A preview of this weekend’s First Trust Senior Cup semi-finals, RiverRock Towns Cup round 1 fixtures and Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 ties…
FIRST TRUST SENIOR CUP SEMI-FINALS
City of Armagh v Rainey OB
Ryan Purvis will replace the injured Harry Boyd for Armagh, while Jonny Pollock, who missed the recent match against Queen’s University, will come into contention in the backs. Both Peter Starrett and James Morton will be available in the forwards.
Rainey Head coach John Andrews will welcome back the experience Paul Pritchard and Damien McMurray to their starting XV on Saturday.
Ballymena v Ballynahinch
January will be a huge month for Ballymena Head Coach Andy Graham and his players. After battling back from a poor start to their AIL campaign and securing their place in Division 1 of the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership, the challenge for the coaches has been to continue developing added strength to their playing squad, with several of the younger players being given their opportunity against City of Armagh and Banbridge.
Graham has praised the contribution of his forwards Connor Smyth and David Whann, who have led by example in recent times. With a Senior Cup semi-final this weekend, followed up by two crucial AIL games with Buccaneers and Ballynahinch, January is a month that can determine the ambitions of his playing squad for the remainder of the season.
The coach welcomed back Glenn Baillie last week against Banbridge, with the player coming through 20 mins on the pitch to make himself available this week. Timothy Small is another player Andy Graham talks about and the contribution he makes on the pitch.
Ballymena continue to develop players and JJ McKee is another example of a player who is now involved and impressing in the Irish U20 squad.
Andy Graham and his coaching team always believed in their players and that they could turn their season around. Saturday will be another massive challenge for the players wearing the jersey against Ballynahinch. Can they make it back to back finalists at the Kingspan this season.
Ballynahinch will be mindful of the demands on their players as they target the return of the AIL on the 19th January. Silverware in the Ballymacarn cabinet is an annual target for the Ballynahinch faithful. With several players having been involved in the matches against Malone and Dromore there will be difficult calls to be made with the seconds playing Lisburn in the Powerade Towns Cup.
RIVER ROCK TOWNS CUP 1ST ROUND
Randalstown v Ards
Omagh 2nds v Limavady
Rainey OB 2nds v City of Armagh 2nds
Lisburn v Ballynahinch 2nds
Dungannon 2nds v Bangor 2nds
City of Derry 2nds v Ballymena 2nds
Banbridge 2nds v Lurgan
Ballymoney v Clogher Valley
Byes – Ballyclare, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Strabane
There are eight first round ties down for decision this weekend with the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 teams given byes.
Ballyclare are the current holders after defeating Portadown in last season’s final.
There are two matches involving Kukri Championship Division 2 sides with Randalstown playing Ards and Ballymoney hosting Clogher Valley at Kilraughts Road. The latter is a repeat of the 2010 Final when Ballymoney won 15-14.
One of the favourites for this season’s Towns Cup are former 2017 winners Ballynahinch 2nds, who open their campaign at Lisburn on Saturday.
The meeting of Omagh 2nds and current Kukri Championship Division 2 leaders Limavady at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields is sure to attract a large crowd, while Banbridge 2nds and Lurgan will meet in a local derby at Rifle Park. Banbridge and Lurgan met in the Conference League at Pollock Park on the 10th November with Bann winning 27-19.
Rainey OB 2nds v City of Armagh 2nds is another interesting fixture at Hatrick Park.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION 1
Ballyclare (1st) v Enniskillen (7th)
Ballyclare Head Coach Mike McKeever is hoping to keep his side as close to the team that played at Dromore last week. He is still without Matthew Coulter, Andy Eastop and Michael Kirk, but is hopeful that the trio will be available for the match at CIYMS.
Enniskillen Head Coach Stevie Welsh is without second row Davy Buchanan and centre Angus Keys, who both picked up injuries in the home defeat to Portadown.
Key’s brother Conor will come into the backline with James Carleton moving from number 8 to the second row, to accommodate Jamie Kelly who will move up from the bench.
When these two teams met on the opening weekend of the season at Mullaghmeen, Ballyclare won 23-13.
CIYMS (9th) v Grosvenor (4th)
CIYMS Head Coach Gareth Fry is still finalising his selection for Saturday with the front row under discussion. Rob Haldane, Craig Devlin, Pete Raine and Matthew Butler will be missing from the backs with the coach welcoming back Johnny Haldane and Paddy Beverland. With the addition of a few players home from university, there are further option available in the backs.
Grosvenor are a very strong team with a couple of exceptional players and CI lost their season opener at Gibson Park (36-27).
It has been a difficult first half to the season for CI, with a combination of injuries and unavailability, along with having only two home matches, making it difficult for the players. Both the playing squad and the club are confident they can turn things around with a win against Grosvenor on Saturday.
Last Saturday, away to City of Armagh 2nds, Grosvenor Head Coach Robert Ford blooded several new faces into the team. They lost a thrilling match at the Palace Grounds by a 34-26 scoreline.
Fullback Jonny Farquhar was one of those players to take his opportunity and has retained his place for the game at CIYMS.
Prop Willy Rea is unavailable and will be replaced by the experienced Pearce Jamison in the front row. Outhalf Adam Skelton is another player returning this week after being unavailable due to injury.
Coleraine (10th) v Instonians (2nd)
Coleraine Head Coach Benjy Van Der Byl is hoping to field the same team that defeated Carrickfergus 18-17 at Rugby Avenue last Saturday.
In the reverse game, Instonians won 36-14 at Shaw’s Bridge on 17th November.
Cooke (5th) v Portadown (6th)
Cooke Head Coach Colin Atkinson is hoping to retain a similar side to the one that lost narrowly to Instonians last Saturday. Prop Ian Moxen is unavailable with Declan McClements coming into the squad. A number of players face late fitness tests ahead of the game.
James Wright is unavailable this week, but they welcome back second row Matt Stevens and scrumhalf Brian Forrestal. Otherwise, the panel will be similar to last week.
When these two teams played at Chambers Park on 1st September, Cooke won 24-10, scoring four tries. It’s a big game for both teams this weekend.