A preview of this weekend’s All Ireland League, All Ireland Junior Cup and Kukri Ulster Championship action…
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE
Old Wesley (8) v Naas (2). Friday 9.11.18. Kick off 8PM
Blackrock College (6) v Cashel RFC (3)
Galwegians (10) v Old Crescent (9)
Highfield (2) v Navan RFC (1)
Nenagh Ormond (7) v Dolphin (8)
UL Bohemians (5) v Queens University (4)
Queens University v UL Bohemians
The students have a six point advantage over 5th place UL Bohemians with Head coach Derek Suffern hoping his team can continue their strong start to the season by picking up another win. This fixture has been switched by UL Bohs from their 4G Pitch at University Park to their alternative grounds at Annacotty for this weekends game. After their narrow 32 – 31 defeat at Highfield the students showed their defensive qualities by holding out to record a hard earned 18 – 12 win over Blackrock College at the Dub last Saturday. Twice they were reduced to playing with 13 players on the pitch after receiving yellow cards. This was exemplified by the pack winning two defensive penalty scrums on their own line. After the loose defensive display at Highfield the squad has worked hard in training over the last two weeks to eradicate these lapses. This performance and the resilience shown by the players against Blackrock College will prepare them for what to expect at Annacotty against UL Bohemians. It was the ability of the players to ‘dog out a result’ that has impressed the coach. The team created opportunities against Blackrock College without finishing them off.
The coach is anticipating keeping the same pack for Limerick with Toby Joziwak partnering Alexander Clarke and Andrew Weir in the front row with Conor Brennan and Nicky Woods backing up from the bench. James Catterson will continue in the second row alongside Captain Dave Whitten with number 8 Gary Dillon having Andrew McGrath and Curtis Pollock in the back row with James Longwell on the bench. Injuries and unavailability rule out forwards Ali Burke, Stuart Evans, David Swann, Andrew Clingan and Tyler Arnold. Both forwards Jack Sleator and Brian Cunningham may come into contention after undergoing late fitness tests this week. Derek Suffern was impressed by the contribution of former Rainey hooker Conor Brennan off the bench in his first season out of school. A big blow for the students is that prop Andrew Clingan could be out for the season with Tyler Arnold expected to be unavailable for 5/6 weeks.
Mark Keane and Robbie Johnston have also added to the options from last Saturday.
Belfast Harlequins (6) v Greystones (2)
Dungannon (7) v MU Barnhall (1)
Skerries (9) v Galway Corinthians (5)
Sligo (10) v Rainey OB (8)
Sunday’s Well (4) v Wanderers (3)
Belfast Harlequins v Greystones
After their win at Wanderers can this ‘Quins squad make it back to back wins before their three week break? The Deramore Park side are in 6th place three points behind 3rd and 4th placed Wanderers and Sunday’s Well who both meet at Irish Independent Park. Can Nicky Wells and his players grab this opportunity to move into the top four with a win over second place Greystones this weekend?
Jaz Andress is unavailable this week with Head coach Nicky Wells expected to have Troy Webber returning in second row to partner Captain Danny Annett with Toby Mannus returning to the back row alongside number 8 Ben Alexander who score against Wanderers last Saturday. What will please the coach is how several of the new combinations are coming together with Connor Young and Timmy Emerson at 9 and 10 with Mark Gribben and Mark Glover providing a real attacking threat from midfield. Winger Richie McKee who missed Wanderers game is again expected to come into consideration for a starting place.
Dungannon v MU Barnhall
Can Dungannon do a Belfast Harlequins and defeat one of the top four teams in this Division namely league leaders MU Barnhall this week. Back to back defeats away to Galway Corinthians and Sunday’s Well have this Dungannon side in 7thplace two points ahead of Sligo and Skerries who occupy 9th and 10th place. With 8th place Rainey away to 10th place Sligo and 9th place Skerries home to 5th place Galway Corinthians we could see both Ulster sides occupying the bottom two places. A lot at stake for Dungannon in this match before their three week break. Seasons are all built on winning and building momentum with Head coach Andy Hughes and his players knowing that nothing less than a win will do at Stevenson Park this week.
