Preview of this weekend’s club rugby action…
ALL IRELAND BATEMAN CUP SEMI FINALS
City of Armagh (Ulster) v Buccaneers (Connacht)
Garryowen (Munster) v Lansdowne (Leinster)
City of Armagh v Buccaneers
After losing 20 -13 to Cork Constitution in last season’s competition, City of Armagh will be hoping to go one step further this year when they play the Connacht champions Buccaneers at the Palace grounds on Saturday.
Assistant coach Chris Parker has said his players were delighted to make the final of the First Trust Senior Cup after winning the trophy for the first time last season. It has been a case of the coaches managing the players during the first seven weeks of a ten week block of fixtures before the players get a break on the 2nd February. He describes it as a hectic period with the coaches able to rotate the squad and lessen the workload. The team is still doing well as they chase further silverware this season. It has been a case of keeping the players mentally and physically ready for the challenges each week. It will be a testing time for the club this week with four teams fielding. Chris Parker has spoken about the tremendous support the team has when playing at the Palace Grounds and how it acts as the 16th man. He is hoping the supporters will turn out in large numbers this week to get behind the team on Saturday. He described the match against Rainey OB as ideal preparation for the Buccaneers game. Rainey are a good side and were hard to break down. They were physical up front – particularly around the fringes and breakdown area. He could see why they had won Div 2 of the Ulster Premiership League and were on a six match unbeaten run in the AIL that has them in 3rd place in Div 2B. They like City of Armagh continue to produce young players with Jack McIntosh and Michael O’Neill examples of the young players coming through at Rainey. The lost of their influential Captain Paul Pritchard after five minutes with a finger dislocation was a big blow to their team. In half backs Jason Bloomfield and Andy Magrath they have two very good players.
Over the Christmas period several young players including backs Evin Crummie and Shea O’Brien have been putting their hand up for a starting place on the 1st xv. With Captain Chris Colvin unavailable this week Johnny Pollack is expected to partner up with Evin Crummie in the midfield with Chris Cousens coming into contention after scoring 24 points for the second xv at the weekend. With seven replacements allowed scrum half Gerard Treanor is another player expected to come on to the bench. Harry Boyd remains on the injured list after the Queens game at Christmas.
In the forwards Head coach Willy Faloon will have several difficult calls to make. Robert Whitten returns this week with a number of other players returning from injury to train this week including Paul Mullan, Barry Finn and Nigel Simpson. Back row forward Ryan O’Neill returned to do some light training this week and will see a consultant on his injured knee picked up at a National under age training camp. Prop Daryl Morton will need a couple of weeks to recover from a shoulder injury.
The team wanted another opportunity to play in the Bateman Cup after losing to Cork Constitution last season.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Instonians (2) v Dromore (3) Friday 11.1.2019. Kick Off 7.30PM
CIYMS (9) v Ballyclare (1)
Coleraine (10) v Cooke (5)
Enniskillen (8) v Carrickfergus (7)
Grosvenor (4) v Portadown (6)
Instonians v Dromore
Head coach John Andress is delighted with the progress his Instonians team have made after losing their opening league game at Dromore in August. Last season much of the burden on the playing side was shouldered by former Ulster player Roger Wilson who moved on at the end of the season. It has been a case of the coach along with Paul Marshall addressing the weaknesses that existed in the squad. The focus for the coaches in the opening months of the season has been working with the players on their fundamentals to improve their set piece, defence and kicking game. With these fundamentals firmly in place scrum half Paul Marshall has been able to use the threat he possesses along with his half breaks and tap penalties to allow the team to play a more open running game.
The addition of their two New Zealand players Massimo Kiri Kiri and Cameron Barr to the team has had a considerable impact with the players developing a strong team culture both on and off the pitch in the squad. Whereas in the past the team would have played as individuals there is a desire amongst the players to play for each other and the jersey. The fact that the team have score 11 tries in their last two league matches is a reflection of the progress they have made and their ambitions for the remainder of the season. Discipline was an issue in the recent game against Cooke that was quickly rectified at Coleraine.
The focus for the coaches is team discipline and to reduce the number of errors in their game. Instonians are renowned for their set piece strength and have used their advantage in this area to score tries against their opponents. Numbers at training have continued to improve as the coaches build a strong 1st xv squad.
One of the pluses in the team has been the centre pairing of Captain David Scott and Matthew Kilpatrick who are regularly on the scoresheet. This had been a problem area in recent seasons for the coaches. An unfamiliar name on the wing has been winger Donal Moloney who has made a big impact since breaking onto the 1st xv. His skills learned from playing Gaelic and his physical presence have been a real asset to the team.
