Preview of this weekend’s club rugby action in the River Rock Towns Cup, McCrea Cup and Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship…
RIVER ROCK TOWNS CUP SEMI FINALS
Ballyclare v City of Armagh seconds
Both of these teams met in the Semi Finals of the River Rock Towns Cup last season with Ballyclare winning a closely fought semi – final 19 – 12 at the Palace Grounds. When the two teams met in their Conference league match at the Palace Grounds on the 17.11.18 – City of Armagh seconds won 30 – 24. Expect another close game at the Cloughan this weekend. This will be the third match in eight days for Ballyclare after recording league wins over Cooke and Coleraine. City of Armagh seconds warmed up for this tie with a 22 – 5 win over Ballynahinch seconds at Ballymacarn Park last Saturday winning 22 – 5 with centre John Faloon scoring two tries.
Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever: The coach was delighted to see his team negotiate the difficult weather conditions on Tuesday night to defeat Cooke at Shaws Bridge to move two points ahead of second place Instonians with one game remaining. It has been an exciting week for the coaches and players with the players able to put the rearranged game with Cooke behind them with the destination of the league title in their control. He is delighted to have a home semi – final in the Towns Cup with the strong squad they have assembled at Ballyclare able to compete this last couple of seasons. The squad have two big games coming up at the Cloughan with City of Armagh seconds on Saturday followed by Dromore on Saturday week. The benefit of having five bench replacements for the semi final allows the coaches to expose these players to more game time on the 1st xv. Last night they brought four extra players to Cooke in case any players were injured in the warm up. The team for this weekend is expected to be on similar lines to the last two games. Captain Grant Bartley is expected to be rotated with the two second rows with one dropping down to the bench for a place on Saturday. The bench is expected to include Robbie Reid, Jordan Birnie, Jack Black with either Callum Wilson or Ross Patterson making the replacements. The team have not loss in 2019 and have scored 80 tries in their 17 league matches. The coach is looking his players to extend their winning run. He is excited about the opportunities for the players this weekend to return to the Kingspan stadium on the 22nd April. Ballyclare are the current holders having defeated Portadown 27 – 6 in the 2018 Final.
City of Armagh coach Chris Parker: Matty Clarke will not be available this week. Harry Boyd is fit again to take his place in the team with Ollie Millar, Stuart Lester and Willie Martin available for selection. Both Jack Sleator and Gerard Treanor will also come into contention. Nathan Rogers has been playing well at scrum half for the seconds after missing the first half of the season. Number 8 Barry Finn is another player who has retuned from injury and has played in the last two games for the seconds. Injury rules out Luke Crozier with Andrew Magowan unavailable for the remainder of the season. The club have submitted 25 names to the Ulster Branch and are awaiting confirmation on their eligibility to play before the matchday 20 for Ballyclare is finalised. Both coaches Willy Faloon and Chris Parker will be looking after the team at Ballyclare. Back row forward Stuart Hooks made a welcome return against Dromore in the quarter finals scoring two tries. Full back Kyle Faloon is an elusive runner and will pose a real threat to the Ballyclare defence.
Clogher Valley v Enniskillen
Clogher Valley have a great tradition in the Towns Cup, last contesting the 2015 Final after they lost 17 – 13 to Ballynhinch seconds. They had previously won the trophy in 2014, 2012 and 2011. The team remain undefeated in their last 10 games. Enniskillen contested the 2017 and 2016 Finals losing out to Ballynahinch seconds and Bangor. They are currently on an undefeated six match run.
Clogher Valley Head coach Stephen Bothwell: Injury rules out prop Stephen McWilliams with Philip Hopper returning to take his place in the front row. With five replacements allowed in the semi final the coach will add Timothy Smyton, Ross Finlay, Andrew Johnston to his replacements bench along with Josh Fegan and Mark McKenna. He is pleased with the impact both Rodney Bennett and Paul Armstrong have made on the 1st xv after returning from Dungannon RFC. Paul Armstrong in his role at out half has managed the team through their game plan that allows them to play rugby in the right areas of the pitch. Rodney Bennett has shown his prowess at centre scoring two tries in their quarter final win over Limavady. Numbers at training have remained steady with 32/33 players in attendance after the seconds reached the semi finals of the Crawford Cup with competition increasing for starting places. Stephen Bothwell knows his team will face a strong Enniskillen pack as he is hoping the weather conditions will prevail to allow his team to play their expansive game. That is the challenge his players face on Saturday.
Enniskillen Head coach Stevie Welsh: The confidence is up in the playing squad since Christmas. He feels their performances are all about their confidence . He is confident that if his team stick to the game plan they can get a result at Clogher Valley this weekend despite the great rivalry between the two teams. With the 3rdxv competing in the semi finals of the McCambley Cup this weekend playing resources will be stretched at the club. He welcomes back Jamie Johnston who will come into contention this week. Both Davy Taylor and Gareth Beatty are unavailable. Ricky Lee is another player to return from injury and train this week. Others who will come into contention for a place on the bench include Alan Ferguson, Richard Beatty and David Patton. The coach is expected to go with four forwards and one back – Conor Hoy on his bench. In the absence of Gareth Beatty, Steven Fox played 80 minutes at Portadown last Saturday in the front row. He is expected to start in the front row this week. The coaches were delighted to have a full squad training on Tuesday night. He is also indebted to physio Jonny Hegarty who has played a key role in keeping players fit for this busy schedule. Second row Gavin Parke remains on the injured list and is targeting a return if the team make the Towns Cup Final. Players stepping up are Jamie Kelly who replaced Gavin Parke in the second row while Nick Finlay has added experience and leadership at scrum half. The coach is delighted to see the talented Tyler Millar committing himself to training and making an big impact on the 1st xv backline alongside James Ferguson.
