In Div 2 we congratulate Coleraine Head coach Richard Boyd and his team on winning Div 2 despite their 23 - 16 loss at 3rd place Grosvenor. The losing bonus point was sufficient to win the title. We still have a contest between CIYMS and Grosvenor for 2nd place and the playoffs with CIYMS very much in pole position with two league games remaining. With UUC losing at Academy, Lisburn have secured their place in Div 2 next season. UUC will face a playoff match with the 2nd place team in Div 3 to remain in Div 2.
In Div 3 Ballymoney have a four point advantage on 2nd place PSNI and are expected to extend that lead when they play struggling Ophir in a rearranged match on Saturday.
What has been particularly pleasing in the rugby championship this season is the number of young players coming through to attract a lot of attention including Robert Balacoune at Enniskillen, Philip Wilson at Clogher Valley, James Catterson, Mark Brown and Scott Barr at Omagh, Dean Jones and Matthew Coulter at Ballyclare and Mark Keane, Andrew McGregor Corrie Barrett, and Conor Gallagher at Instonians. These are just a number of the talented young players playing club rugby.
Looking at the Ulster Bank All Ireland League fixtures last weekend it was a good weekend for Banbridge, Belfast Harlequins, Armagh and Dungannon who all recorded wins. Sadly Ballynahinch, Ballymena, Malone, Queens Uni, City of Derry, Rainey OB and Bangor all lost.
Banbridge consolidated their place at the top of Div 2A and look favourites to win the automatic promotion place with three games remaining. In the same division it is looking like a contest between Malone and Queens Uni for 4th place and the play offs.
Armagh are level on points with Greystones as both teams chase the automatic promotion place in Div 2B.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 1 ROUND 18/18
Ballyclare (3) v Cooke (8)
Dromore (9) v Portadown (5)
Enniskillen (4) v Clogher Valley(7)
Instonians (2) v Ards (10)
Omagh (1) v Carrickfergus (6)
Ballyclare v Cooke
Defeat at home to Instonians 8 -5 last week will deny Ballyclare the opportunity to challenge for the league this Saturday in their final league match of the season at home to Cooke. Head coach Mike McKeever will be disappointed his team have not picked up any silverware this season. They reached the quarter finals of the All Ireland Junior Cup, Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup, River Rock Towns Cup and will finish third in Division One. The team have made considerable progress after returning to Div 1 three seasons ago. They will again represent Ulster in the All Ireland Junior Cup next season by finishing in the top four of the league.
Cooke once again find themselves involved in a relegation contest with little to chose between themselves Dromore and Clogher Valley in the contest to avoid finishing in 9th place.
When these two teams met at Shaws bridge on the 19.11.16 Ballyclare won a tight match 23 - 18.
Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever remains positive despite his team losing 8 - 5 at home to rivals Instonians last Saturday at the Cloughan. Two weeks ago he was of the opinion that this league would finish with two teams level on points. Ballyclare having beaten Omagh twice, Omagh beating Instonians twice and Instonians beating Ballyclare twice has been an interesting statistic this season with Ballyclare only losing one league game at home.
It has been an excellent season for Ballyclare with the exciting run in the league. The odds are clearly in favour of Omagh to win the league. Whatever way it finishes for Ballyclare and Instonians the deserving team will finish first. Ballyclare have had two cracking games in the last two weeks against Omagh away and Instonians at home.
As a 1st xv the team Ballyclare have improved hugely from their league position last season, but most importantly in how they play rugby. Attendance at training has created a much stronger squad that has challenged the coaches in selection throughout the season. The coach thanks 1st manager Stephen Crawford who runs and maintains a very happy camp at the club.
Selection for the match with Cooke has to be decided. It has been about trying to get a balance and performance to win the match against Shaws bridge side on Saturday. It is about rewarding the regulars who have trained and represented the 1st xv this season but also to look to play 2nd xv players who in any other season would have got an opportunity but didn't due to a strong run of league form from all that represented the 1st xv this season.
Cooke Head coach Colin Atkinson was not surprised by the performance of Dromore in their 24 - 19 defeat at Instonians on Tuesday night. There is a desire amongst the three teams Cooke, CV, and Dromore not to be involved in the play off game that has driven the teams to raise their game with the contest looking as if it will go down to the wire.