The coaches rested Kiwi hooker Cameron Barr last week against Coleraine. He will return to the team for Friday night against Dromore. Winger Ross O’Donnell who has been one of the most consistent players on the team was knocked out again in the Cooke match after experiencing a similar injury against Grosvenor before Christmas. He is now following return to play protocols. Michael Melville who has been unavailable for two months due to injury returned to training this week. Again the coaches will make a late call on his fitness to be involved on Friday night. Just checking on other players at Instonians – both Harry Cleland and Mark Mairs are at Uni in England with Michael Blackwood unavailable to play. Matthew Nelson remains unavailable due to a double concussion.
Dromore Head coach Jonny Cullen is aware of the enormity of the task his team face on Friday night against Instonians. They are a very good side and have the best set piece unit in the league. Scrum half Lee Steenson has been ruled out for several weeks after fracturing his thumb in the latter stages of the Junior Cup Final against Ballynahinch seconds. His place on the team will be taken by TJ Morris who played on the Instonians 1st xv before signing for Dromore this season. One of the big positives for the coaches at Dromore has been how two young props Tom Lyttle and Justy Savage have stepped into the front row to perform in the absence of regular props Mark Hylands and Jonny Simpson. Jonny Simpson remains unavailable long term with Mark Hylands expected to make himself available again next week. Andrew Black continues to provide front row cover that has included seeing the prop playing 60/70 minutes in recent matches. Hooker Fraser Mulholland is expected to start in place of Stuart Sloan with who will start alongside Andrew Black on the bench to be finalised on Thursday night. Otherwise the team will be on similar lines to the team that played in the Junior Cup Final.
When the teams met at Barban Hill on the 25th August Dromore won 16 – 5.
CIYMS V Ballyclare
The home side are still searching for their first league win and face league leaders Ballyclare at Belmont. CIYMS coaches Gareth Fry and Darren Barbour will be aware that the two league defeats Ballyclare have suffered this season were away from home against Dromore and Instonians.
CI Head coach Gareth Fry is also aware his team have lost several league matches by small margins. It is a very frustrating situation for both the coaches and the players. Disappointed to hear CIYMS have lost their Fijian prop Radula Freddykalo Joe to a serious hip injury picked up in the Grosvenor match. He suffered a dislocated hip and fractured femur that could end his playing career.
When these two teams met at the Cloughan on the 1.9.18 Ballyclare won a high scoring game 32 – 18.
Coleraine v Cooke
Both teams suffered heavy defeats against Instonians and Portadown last weekend.
Coleraine are in urgent need of league points to move away from 10th place with Cooke still harbouring ambitions of finishing in the top four. Coleraine Head coach Benjy Van Der Byl has to contend with five injuries picked up by his team against Instonians before finalising his team on Thursday night for this crucial must win league game.
When these two teams met at Shawsbridge on the 21.9.18 Cooke won 39 – 13.
Enniskillen v Carrickfergus
It really is a must win game for Enniskillen this weekend if they are put some distance between themselves, CIYMS and Coleraine as we enter the second half of the season with Enniskillen having played one game more than Carrickfergus. With Carrickfergus appointing Warren McClean as their new Head coach you can expect a reaction from the Carrickfergus team as the new coach looks to get his season up and running with a win. Enniskillen Head coach Stevie Welsh is looking for a better result from his players this week. The coach is delighted by the response from the players to training this week. The squad still have a few injury doubts with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
When these two teams met at the Tom Simms Memorial Fields on the 1.9.18 the match ended in a 19 – 19 draw.
Grosvenor v Portadown
Both teams secured bonus point wins last weekend against CIYMS and Cooke.
With new Head coach Stuart Lamb in charge of Portadown we have witnessed a revival with the team winning three from four games away from home. Can they make it four from five when they travel to Gibson Park this week? The coach will have to make a couple of changes this week with both scrum half Ben Matchett and full back Luke Ashton unavailable with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
Grosvenor Head coach Robert Ford is most likely to go with the same pack that played at CIYMS. He has a number of backs facing late fitness tests with scrum half Allen McCluggage and centre Jos McConkey their main doubts. Winger David Egner is available and will most likely come into the backline. Adam Skelton made a big impact of the bench last Saturday and will start against Portadown. The schedule for the 1st xv players is very tough as the team have a game every week for the next two months with the rearrangement of the Cooke match. The strength in depth within the playing squad will be needed in all these games.