The good news for the coaches is that full back Andrew McGregor will be available this week along with centre Mervyn Brown. His other centre partner Lucca Avelli faces a late fitness test with both having missed the loss in Galway. Andrew McPhillips partnered Matthew Montgomery in the centre last Saturday with Montgomery moving to the wing for this week with Jonny Toal and Andrew McPhillips in contention for the other wing position. Jordan McIIwaine drops down from the squad. Conor McGeough who played last week at full back will move to the bench.
In the forwards Ross Stewart will continue in the front row in the absence of the suspended Glenn Sinnamon. Bench cover at hooker Jamie McNeill was given much needed game time for the seconds last Saturday. The bench replacements are expected to be confirmed on Thursday night.
Andy Hughes is looking the team to improve their ball retention which is costing them dearly in turnovers. Against Galway Corinthians the team played into the gale in the first half creating several scoring opportunities only to cough up good ball in good attacking positions. The score line from the weekend does not reflect on the Dungannon performance despite the handling errors.
With a small playing squad the coach needs players playing and training every week to be competitive in this league. Barnhall are a good side who will punish you if you stand off and allow them to score points. It is all about keeping them in their half and not coughing up cheap ball. The pack have been playing well with the scrums and lineouts working well. The challenge for the players is to be more clinical with the ball and be positive in finishing off the chances they are creating.
Rainey OB v Sligo
Head coach John Andrews was again pleased to see his team back up their win over Galway Corinthians with another home win over Skerries at Hatrick Park last week. The 37 – 30 score line left the match a lot closer than it really should have been. 12 penalties against the home side in the second half along with 3 x yellow cards and no penalties showed the character of this young playing squad to come through and win a vital league match. The coach feels the team is progressing with combinations coming together and leaders coming through on the pitch as the team look to establish themselves in this league. The team targeted three wins in their opening block and will be hoping to secure that vital third win away to a Sligo team that has one win from five games. Their only win coming at home to Dungannon. The strength and conditioning work put in by the players has helped them cope with the physicality and intensity of club rugby. They may be suffering from bumps and bruises but they know one more big effort will hopefully secure them that win at Sligo.
The coach is not expecting too many changes from the squad last week. Centre Damien McMurray is unavailable with Andrew Browne and Conor Fitzsimons coming into contention to replace him. Hooker George Fritz put in his best performance on Saturday since returning to the club as he constantly punched holes in the Skerries defence with his strong carrying. The returning Aidan McSwiggan put in a strong performance in the front row and will retain his place. Brad Roberts is close to playing again and will be targeting a return before Xmas.
Timmy Barker is close to returning but will not be risked this week as he targets the block of games before the Xmas break.
Rainey OB team: 1. Aidan McSwiggan, 2. George Fritz. 3. Kieran Donaghy, 4. John McCusker, 5. Michael McCusker, 6. Andy Harbinson, 7. Paul Pritchard (Capt), 8. Paddy Magowan, 9. Jason Bloomfield, 10. Andy Magrath, 11. Scott McLean, 12. Andrew Brown/Conor Fitzsimons, 13 Oisin Quinn, 14. Andrew Donaghy, 15.Michael O’Neill, 16. Michael Caithness, 17. Finatn Quinn, 18. Andrew Brown/Conor Fitzsimons, 19. Charlie Clarke, 20 Mattie Millar.
For John Andrews it is all about finishing this block with their third win. He is focusing on his Rainey team and building momentum going into the break. The team have to take the game they played in last two weeks into the match at Sligo. He expects his Rainey team to be hard to beat on Saturday. They will be looking their first away win after losses away to MU Barnhall and Greystones.
