with relative ease.

ARDS (11th) v GREYSTONES (2nd)

On paper you would have to say a Greystones win. Since the turn of the year Ards have beaten promotion contenders Skerries and lost narrowly away to Richmond and Navan. Ards will travel with a strong squad missing the unavailable Michael Creighton. The form of former youth players Gareth McBurney in the second row and Conrad Stewart at hooker on the 1st XV will encourage other players to push for senior places from the club's successful youth structure. Greystones have won their last four league games at home in the UBL. Can Ards succeed where other Ulster sides have failed? Unlikely.

INSTONIANS (15th) v TULLAMORE (7th)

Alarm bells are ringing at Shaw's Bridge as the Instonians team play two crucial games at home in successive weeks against Tullamore and DLSP. Nothing less than two wins will be required as Coach William Leacock looks to rally his players with five  games remaining. A rallying call has went out to the Instonians faithful to get behind the team over the next two weekends. Players such as Conor Young, Andy McKeen, Peter Stewart and Paddy Marks will have to lead from the front as the team fight to retain their senior status. Several defeats have been by narrow margins. A repeat of the performance against Ards would ease their relegation worries. Instonians to win.