For this weekend at Ballyclare, Philip Cartmill, Russell Hunter and Matthew Crothers will return to the playing squad after being unavailable for the Omagh match with Kyle Mitchell, Curtis Montgomery and Alan Gourley all unavailable. The coach is expecting a reshuffle to his starting xv with selection being finalised on Thursday night.
Dromore v Portadown
With one point separating Dromore, Cooke and Clogher Valley in the battle to avoid finishing in 9th place Dromore have responded from a poor run of results to defeat Ards 67 - 0 last week. They were unlucky to lose a tense and competitive contest with Instonians on Tuesday night at Shaws bridge. It required a late converted try for Instonians to win a highly entertaining game 24 - 19 that was played in front of a sizeable crowd. Dromore have one game left to play this weekend. Nothing less than a win will be required over neighbours Portadown at Barben Hill to keep the team in Div 1 next season.
Portadown are involved in a battle with Enniskillen to finish in 4th place and qualify for the All Ireland junior Cup next season. Their aspirations were not helped by a 31 - 13 home defeat to Enniskillen last Sat. They face two difficult away games with Dromore and Carrick on the 25th March to secure that all important 4th place.
Dromore Head coach Jonny Cullen has been pleased with the attitude of his players over the two matches against Ards and Instonians. Getting that first win over Ards after a long spell without a win was always going to be the hard one. With confidence up and the team near to full strength there was a belief amongst the players they could get a result at Instonians on Tuesday night. There was disappointment in the Instonians game that influential flanker Adam McGregor picked up a shoulder injury that will rule him out for the remainder of the season. With several players picking up knocks the team selection will be finalised on Thursday night with the coach hoping to field a similar side that played against Instonians with Gary Dillon replacing Adam McGregor. Points scorers against Instonians were Lee Steenson who kicked four penalties and one conversion with full back Adam McDonald scoring a fine individual try.
Dromore squad for Portadown match: 1 - 17 Aaron McKinstry, Michael Harshaw, Andrew Black, Stuart Russell, Ross Bingham, Blair McDonald, Gary Dillon, Adam Maguire, Lee Steenson, Ryan Cobb, John Russell, Graeme McCandless, Sam Russell, Aaron Stewart, Adam McDonald, E Forbes and Rory Pepper.
Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley is still finalising his team for Saturday at Dromore. Both Mal Allister and Andrew Chambers are unavailable with the coach hoping to add Ryan Muldrew and Jack Orr to his squad. As he points out playing club matches on the same day as the Six Nations matches makes it difficult to select a team.
When these two sides met at Chambers Park on the opening day of the season (27.8.16) Portadown won 25 - 7.
Enniskillen v Clogher Valley
Cracking game in prospect at Mullaghmeen this weekend. Both teams need the points with Enniskillen pushing for 4th place and Clogher Valley looking the points to avoid finishing in 9th place.
Enniskillen are on a good run after winning their last three league games including scoring five tries in an impressive 31 - 13 win at Portadown. This is a big two weeks coming up for the team with Clogher Valley followed by Armagh seconds in the semi final of the River Rock Towns Cup. New Head coach William Gibson has been able to continue the good work of President Norman Richmond after the team secured promotion last season.
Skins coach Willy Gibson was disappointed with the way his side started at Portadown conceding an early try. He was pleased to see how they responded under the leadership of Davy Buchanan. Portadown are a tough and aggressive team but the coach felt his forwards more than handled them by showing great discipline. He is looking a strong start against Clogher Valley at the weekend with his players expecting a tough game with Clogher Valley's strong set piece and rolling maul. He is at pains to point out he wants to see his team playing the rugby they want.
Selection changes see Marcus Crawford in at prop, Michael Law at inside centre with Jack Harte starting on the bench.
Clogher Valley are in a season of transition with the 1st xv returning to winning ways last Sat to defeat Carrickfergus 20 -13 to end a four match losing run.
Clogher Valley coaches Glen Kyle and Davy Black are expecting a tough game at Enniskillen this weekend with long term injuries ruling out Michael Treanor, Andy Breen, Neil Henderson and Jonny Trimble with centre Toby McAlpine unavailable.
Mark Ellis comes on to the wing with the experienced PC Falconer taking his place in the centre. Alex McKeown comes into the back row with David Sharkey switching to the second row. Replacements are Ronan McAleer and Eamon Whyte.
Carrick were a much improved team on the first meeting between the two teams with the Clogher defence solid throughout the game. Clogher's cause was not helped by injuries to Michael Treanor and Neil Cullen in the first ten minutes with the team having to reorganise. With no subs from that stage the team had to dig deep to play against the slope and come back from 13 - 10 to win 20 -13. It showed the character in the team as they fight to avoid finishing in 9th place.
