A preview of this weekend’s All Ireland League and Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship action…
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1B
Ballymena (10th) v City of Armagh (6th)
It is a case of back to the drawing board this week for the Ballymena coaches and players after a disappointing 38-8 defeat away to Banbridge in Round 4. The players have the chance to redeem themselves when City of Armagh are the visitors to Eaton Park this week with the Section 1 teams breaking for three weeks before they resume on the 24th November.
For the match with City of Armagh, Marcus Rea and Michael Stronge are available, while Stephen Mulholland returns at number 8. Winger Mark Thompson is away this week to Canada and will be replaced by Dean Reynolds on the left wing but Jordan Foster remains unavailable due to work commitments. Houston Bonnar is ruled out after picking up an injury last Saturday playing against Omagh.
Ballymena team: 1. Nacho Clandero Crespo, 2. Jonny Spence, 3. Chris Cundell, 4. David Whann, 5. JJ McKee, 6. Connor Smyth, 7. Marcus Rea (capt), 8. Stephen Mulholland, 9. Michael Stronge, 10. Timothy Small, 11. Dean Reynolds, 12. Glenn Baillie, 13. Darrell Montgomery, 14. Johnny McMullan, 15. Matthew Norris. Bench replacements from Tames Taggart, Josh Bill, Willie McKay, James Wheeler, Alan Smyth, Andrew Ferguson, and Jacque Bolger.
Head Coach Andy Graham is aware his team on their day can beat anyone in this league. This weekend is about redemption with the coach expecting to give his players to make amends for the loss at Banbridge.
The Armagh coaches are considering changes to the starting XV with selection to be finalised late in the week. There is a doubt over the availability of back row forward Ryan O’Neill, who has been called up to the Ireland U19 training squad this week.
Both City of Armagh and Ballymena lost last Saturday and will want a win to complete the first AIL block with a win. Chris Parker knows this Ulster derby will be very difficult for his team. He is expecting it to be tight and both teams need the points so it should be a cracking game.
Banbridge (1st) v Old Wesley (8th)
Head Coach Simon McKinstry was delighted with the performance of his Banbridge team in their win over Ballymena at Rifle Park last Saturday. It was their most impressive performance of the season. What pleased the coach was the team only gave away two penalties in the first 60 minutes. Despite Caleb Montgomery and Adam Ervine having to leave the pitch early due to injury, their replacements ensured the team kept its shape.
Other pleasing aspects were the performance of Adam Doherty who kicked 7 of his 8 attempts at goal and finished with 18 points. Andrew Morrison in midfield continues to be a consistent performer with his elusive running. Former RBAI prop Corrie Barrett has made an early impact with his ability to play both sides of the front row, while Hugo Harbinson, brother of Ethan, has been another player impressing on the 2nd XV who will come into contention this week. Ulster U19 prop Robbie Mathers is another young player with a lot of potential, which he emphasised at the weekend by scoring two tries for the 2nd XV against Malone. Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy player David McCann remains unavailable after training with the Ireland U20 squad.
The squad remains similar for this week but both Montgomery and Ervine are ruled out due to injury, joining Josh Cromie, Robin Sinton and Ian Porter on the sidelines. 1st XV captain Michael Cromie has returned to full training this week and he awaits clearance from his consultant before resuming playing. Old Wesley always bring a big pack and use their big players to punch holes in the opposition defence.
For Banbridge, it is all about focusing on themselves this week and McKinstry will be hoping his players bring the same performance levels as they did against Ballymena. A win will carry momentum into the next block of four AIL games before Christmas.
Buccaneers (9th) v Malone (2nd)
Buccaneers will provide a tough test for Head Coach Paddy Armstrong and his charges this weekend. Every team in this league can beat each other and Malone will need to be at their best, despite Buccaneers not having the best of starts to the season.
The playing surface at Dubarry Park in Athlone hould allow for a good game of rugby and Malone will fancy their chances of coming away with four points. The return of Ryan Clarke against Old Belvedere made a big difference to the performance of the team and Armstrong will be hoping for a continuation of that form.
Naas (4th) v Ballynahinch (3rd)
The Ballynahinch 1st XV squad have a very young age profile, with several new faces coming into the squad over the past 18 months. One of the positions that has concerned Ballynahinch in recent seasons has been the front row, with experienced props Stuart Orr and Jerry Cronin unavailable due to work commitments and retirement. The club have used this season to move hooker Conor Piper into the tight head position with considerable success. They also have had Ulster props Tom O’Toole and Tommy O’Hagan join the club. Other young props coming through this season include Ulster A prop Campbell Classon, along with Kelvin Hamilton, Jonny Blair and Ben Cullen. Zach McCall and Clayton Milligan provide options at hooker alongside Piper.