When both these two teams met at Chambers Park on the 15.9.18 Grosvenor won 22 – 7 picking up a bonus point for scoring four tries.
ULSTER RUGBY PREMIERSHIP 2ND XV LEAGUE
Ballynahinch seconds v Ballymena seconds
Banbridge seconds v Omagh seconds
Malone seconds v City of Armagh seconds
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Academy (2) v Randalstown (4)
Ards (6) v Limavady (1)
Larne (8) v Ballymoney (5)
Lurgan (7) v Clogher Valley (3)
UUC (10) v Lisburn (9)
Academy v Randalstown
Academy Head coach Gareth Lynn is expecting to keep a similar team to the one that defeated Ballymoney 17 – 10. Chris Cooper returns to the squad. He is waiting on a few players to confirm their availability due to work commitments at the weekend. The coach will not be able to finalise his selection until Thursday night. Both the coaches and the players are looking forward to the match with Randalstown. It is always a hard game between the two teams with the last game coming down to one score between the two teams.
Randalstown 1st xv Manager Willie Allen – Saturday should be another good match between both teams with Randalstown just edging out Academy at the beginning of the season. They will be considered favourites with home advantage this time however Willie is expecting another close game if his team play to their full potential. The team will be finalised at training on Thursday night. Second row Dean McCroary missed the game last Saturday with Ards because of flu. Second row David Millar has announced his retirement from the game at 29 yrs. Centre/Winger Jordan Foster will miss Saturday as he is on a skiing trip. There is a doubt over back row Ian Hume who injured his back against Ards with Dean McCroary still a doubt. Apart from those changes the team will be along similar lines to the team that played Ards.
When these two teams met at Nelisbrook on the 25.8.18 Randalstown won a high scoring game 31 – 26 with both teams scoring three tries.
Ards v Limavady
Ards Head coach John West has spoken about the job he is doing to develop strength in depth at the club. He continues to expose young players to 1st xv rugby with the coach conscious that these players need phased in at this level. He is not ready to put players in if they are not ready. It doesn’t do them any good and doesn’t allow the players to get a fair chance to show what they can do. Jimmy Grey was another young player to get game time off the bench at Randalstown. Eight of the second xv have been given game time on the 1st xv and will get more game time before the season ends. What John West and the management team at Ards are trying to achieve is to build depth in their squad and that will take a few years to achieve. Progress is getting players to play for Ards on a Saturday. For John West the best bit is the average age of the playing squad has dropped quite dramatically. He and his coaching team need to be given time to allow the young players to progress. In the Conference league game away to Banbridge seconds on the 8th December the team had 11 players under 23 and won 24 – 12 picking up a bonus point. That’s what we are continuing to build at Ards RFC.
For the match at home to Limavady Jonny Harris has returned to England to complete his PCGE. A few players picked up injuries at Randalstown with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
Limavady Head coach Graeme Eastwood is delighted to see his team top of Div 2 entering 2019. With the work put in by the coaches and players they have now assembled a squad of 30 players who can all play on the 1st xv when required. Graeme is one of the few coaches who supports the Conference league as it gives the coaches the opportunity to play players on the 1st xv such as Graham McAleese and Jason Kerr. An example is when the 1st xv made 11 changes for the Conference league game away to Banbridge seconds on the 15th December and won 27 – 6 picking up a bonus point.
The following week the 1st xv went on to defeat Clogher Valley 25 – 3 and pick up a bonus point in the league at the John Hunter Playing Fields. After those wins the coaches give the players two weeks off with players only having one training session before they played Omagh seconds away in the Towns Cup last Saturday winning 11 – 10.
The coach has continued his approach of blooding several players at Omagh. As the league stands it is all about his team and the players focusing on themselves. They don’t have to rely on anybody to win the league. It is up to the players to keep performing each week. With the games in hand they picked up 14/15 points before Xmas.
Looking at the fixtures in January it is up to the players to pick up maximum points from their league games with the other top three teams involved in fixtures with Academy playing both Randalstown and Clogher Valley. They travel to play Ards this week expecting a physical and nitty gritty game. The team have only themselves to worry about. Limavady have players who can come in and replace injured and unavailable players. A lot of the success this season has been put down to the efforts in the off season to bring players back to play for their home town club. Last Saturday 15/17 players who played against Omagh were Limavady born players. Gavin Martin and Jody McMurray have added quality to the team. All 15 players came through Limavady Grammar and the Clubs Youth Section.