When these two sides met at the Cran on the opening day of the season (27.8.17) Enniskillen won 15 - 3.
Instonians v Ards
Two games in four days against Ballyclare and Dromore enabled Instonians to pick up nine points and close the gap on league leaders Omagh to two points with one game remaining. Spectators at Shaws bridge on Tuesday night witnessed an entertaining and enjoyable game of rugby with the result in doubt until centre Davy Scott scored the all important bonus point try for Instonians with minutes remaining to see his team defeat Dromore 24 - 19. That narrow 18 - 17 defeat at Omagh two weeks ago would appear to have denied William Leacock and his Instonians team their second league title in three seasons.
Instonians Director of Rugby William Leacock felt the game against Ballyclare last Saturday really took it out of his players. He described it as a war of attrition with his players really jaded after the contest. The coach thought Dromore were excellent in their 24 - 19 defeat at Shaws bridge on Tuesday night with his team showing great spirit and character to win the match.
When these two teams met at Hamilton Park on the 3.9.16 Instonians were comfortable winners by 59 - 0.
Omagh v Carrickfergus
The County Tyrone side have rode their luck this season winning several matches by narrow margins. Last Saturday was another game where the team had to dig deep after having influential number 8 James Catterson red carded with ten minutes remaining. With the game tied at 8 - 8 it took a fine individual try from centre Scott Barr in the last play to see his team through as winners by 15 - 8. Omagh have a two point advantage on second place Instonians and know a win will guarantee Head coach Phil Marshall and his players the Div 1 title after being promoted two seasons ago.
Omagh coach Phil Marshall has received the good news that James Catterson has been cleared to play against Carrickfergus on Saturday. Both Hooker Richard Hemphill and centre Adam Stephenson are unavailable to play this week.
Omagh team 1 - 17. Kyle Alexander (Captain), Mark Brown, Davy Thompson, Johnny Sproule, Jamie Sproule, Mervyn Edgar, Adam Longwell, James Catterson, Stewart McCain, Lee Murphy, Ryan Mitchell, Neil MacLaine, Scott Barr, Neil Brown, Alistair Beckett, Alan Heaney and Richard Smith.
Carrick were leading 13 - 10 at Clogher Valley before a late rally from the home side secured a 20 -13 win to end Carricks three match unbeaten run. After securing promotion from Div 2 last season coaches Davy Scott and Michael Rainey have assembled a formidable squad that will be difficult opponents for Omagh on Saturday.
Carrick coach Davy Scott will confirm his selection on Thursday with several players under going late fitness tests.
When these two sides met at the Tom Simms Memorial Park on the 19.11.16 Omagh won 14 - 13.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 2 ROUND 17/18
CIYMS (2) v Academy (6)
Donaghadee (10) v Coleraine (1)
Grosvenor (3) v Randalstown (4)
Lisburn (8) v Larne (7)
UUC (9) v Limavady (5)
CIYMS v Academy
Head coach Gareth Fry will be aware his CIYMS team have to win their two remaining league matches against Academy and Lisburn to finish in second place. With Grosvenor pulling off a surprise 23 - 16 win at Gibson Park last Sat it means that seven points separate the two teams with Grosvenor having a game in hand. CIYMS are on a good run having won their last five league matches including a convincing 48 - 7 win at Larne last week.
CIYMS coach Gareth Fry felt his team controlled the Larne game for sixty minutes with the team losing their way around half time. For the majority of the game his team's intensity and accuracy were excellent. The pack in particular under the guidance of Darren Barbour really took the game to a big Larne pack. Larne played some good rugby at times throughout the game but the coach thought his players fitness levels was the difference between the two teams. The coach would like to thank fitness coach Adam Grainger for the work he has done with the players in pre season and throughout the season. This week Nathan Burns, Paddy Beverland and Matty Butler are available for selection in the backs with the pack on similar lines.
Academy returned to winning ways with a 30 - 17 win at home to UUC after losing their previous three league games.
When these two teams met at Roughfort on the 3.9.16 CIYMS won 42 - 18.
Academy Head coach Gareth Lynn is without the services of Chris Cooper, Jordan Buchanan, Steven Fawcett and Keith Dobbin for Saturday at CIYMS with Stuart Henderson returning to the second row. His points scorers in the 30 - 17 win over UUC were Dave Kenny who kicked three three penalties, and three conversions, Richard Henderson who scored two tries and Clarke Cooper who scored a try.