Bangor (4) v Bruff (3)
Malahide (7) v City of Derry (6)
Omagh (5) v Tullamore (10)
Seapoint (8) v Ballina (2)
Thomond (9) v Midleton (1)
Bangor v Bruff
After an opening day win away to Malahide this Bangor team have lost on the road away to Midleton and Tullamore. What was significant the team were missing the leadership of former Ulster second row Lewis Stevenson who was unavailable for these two defeats. His presence helps galvanise this team and again his presence in the side was reflected in their three wins over Malahide, Thomond and City of Derry. His availability will be crucial for this weekends top four clash with 3rd place Bruff at Upritchard Park. Bruff lost their round one fixture 35 – 8 away to league leaders Midleton but have went on to win their last four games with three of the wins coming at home. They defeated Tullamore away whereas Bangor suffered a surprising 27 – 0 defeat last week at their venue. The Bangor cause was not helped by the withdrawal of Lewis Stevenson last Friday when the team had already suffered the lost of scrum half Liam Preston who was replaced by Lewis Brett and centre Adam Alexander. Prop Philip Whyte had made his return from injury with David Bradford making a sooner than expected return to the bench. Even though Preston sat on the bench he was not used as a replacement. With both back rows Stephen Moore and James Henley ruled out through injury, Jamie Clegg and Matt Nesbitt joined number 8 Mikey Weir in the back row.
Again the Bangor lineout did not function in this match with the team trailing 7 – 0 at halftime despite a sluggish first half performance. When Tullamore ran in a couple of tries the Bangor heads went down. There was disappointment all round with the Bangor players not matching their efforts against City of Derry when they came back from trailing at HT to win.
Good news for Bangor is that scrum half Ali Lockhart came through 80 mins for the seconds last Saturday with Philip Whyte getting 60 mins for the 1st xv.
For the Bangor team this week the challenge is – can they match the physicality of the Bruff pack and compete for 80 mins. A win is essential for the team to maintain their ambitions to finish in the top four.
Back row forward Stephen Moore who had made a promising start in the 1st xv has been ruled out for the season after picking up an ACL injury against City of Derry. Another back row James Henley who missed the match at Tullamore remains a doubt with a hamstring injury.
City of Derry v Malahide
Director of Rugby Paul O’Kane knows the importance of this match with Malahide having lost their opening three games and then winning their last two games including a win at previously undefeated Midleton in Cork last week. City of Derry have lost their last two games against Ulster opposition in Omagh and Bangor. There were positives for the team in both games without picking up any valuable league points. Four points separate the bottom five teams in this league with results potentially displacing 6th place City of Derry who along with 7th place Malahide are level on 9 points. For Paul O’Kane it is all about his team completing this block of games with a win to take forward into the next block of games. Like all playing squads Derry have a lengthy injury list that impacted on their selection for the Omagh game. Backs coach Richard McCarter had to step into the out half position with Alex McDonnell not coming through a late fitness test. In the opening quarter Derry lost Simon Logue, Callum O’Hagan and Richard Baird to injury. Omagh were smarter at the breakdown and succeeded in winning numerous turnover ball.
Despite having 15 players injured the club is having to dig deep to field three teams. Amongst the injured are Paddy Blennerhassett, Conall Gill, David Lapsley, Ian Bratton, Chris Robinson, Matthew Orr, Callum O’Hagan and Richard Baird.
Team for Malahide game: 1. James Hamilton, 2. David Ferguson, 3. Sam Duffy, 4. Adam Bratton, 5. Conor McMenamin, 6. Tiarnan Thorton, 7. Craig Huey, 8. Stephen Corr (Capt), 9. Simon Logue, 10. Richard McCarter/Alex McDonnell, 11. David Jackson, 12. Denis Posternik, 13. David Graham, 14. James Perry, 15. Thomas Cole, 16. Chris Shields, 17. Cathal Cregan, 18. Gerard Doherty, 19. Alex McDonnell/Richard McCarter, 20. Phil Duffy.
For the coaches and players this weekend it is all about the players putting in a performance and getting a result at Malahide. Last week the team lacked the intensity that Omagh played with to get the win.
Omagh v Tullamore
Any win away from home is excellent – the reaction of Omagh Head coach Phil Marshall to their win at City of Derry. He felt his team could have been more comfortable winners and should have picked up a bonus point. Because the game was close there was the potential for the result to go either way. Omagh were the better side and scorned four try scoring opportunites. Again lack of accuracy and handling errors have been a failing of the team as was demonstrated in the loss at home to leaders Midleton. He feels the team are throwing away valuable league points. The only area he was concerned about was the pressure the Derry front five exerted on their scrum throughout the game. This week he keeps the same pack of forwards with Kaine Holden keeping his place in the second row alongside Johnny Sproule. In the backs out half Stuart Ballantine is ruled out after picking up a head injury at City of Derry. He will follow return to play protocols which should see him available again for the next block of games starting on the 1st of December. Scott Elliott will step into the 10 jersey. He has an injury doubt over winger Matthew Eccles who will face a late fitness test on Thursday night. If he doesn’t make it Ryan Mitchell will take his place. Adam Beattie is expected to take his place on the bench.