In the second row the club has the experienced combination of James Simpson and John Donnan. Ollie Loughead, Keith Dickson, Tom Martin and Conall Boomer are the back row options. Ulster Academy forwards Aaron Hall and Jack Regan remain unavailable due to injury.
Rhys O’Donnell has stepped up at scrum half with New Zealand-born outhalf Hilton Gibbons settling in very well, while the promising Ryan Wilson is pushing for his 10 jersey. Aaron Cairns and Richard Reaney provide pace and experience on the wings with the centre pairing of Rory Butler and Callum Mclaughlin combining well in defence and attack. The return to the club this season of the experienced Robin Harte adds to the competition in the backs along with two young players Lewis Finlay and Ronan Patterson who are examples of the talent coming through at the club. The coaches will welcome the news that Stuart Morrow has returned to training and will come into contention for selection on the 1st or 2nd XV this week.
Back row forward Dickson is unavailable this week. Zac Ward is back training at the club and along with Martin will again be challenging for a place in the back row at Naas.
Coach Tom Rock knows the game at Naas will be tough. The Ballynahinch team are an ambitious and developing squad. Naas have seasoned players and are a talented side who like to play good rugby. For this Ballynahinch team it is all about aspiring to build consistency in their performances.
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2A
Queen’s University (4th) v Blackrock College (7th)
The target for Queen’s this weekend is to take maximum points in the meeting with Blackrock College at the Dub. Players including Ali Burke, Andrew McGrath, Brian Cunningham, David Swann and Johnny Hunter will come into contention for selection after returning from injury. Robbie Johnston picked up an injury that will rule him out this week.
There is talent in abundance in the playing squad, with competition for places in the backs particularly strong with Ulster U19 centre Ben Power looking to make the match day 20 on Saturday. Michael Orr, who joined Queen’s from Portadown is another player to make a big impact this season with his versatility to play at 9, 10, 11, 14 and 15. Other players developing under the coaching of Derek Suffern include former Dalriada back row Curtis Pollock and former Omagh player Adam Longwell. Former Wallace hooker Sam Cardosi, who impressed for Queen’s early this season, has moved on to New Zealand to continue his rugby development.
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2B
Galway Corinthians (8th) v Dungannon (5th)
Dungannon Head Coach Andy Hughes has a couple of injury concerns for the trip to Galway this week with centres Mervyn Brown and Lucca Avelli facing late fitness tests. Fullback Andrew McGregor is unavailable and will be replaced by Conor McGeough. Prop Glenn Sinnamon has been suspended for three weeks following a red card last week and will be replaced by Ross Stewart. Jack Ravey, who was unavailable last week, will come into contention for selection. Otherwise, the squad will be similar to the one that travelled to Cork.
Rainey OB (10th) v Skerries (9th)
John Andrews, the Rainey Head Coach, was delighted with the response of his players to their opening three losses in the AIL as they dug deep to record a much needed win over Galway Corinthians at home last Saturday. It was a case of the players rolling up their sleeves last Saturday and working hard for each other.
For Andrews’ players, it is all building on their performance against Corinthians when they seek their second win against Skerries. There will be a number of changes to the squad this week. It is going to take another hard shift to secure the win. He is determined to see his players build on their performance last week.
Wanderers (4th) v Belfast Harlequins (7th)
‘Quins face another top four team this week after losing to leaders MU Barnhall at Deramore Park last week (21-38). They follow this up next week against second placed Greystones at home. Having won their opening game at Galway Corinthians they could not have had a more difficult run having lost their last three games. Can they turn these games coming up against Wanderers and Greystones into wins? The team will welcome back number 8 Ben Alexander, although Zach Jordan and Troy Webber are ruled out through injury. Winger Richie McKee is also unavailable and will be replaced by Peter Dunlop. There are positional changes with Mark Glover moving into the centre alongside Mark Gribben and Ben Sloan filling the fullback jersey. Toby Mannus moves from number 8 to partner Captain Danny Annett in second row.
Belfast Harlequins team: 1. Mark McGrath, 2. Saul Herdman, 3. James Harrison, 4. Toby Mannus 5. Danny Annett (capt), 6. Jaz Andress, 7. Daryl Marshall, 8. Ben Alexander, 9. Connor Young, 10. Timmy Emerson, 11. Peter Dunlop, 12. Mark Gribben, 13. Mark Glover, 14 James McConnell, 15. Ben Sloan, 16. Matthew Borne, 17. Charlie Sargaison, 18. Christian Bennison, 19. David Devine, 20. Kyle Adams.