Donaghadee v Coleraine
With two games remaining against Donaghadee and Randalstown, Coleraine will look to return to winning ways after their surprise 23 - 16 loss at Grosvenor last week. The one point picked up in this defeat has secured the league title for Head coach Richard Boyd and his team as they return to Div 1 after a three year break.
Donaghadee remain without a win this season after losing 72 - 0 at Limavady last week. It has taken a remarkable effort from coaches Paul Blewitt and Chris Good to assemble a playing squad to complete the team's fixtures this season.
Donaghadee Head coach Paul Blewitt is looking forward to welcoming league champions Coleraine to Donaldson Park on Saturday with several players returning from injury. Dan Lindsay will captain the team with Dicky Bailey returning at full back
When these two teams met at Coleraine on the 17.9.16 the home side won 77 - 0.
Grosvenor v Randalstown
The Gibson Park side have not given up the chase for second place after their 23 - 16 win at home to previously undefeated Coleraine last week. Head coach Robert Ford deserves the many plaudits for what he has achieved this season with his playing squad. They are seven points behind 2nd place CIYMS with a game in hand as they look to extend their six match unbeaten run.
Randalstown are a team we expected to be challenging the promotion contenders this season. After a patchy run Head coach Gary Longwell has seen his team extend their unbeaten run to three matches.
Grosvenor Head coach Robert Ford felt his team showed their true potential in defeating Coleraine on Saturday. At the minute his squad are carrying minor knocks from the weekend with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
The coach is expecting a difficult game against a good Randalstown team he felt his side were lucky to beat earlier in the season.
Randalstown Head coach Gary Longwell has witnessed an improvement in the quality of the teams playing in Div 2 over the last five seasons with most games being competitive. He also acknowledges that it is very easy in this league to lose two or three matches in a row such is the competition.
When these two teams met at Nelisbrook Park on the 17.9.16 Grosvenor won 22 - 8
Lisburn v Larne
There was relief for Lisburn Head coach Andy Postlethwaite as news filtered through that UUC had lost their league game at Academy for Lisburn to secure their place in Div 2 next season. Lisburn had put in an excellent performance at Randalstown last week before going down 22 - 19.
Larne have had an indifferent season despite the playing talent available at the Glynn. The team suffered a 48 - 7 defeat at home to second place CIYMS last Saturday.
Lisburn Head coach Andy Postlethwaite was very disappointed with the narrow loss at Randalstown as his team had a lot more possession than they had against Coleraine. He felt his players were not clinical enough in the final third of the pitch. Overall the coach is pleased with the improvements in the teams performances since Xmas. Selection will be finalised at training on Thursday night with the team looking to finish their home fixtures with a win. The club are already proactively looking to strengthen and add depth to their playing squad for next season.
When these two sides met at the Glynn on the 17.9.16 Larne won 51 - 14.
UUC v Limavady
Results last week meant UUC will finish in 9th place and will face a playoff against the second place team in Div 3 to retain their place in Div 2 next season. Despite encouraging performances against Coleraine and CIYMS the students came up short losing 30 - 17 at Academy last week.
Limavady ended a three match losing run by defeating Donaghadee 72 - 0 last week.
When these two teams met at Limavady on the 17.9.16 the home side recorded a 74 -5 win.
Limavady Head coach Mark Nicholl thanked Donaghadee Head coach Paul Blewitt and his players for making the long journey to Limavady last Saturday. He finds it both sad and disappointing that the Donaghadee club have lost so many players in one season. The aim for the Limavady squad is to have a strong finish to their season and see where that takes the team.
The postponed game against Grosvenor has been rearranged for Saturday 8thApril. If the team are going to challenge for promotion next season the coach is hoping to add strength and depth to his young talented playing squad.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3
Ophir (12) v Ballymoney (1)
GORDON WEST CUP SEMI FINALS
Cavan v Holywood
PSNI v Newry
ULSTER RUGBY SECOND XV LEAGUE
Belfast Harlequins (6) v Ballymena (4). Played Thursday 16.3.17. Kick off 7.45PM
Malone (2) v Armagh (3). Played Thursday 16.3.17. kick off 7.45PM
Ballynahinch (1) v Banbridge (5). Played Thursday 16.3.17. Kick off 8PM