Graeme Eastwood is full of praise for the work done by Peter Wilson Community Development Officer with the Clubs Youth teams and the relationship he has built with Coleraine 1st xv Captain Brian Hughes who has taken over as Head of Rugby at Limavady Grammar School.
To ensure the club continues to attract these young players to the club the officials of Limavady RFC are working hard to secure funding to put in place a fully equipped Gym. Such facilities will keep players at the club and help with Strength and Conditioning along with Player Development. One aspect that has pleased the coach is the fitness levels of the players in the squad. When they played Clogher Valley before Christmas the visitors threw everything at his team for 50/60 minutes. When the fitness levels of the Limavady team kicked in Clogher Valley found themselves overwhelmed in the final quarter. He feels his team have yet to play to their full potential this season.
Thirteen players were not involved last Saturday with the coach welcoming back Jim McCartney, Robert Lamberton, Jonny Lees and Matthew Haslett for the trip to Ards this week. Both Darren Corrigan and Rory Squires are completing their PCGE studies in Liverpool with the coaches hoping to have them available for their final 5/6 matches. Scrum half David Craig has been in America and will be available next week with Rohan Mulligan getting game time at Omagh last week. Two long term injured players remain on injured list. Out half Luke Faulkner has not recovered from the ankle ligament injury he sustained against Academy in the league match with Michael Barr needing surgery on his shoulder after dislocating it on his return.
January is a massive month for the team with both the 1st xv and the 2nd xv travelling to play Ards on Sat followed by a trip to Lisburn for both teams. These games will only strengthen the bond between this group of players.
Limavady have already recorded two wins over Ards this season. On the opening day Limavady won their league match 48 – 0. When Ards returned to the John Hunter Playing Fields on the 29.9.18 to play Limavady in the second round of the Junior Cup. Limavady on this occasion won 32 – 12.
Larne v Ballymoney
Larne Head coach Graham Cloke felt his team were competitive in all three matches against Ballymoney, Academy and Randalstown before Christmas. He felt Academy were the best of the three teams they played. Unfortunately the club have run into a real injury crisis with three teams fielding this weekend. The 1st xv are missing Captain Jonny Cole and Gareth Jameson along with BJ McFaul and Arron McBride. Jacob Swan took a knock in the match against Lisburn and found out he had a collapsed lung. Winger Liam Slaughter is another injured player who is ruled out. Jordan Burns remains unavailable with Johnny McKinty unavailable due to work commitments. Former Larne Grammar School 1st xv Captain Al Black will get a run out in the back row with the evergreen Stevie McReynolds taking his place on the bench.
Ballymoney coach Jonny Hanna has a number of players unavailable due to work commitments this week. Scott Gamble, Jack Hyndman and Garvin Bellingham are unavailable in the forwards with Andy Young unavailable in the backs. However the coaches welcome back Captain David McKeeman , Conor Creith, Timmy Woods and John McFetridge who missed the Clogher Valley match. Both Jordan Munnis who started at number 8 and Lewis Wray who came off the bench retain their place in the panel. Although Ballymoney beat Larne before Xmas his players can’t take anything from that game as the weather conditions were atrocious. The team are expecting a very competitive game against Larne with the Glynn never an easy place to win at. To win this match we need to be on our best game and keep errors to a minimum.
In their first meeting at Kilraughts Road on the 15.12.18 the home side Ballymoney won a very close game 12 – 6.
Lurgan v Clogher Valley
Lurgan still have to finalise their selection for this weekend.
Clogher Valley have picked the same 17 players that won at Ballymoney last weekend.
These two sides met on the opening day of the season at the Cran with Clogher Valley winning 17 – 6.
UUC v Lisburn
From Mike Knowles at Lisburn – Lisburn had several players unavailable for the Towns Cup tie with Ballynahinch last Saturday. Noel Hooke will return to the back row with centre Jake Bebbington picking up another injury last week that will rule him out against the students. Craig Walsh will face a late fitness test and will come straight into the team if he comes through to replace Jake Bebbington. Former Captain Matt Edgar made his first appearance of the bench last Saturday and will feature from the bench again this week.
Both teams met at Blaris on the 15.12.18 with Lisburn winning 23 – 0
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
BHSFP (10) v Virginia (7)
Civil Service (9) v Letterkenny (8)
Holywood (4) v Cavan (11)
Monaghan (2) v Ophir (12)
Newry (6) v Strabane (5)
PSNI (3) v Donaghadee (1)