The coach is expecting a tight game against Clogher Valley. For his squad it is all about the players focusing on their own game and imposing themselves on Clogher Valley in the first quarter. His team have earned the right to be in the semi – finals. He is confident that if they turn up they can win. This is Cup rugby, anything can happen.
McCREA CUP SEMI FINALS
Cooke v Grosvenor
Queens University seconds v Academy. Friday 15.3.19. KO 7.45PM
Cooke v Grosvenor
Cooke have a great tradition in competing in the McCrea Cup Final losing out to Malone seconds in recent seasons. I notice that Cooke did not play Callum Robinson, Jonathan Backus, Captain Kyle Mitchell , Andrew Quigley and Russell Hunter against Ballyclare after playing against CIYMS on Saturday.
Grosvenor Head coach Robert Ford: With a squad of 20 players to select for the match against Cooke on Saturday the coach will finalise his selection on Thursday night. He will welcome back Pearce Jamison and Andrew Kelly to his squad this week. Injury rules out Stuart McIIwaine and Cameron Knell with Mark Cartmill, Ben Coard and Dean Swift unavailable.
The Grosvenor squad is expected to be along the lines of 1. Mark Rainey, 2. Stuart Smyth, 3. Pearce Jamison, 4. Peter Dawson, 5. Willie Rea/Andrew Kelly, 6 – 8 Ben Davies, Sam Purdon, Connor McKee, Andrew Kelly, Jeff Mealiff, Daniel Bowden. 9. Allen McCluggage, 10. Peter Davison/ Adam Skelton, 11. David Egner, 12/13 Jos McConkey/Peter Davison/ Mitchell McComb, 14. Jonny Farquhar, 15. Adam Skelton/Matthew Fitzsimons. Bench replacements 16 – 20 TBC.
Head coach Robert Ford has been delighted with the performance of his playing squad after securing promotion to Div 1 this season. The team have guaranteed 4th place and a place in the AIL Junior Cup next season. There are no egos in the squad with this young group of players building on their progress over the last three years. With the second xv securing promotion to Provincial 1 this has added depth and quality to the playing squad.
The coach is expecting a tough game against a dogged Cooke side who performed well in their defeat against Ballyclare on Tuesday night. They have match winners in the two Gourley brothers Alex and Alan along with winger Andy Pollock. Grosvenor lost 14 -12 to Cooke in the league at Shawsbridge on the 19.1.19 when their back row put in an impressive performance. For the coach he is looking no further than Saturday. He is expecting a real tough test against Cooke. Grosvenor value the McCrea Cup and will be doing their best to win it this season.
Queens University seconds v Academy
This match will be played on the main pitch at the Dub on Friday night with two in form teams meeting in the semi finals of the McCrea Cup.
The Queens coach Colin Hamilton is looking forward to the match. He is expecting a number of changes to his starting xv with selection to be finalised on Thursday night. The front row will be selected from props Andrew Weir, Matthew Millar, David Chambers and Toby Jozwaik with two starting and two on bench alongside hooker Jack Sleator. Captain Callum Caldwell and Matty Kernohan are expected to continue in the second row. Reese Goddards and Andrew Walker are expected to start in the back row with Chris Fowler replacing Daniel Edgar at number 8. James Creighton will continue at scrum half with Robbie Johnston at out half. Curtis Dundas and Rory Nicholl will start in the centre. Chris Jennings who has scored 30 + tries this season will start on one wing with either Josh Rawlinson or Fal El Valve on the other wing with either Josh Rawlinson or Matthew McSorley at full back. Mark Gordon, Daniel Keane and Matthew Pentland will make up the remainder of the bench replacements.
The coach is looking his team to play the way they have been playing all season. He wants his team to take it to Academy from the whistle.
Academy Head coach Gareth Lynn: The coach will be without hooker Lee Moody who is ruled out for the remainder of the season. Out half Jordan Buchanan was injured against Ards and remains on the injured list. Back row Jamie Watts is another injury doubt who picked up an injury against Limavady. Prop Chris Nash has a shoulder injury and is hoping to come through a fitness test to play on Friday night. Back row keith Dobbin is out for the season after fracturing his hand in the match against Clogher Valley. Curtis Scott made his debut for the 1st xv against Lisburn along with John Gilkinson who took his place on the bench. Selection will be finalised on Thursday night.
The coach and his players are looking forward to the match against Queens on Friday night. He is looking his team to play their brand of rugby and compete against the students.
ULSTER RUGBY PREMIERSHIP 2ND XV LEAGUE
City of Armagh seconds v Banbridge seconds. Postponed
Ballymena seconds v Omagh seconds
KUKRI RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Limavady v Ballymoney KO 1 PM
Ards v Randalstown
Ards v Randalstown
Ards Head coach John West is expecting his selection to the side that played at Clogher Valley. He is awaiting confirmation on availability of a couple of players before finalising selection.
Randalstown 1st xv Manager Willie Allen: Team will not be selected until after training on Thursday night.
Limavady v Ballymoney
Limavady Head coach Graeme Eastwood: Selection will be finalised on Thursday night with both Darren Corrigan and Jonny Lees undergoing late fitness tests. Hooker Bryn Davies is unavailable with the coach expecting a similar squad that played against Randalstown.
Ballymoney coach Jonny Hanna: The coaching team at Ballymoney are hoping to keep a similar team to the one that defeated Lurgan 37 – 0 last weekend. As this is a rearranged fixture the availability of players has to be confirmed before selection is finalised. His team are expecting a very tough game as Limavady need to win to stay in the promotion race. He feels his Ballymoney team have no pressure on them and can just go out to play rugby. He is hoping this approach will be enough to get the win.
BHSFP V Ophir KO 12.30PM
Preview compiled by George Millar