Ali Beckett is expected to return to training and make himself available for selection in the coming weeks. Hooker Adam Pollock is out for the season with an ACL injury. Lee Warnock is another player who has had knee surgery and will be out for the season. Work commitments have prevented Lee Murphy playing rugby. Other players the coach is hoping will become available are Yonga Taleni and Alan Heaney.
Omagh seconds recorded their second conference league win defeating Banbridge seconds 20 – 8 at Rifle Park last Friday night. This week they welcome Academy to the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields. 1st xv second row Jamie Sproule will turn out for the seconds this week with competition mounting for places on the 1st xv.
For the home game against Tullamore, the coaches are expecting another battle up front with their big pack. They are renowned for their forward pack that will play for position and round the corner rugby. It will be a case of the Omagh pack matching the physicality of their opponents. The players know what to expect from their meetings last season.
AIL JUNIOR CUP QUARTER FINALS
Ballyclare (Ulster) v Wicklow (Leinster)
Clonmel (Munster) v CIYMS (Ulster)
Waterpark (Munster) v Ashbourne (Leinster)
Enniscorthy (Leinster) v Dundalk (Leinster)
Ballyclare v Wicklow
Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever has said there is a real buzz about the club as they host their first All Ireland Junior Cup tie. They know they face very difficult opposition in a Wicklow side coached by former Connacht and Harlequins number 8 George Naoupu who took over in 2017. He is assisted by former Blackrock College Head coach Billy Ngawini who is part of the coaching team at St Andrews College.
Ballyclare remain unbeaten in Div 1 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship this season taking a maximum 30 points from their opening six wins to top the table – seven points ahead of second place Dromore who have a game in hand. Mike McKeever has used 31 players so far this season and has faced a real dilemma in selecting 20 players including replacements for this weekend.
Their opponents Wicklow are 3rd in Leinster Div 1A behind leaders Enniscorthy and 2nd place Gorey who defeated them last Sat 6 – 3. Worth noting that Wicklow are the only side to have defeated Enniscorthy this season winning 28 – 23. They did suffer a 42 – 17 defeat away to Dundalk at the end of September. The All Ireland Junior Cup is the holy grail for the Leinster Junior clubs with their four representatives Ashbourne, Dundalk, Enniscorthy and Wicklow all making it through to the Quarters Finals after winning their first round matches. Ashbourne are current holders and along with Enniscorthy and Dundalk have all won this Cup with Ashbourne and Enniscorthy winning twice with Dundalk once.
City of Derry were the last Ulster winners in 2010. Can Ballyclare bring the All Ireland Cup back to the Cloughan in their 70th Anniversary season after winning the River Rock Towns Cup in 2017/18?
Ballyclare team and replacements: 1. Rory Henderson, 2. Matthew Coulter, 3. Al Boyd, 4. Robert Boyd, 5. Grant Bartley (Capt),6. Aaron Playfair. 7Gary Weatherup, 8. Ryan Tweed, 9. Andy Eastop, 10. Robbie Reid, 11. Michael Kirk/Niall Lawther, 12. Willie Stewart, 13. Joel McBride, 14. Owen Kirk, 15. Gary Clotworthy, 16. Dean Jones, 17. Jack Black/Willy Logan, 18. Paul Robinson, 19. Michael Kirk/Niall Lawther, 20. Callum Wilson.
Michael Kirk will face a late fitness on Thursday night with bench replacements to be confirmed.