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2C
City of Derry (6th) v Omagh (5th)
City of Derry Director of Rugby Paul O’Kane is not envisaging too many changes this week. The pack will be the same bar Richie Baird coming in to replace the unavailable Tiernan Thornton in the back row and Thomas Cole replacing the injured David Lapsley as David Jackson slots into the wing. Gerard Doherty returns to the bench along with Ben Pollin as forward cover.
Omagh Head Coach Phil Marshall is looking for his players to bounce back from their 7-29 home defeat to leaders Midleton when they travel to the North West. Second row Jamie Sproule is unavailable with Jonny Sproule and Kaine Holden starting in the engine room. Mervyn Edgar starts in the 6 jersey, with number 8 Matthew Clyde dropping down to the bench as his place is taken by Stuart Allen. The backline will be the same that played against Midleton. Both Ryan Mitchell and Scott Elliott, who missed the game last Saturday, will take up places on the bench. The game that will attract a large crowd to the Craig Thompson Stadium for this attractive Ulster derby.
Tullamore (10th) v Bangor (2nd)
New Bangor Head Coach Michael Ferguson is assisted in his coaching duties by former Ulster second row Lewis Stevenson, while two of the current Ulster squad, Craig Gilroy and Stuart McCloskey, are also helping out. The win over City of Derry was hard earned and the team picked up a few injuries, with Stephen Moore and James Henley likely to be ruled out for several weeks and Liam Preston a doubt. Hooker Phil Whyte is expected to come into contention for selection this week after recovering from injury, while the experienced David Bradford and Ali Lockhart are on the comeback trail. Outhalf Gareth Millar continues his rehabilitation and is expected to be available in another eight weeks.
Bangor squad: Philip Whyte, Andrew Shaw, James Leary, Evan Wellard – McMillan, Andrew Jackson, Orran McIImurray, Lewis Stevenson, David Caughey, Matt Nesbitt, Craig Burton, Jamie Clegg, Mikey Weir, Michael Ferguson, Lewis Brett, Declan Maguire, Adam McCusker, Mark Widdowson, Phil Broderick, Desi Fusco (Capt), Nathan Graham, Ali Lockhart, Shaun Fair, Liam Preston.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION 1
Ballyclare (1st) v Carrickfergus (6th)
There is always great excitement at the Cloughan for derby fixtures against neighbours Carrickfergus. There is also a great buzz building around the club with the team securing a quarter final place in the AIL Junior Cup, in which they will play Wicklow at home on Saturday week. For the squad, the focus is solely on this week against Carrick as they look to maintain their place at the top of Division 1. So far the coach has used 31 players on the 1st XV this season, with the squad containing a great mix of youth and experience. Several players who were unavailable last week will come into contention to start this week. There is encouraging news with injured players such as Bobby Smith and David Clarke close to returning.
No news was available on Carrickfergus.
Cooke (5th) v Enniskillen (7th)
For Cooke Head Coach Colin Atkinson and his players, this is another important game when one looks at the league table. Again he has several late calls to make before finalising his team. Front row forwards Jonny McClune and Curtis Montgomery remain unavailable due to injury; they will likely be replaced by Ross Dunning and James Milligan. Ian Moxen and Matthew Crothers will return to the squad after missing the team’s 32-5 defeat at Ballyclare.
Enniskillen Head Coach Stevie Welsh is not expecting too many changes to his side for the trip to Shaw’s Bridge on Saturday. The team are looking forward to playing again, having not played since their 27-17 defeat away to City of Armagh 2nds on 13th October. Cooke have had the better of the exchanges between the two teams at this venue in recent seasons and Welsh will be hoping for a change in fortunes.
Grosvenor (3rd) v Instonians (4th)
Grosvenor Coach Robert Ford will have a strong squad for the match with Instonians on Saturday as Stuart McIIwaine, Pearce Jamison and Allen McCluggage are all available. Andrew Kelly is fit again and has been excellent in the last two games. Winger David Egner is still out with a collarbone injury so Peter Davison continues in his absence. This will be a big challenge for Grosvenor against an Instonians team that includes two former professional players in player/coaches John Andress and Paul Marshall, along with their two New Zealand-born additions in Massimo Kiri Kiri and Cameron Barr. It is an opportunity for the Grosvenor players to test themselves against quality players.
New Instonians Head Coach Andress, who is assisted by former Ulster scrum half Marshall, feels his side are not far away from clicking as a team. Grosvenor are a very well organised side who work hard for each other; they are well drilled and Forwards Coach Peter Lowry has had a big impact this season. For the game at Grosvenor, the Instonians coaches and players are looking to test themselves against a very good team.
Portadown (10th) v Coleraine (8th)
Five defeats have Portadown seeking out their first league win this season. Head Coach Richard Hedley is aware of the importance of this match and his players have trained well this week. For the game this week, Hedley welcomes back Johnny Holden in the backs and forwards Robert Reid and Gary Hall.
Coleraine Head Coach Benjy Van Der Byl goes with the same squad that played against Dromore last Saturday.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP / CONFERENCE DIVISION 1
Ballynahinch 2nds (6th) v Dromore (2nd)
City of Armagh 2nds (3rd) v CIYMS (11th)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION 2
Ards (7th) v Academy (2nd)
Ards Head Coach John West is expecting a hard game with Academy at Hamilton Park on Saturday. They have been able to strengthen an already strong pack this season and they have started the season strongly. Ards are better off points-wise compared to this time last season but the team know the challenge they face against Academy. Onisi Burekama returns to the squad. Academy coach George Saunders is expected to name a similar side to the one that defeated UCC 62-8 last Saturday.
Ballymoney (5th) v Randalstown (4th)
Another big game for Jonny Hanna and his Ballymoney coaching team after losing 10-14 at home to league leaders Limavady last week. They welcome Randalstown to Kilraughts Road, knowing they need to win to keep in touch with the top teams in this division. Hanna is expecting a tough test as Randalstown were one of only two teams to beat Ballymoney twice last season. He wants to see his players turn around their record against them. From the team that started against Limavady, both Scott Gamble and Russell Blair are unavailable this week. John McFetridge is a doubt and will require a late fitness test. Andy Brown will come in at prop with Marcel Ngyutin coming onto the bench.
Larne (8th) v Lurgan (6th)
Head Coach Graham Cloke welcomes back Larne captain Jonny Cole this week along with Matt Crampsey and Luke Burford in the front row. Former Larne GS player Micah Stevenson continues to impress in the front row. Outhalf B J McFaul is unavailable this week, with Aaron McBride taking over. Matthew Agnew will partner Jordan Burns in the centre. Unfortunately, Phil Andrews is having to take the season out due to a recurring hip injury.
The Lurgan squad is expected to be along similar lines to the one that defeated Lisburn 14-10 last Saturday, although Daniel Lyness is added to the panel for this week. It’s an important game for both teams this week.
Limavady (1st) v UUC (10th)
Limavady Head Coach Graeme Eastwood retains the same squad that defeated Ballymoney last Saturday, with Mark Woods added to the squad this week. He described last week’s win over Ballymoney as a hard-fought four points on the road. The team dominated possession but should have probably had more scores. On the injury front, Eastwood is hoping to have Luke Faulkner, Gavin Martin, Darren Corrigan and Jamie Millar available for the team’s next league game away to Lurgan on 1st December.
No information available on UUC.
Lisburn (9th) v Clogher Valley (3rd)
Head Coach Andrew Postlethwaite stood down from his role at Lisburn this week. It has been a difficult time for the club’s 1st XV on the back of four successive defeats in the league as they go in search of their first win. A late Lurgan try denied them their first win at Pollack Park in their 14-10 defeat last weekend. The team made it through to the quarter-finals of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup this season, before losing out to Malone 2nds at Gibson Park (19-14). When you looked at the list of players unavailable last week, including Craig Hossack, Dinus Mansa, Wili Lil Tee, Jake Bebbington, Kitione Dominiqbau, Dylan Postlethwaite, Andy Barron, Craig Walsh, Andy Neely, Gareth Gardiner and James Welling, you can see the challenges Director of Rugby Mike Knowles and his coaches face each week. The coaches welcome back Walsh, Neely and Welling for the home clash with Clogher Valley. Chris Nimmons picked up an shoulder injury at Lurgan that will rule him out this week.
Clogher Valley team: 1. Philip Hopper, 2. Kyle Cobane, 3. Neil Henderson, 4. Eugene McKenna, 5. Michael Treanor, 6. Aaron Dunwoody, 7. David Sharkey, 8. Ryan Wilson, 9. Mark Ellis, 10. Reece Smyton, 11. Josh Coulter, 12. Andrew Johnson, 13. Paul Armstrong. 14. Fleming Agnew, 15. Ewan Haire, 16. Ross Finlay, 17. Mark McKenna.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP / CONFERENCE DIVISION 2
Banbridge 2nds (7th) v Omagh 2nds (12th)
Malone 2nds (9th) v Ballymena 2nds (6th)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION 3
BHSFP (6th) v PSNI (4th)
Letterkenny (10th) v Donaghadee (1st)
Newry (7th) v Monaghan (2nd)
Ophir (12th) v Cavan (11th)
Strabane (8th) v Civil Service (5th)
Virginia (9th) v Holywood (3rd)