Robert Smith picked up an ACL injury in the Junior Cup match at Dromore that will rule him out for the season. Former Ulster player Ricky Lutton is another player who continues his rehab after picking up an ACL injury playing for Belfast Harlequins in an AIL Play off Match at the end of last season. Winger Matthew Johnston who joined from Grosvenor has picked up an injury that has ruled him out for the last couple of games. Number 8 David Clarke continues his rehab and is expected to be available before Xmas. Winger Stuart Cusick picked up a rib injury and should be available in two weeks. Former Ballyclare High School 2nd row/number 8 James Nelson is another player expected to return to the squad after treatment on a knee injury.
The attitude of the coaches and players is that the game on Saturday is just another match for the team. For the club it is a huge event and occasion that is sure to attract a large crowd to the Cloughan on Saturday. This fixture has created a lot of excitement within the Ballyclare community.
CIYMS v Clonmel
CIYMS are 10th in Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Div 1 with their opponents 1st in Munster Junior league Div 1. On paper you would have to say that the Munster side will be firm favourites. Can CIYMS repeat their performance in the 1st Rd when they defeated Connacht league leaders Monivea 32 – 13 at Belmont. Injuries and unavailability will deplete Head coach Gareth Fry of 12 players. He is hoping his side will be competitive. It is a disappointing situation for the coaches to be in after the team worked so hard last season to qualify for the All Ireland Junior Cup.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP/CONF DIV 1
Coleraine (10) v Ballynahinch seconds (6)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 2
Clogher Valley (2) v Randalstown (4)
Lisburn (9) v Ards (6)
UUC (10) v Ballymoney (5)
Clogher Valley v Randalstown
The Fivemiletown team find themselves one point behind leaders Limavady with a game in hand as they take on 4th place Randalstown at the Cran who are a further two points behind Clogher Valley. The County Antrim side lost out in the playoffs to Portadown last season and have won five from six games this season. Their only loss coming at Limavady. Clogher Valley remain the only undefeated team in the league. Despite being relegated last season – under new coaches Stevie Bothwell and PC Faulkner the 1st xv have strengthened their playing squad with Ryan Wilson still proving effective at Number 8 alongside David Sharkey. There is a wealth of experience in the front five from their days in Div 1. With several new faces in the backline including Reece Smyton and the experienced Paul Armstrong this team have the ability to dominate opposition forwards and provide plenty of ball for their talented back line. With both Limavady and Academy playing Conference league games this weekend the winner of this match will move to the top of Div 2.
Randalstown Head coach Gary Longwell goes with the same pack that played in the 13 – 10 win at Ballymoney last week. There will be one change in the backs with Dan McGlade replacing the unavailable Ryan O’Dea in the centre with Michael Smith coming in at full back. Both Dan McGlade and Eoin Letters will face late fitness tests on Thursday night. Neil Foster will take his place on the bench as front row cover.
Lisburn v Ards
Ards Head coach John West has a few players carrying knocks from the defeat at home to Academy last Saturday.
UUC v Ballymoney
Two narrow defeats at home to Limavady 14 – 10 and Randalstown 13 – 10 have Ballymoney trailing 4th place Randalstown by 10 points with a game in hand. Instead of picking up eight points – Ballymoney only collected two points from these two narrow defeats. Nothing less than a maximum five points will be required to keep Ballymoney in the promotion race this season at UUC.
Ballymoney are still without long term injured players Rory Strang, Thomas Hunter, Peter Irvine and Adam Smith. John McFetridge failed a fitness test last week and will undergo a further test this week. Centre Conor Creith picked up an injury last week and along with out half John Hyndman and number 8 Daniel Ramage will be unavailable for selection. The coaches are hoping to welcome back the experience of Nigel Nevin and Chris Watson.
The Head coach felt a combination of a number of small errors resulted in the team missing out on wins against Limavady and Randalstown. The players have been working hard in training to fix these errors. He is hoping all goes to plan on Saturday as the players deserve a win for all their hard work.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP/CONF DIV 2
Ballymena seconds (60 v Larne (10)
Limavady (4) v Malone seconds (7)
Lurgan (12) v Banbridge seconds (8)
Omagh seconds (11) v Academy (1)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3
Cavan (11) v Strabane (5)
Civil Service (8) v Virginia (9)
Donaghadee (1) v Ophir (12)
Holywood (3) v BHSFP (4)
Monaghan (2) v Letterkenny (10)
PSNI (6) v Newry (7)