Welcome to Ballymena RFC @ Eaton Park – Est 1887

Weekly Preview of Ulster Rugby 21st October 2017

is now time for the 12 Ulster Bank AIL clubs to return to league action this weekend after a three week break. They have two blocks of three games to play between the 28th October and the 11th November and 25th November and the 9th December to complete their first ten games in the UBL before the Xmas break. We have seven teams contesting the top four places in Div 1B, Div 2A, Div 2B, Div 2C. They include Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Malone, City of Armagh, Rainey OB, Bangor and Omagh. Queens Uni find themselves in 6th place with 2 wins from four in Div 2A.
The four Ulster teams that will need to start picking up league points are Ballymena 8th in Div 1B with 1/4 wins. The most disappointing news is to see three Ulster teams Dungannon, City of Derry and Belfast Harlequins occupying the bottom three places in Div 2B. All four of these teams know they need to win games to avoid finishing in the bottom two places. Belfast Harlequins were unable to hold on to a 12 – 0 lead against Sunday’s Well in Cork last Sat before going down 17 – 12 in a match brought forward from the 4th November.
Ulster derby matches for spectators to note in UBL in November include:
Saturday 4th November: Malone v City of Armagh
Friday 10th November: Ballymena v Ballynahinch, Malone v Queens Uni and Belfast Harlequins v Dungannon.
Saturday 11th November: City of Derry v Rainey OB, Omagh v Bangor
Saturday 18th November: First Trust Senior Cup semi finals: City of Armagh v Malone and Ballymena v Ballynahinch.
Saturday 25th November: City of Armagh v Queens Uni.
The 1st Rd of the Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup will take place on Sat. Ballyclare, Instonians, Portadown and Enniskillen will represent Ulster this season in a competition that is now entering its 13th year. It is one of the most sought after competitions for teams to enter with four teams entering from each province. Leinster teams have dominated the competition winning it on nine occasions followed by Ulster two and Munster once. In fact such is the dominance of the Leinster clubs they have won this cup over the last six seasons with Ashbourne the current holders. They open their defence of the Cup against Kukri Ulster Championship Div 1 pacesetters Ballyclare. Instonians will play Leinster side Gorey at Shaws bridge. Portadown travel to play Connacht league winners Ballina. Enniskillen were due to play Cork side Bandon. The Munster side have withdrawn from the competition citing injuries and lack of front row cover with Enniskillen receiving a bye into the quarter finals. Last season Bandon travelled to Belfast to play Instonians recording a very fine 30 -28 win over the Shaws bridge side.
The last Ulster winners were City of Derry who defeated Armagh 19 – 17 in an all Ulster final in 2010. Rainey OB were the first winners of the trophy in 2006. Clogher Valley, Bangor and Instonians all contested finals in 2014 – 2016 losing out to Leinster opposition. Out of the current competing teams Leinster representatives Enniscorthy have won the trophy in 2014 and 2016 and were finalists in 2013 and 2017.
Interesting looking at the form and league positions of the competing teams from the four provinces this season:
Ulster: Ballyclare (1), Instonians (2), Portadown (7), Enniskillen (9)
Leinster: Ashbourne (1), DLSP (2), Enniscorthy (3), Gorey (4)
Munster: Clonmel (1), Kilfeacle & District (2), Bandon (4), Newcastle West (9)
Connacht: Ballina (1), Connemara (2), Westport (5), Monivea (6).
In the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup, holders Ballynahinch seconds along with Armagh seconds and Ballymoney progressed to the semi finals of the Cup. The Portadown v Malone seconds match had to be abandoned seven minutes into the second half after referee Stuart Douglas suffered a serious knee injury with Malone leading 22 – 3. Saturday 4th of November is the date set for the replay at Chambers Park.
In the semi final draw made on Tuesday:
Ballymoney v City of Armagh seconds
Ballynahinch seconds v Portadown or Malone seconds
Ties to be played on the 25th November.
With Ballynahinch and Armagh 1sts avoiding each other in the semi final draw for the First Trust Senior Cup to be played on the 18th November pundits are predicting that we will see both Ballynahinch and Armagh 1st and 2nd xv teams competing in the two Cup Finals at the Kingspan stadium on the 19th and 21st December.
This weekend we see the 1st Rd of the Gordon West Cup with holders Cavan receiving a 1st Rd Bye. Lurgan were favourites to win the Cup last season only for the County Armagh side to lose their quarter final 29 – 24 at home to winners Cavan. The Pollack Park side are expected to be favourites again this season.
Lurgan and Donaghadee retain their 1st and 2nd places in Div 3 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship after wins over Strabane and Civil Service at the weekend.
Congratulations to UUC rugby team who retained the Maughan Scally Cup in defeating Queens Uni 14 – 0 at Terenure RFC in the Irish Universities Rugby union festival at the weekend. Dave McCluggage kicked three penalties with Adam Johnston scoring a try to enable Captain Dave GIlkinson and his team to retain the trophy they won in Galway last year.
To cap a fine week for the University the ladies team brought home the silver salver in the Kay Bowan competition.
Many rugby supporters will have heard of the Dudley Cup competed for by the UBL University teams. However the festival includes the Conway Cup for under 20 teams, The Maughan Scally Cup for teams competing in the Junior leagues and the Kay Bowan Cup for ladies teams.
Well done to all those involved in representing Ulster rugby in this annual festival of University rugby.
Clontarf (6) v Terenure College (1). Played Friday 27.10.17. Kick off 7.30PM
St Mary’s College (7) v Lansdowne (2). Played Friday 27.10.17. Kick off 7.30PM
Buccaneers (10) v Dublin Uni (9)
Cork Constitution (5) v Young Munster (8)
Garryowen ((3) v UCD (4)
UL Bohemians (7) v Shannon (1).Played Friday 27.10.17. Kick off 7.30PM
Banbridge (3) v Ballynahinch (2)
Dolphin (9) v Old Belvedere (5)
Naas (4) v Ballymena (8)
UCC (6) v Old Wesley (10)
Banbridge v Ballynahinch
Bann Head coach Daniel Soper was disappointed for the second xv in their 22 – 6 defeat at Ballymoney in the Junior Cup after the 1st xv were defeated at City of Armagh in the Senior Cup quarter finals the previous week 16 – 3 to end the clubs interest this season in these premier provincial competitions. The second team started their game very well but unfortunately injuries on the day had a big impact in the second half with Ballymoney looking more cohesive in chasing the win. However the progress the 2nd xv are making this season is encouraging as is the growth down the club. The 3rds/4ths/5ths are getting great numbers out to train and it is thanks largely to the commitment of the management of those teams. They have created a fun and meaningful experience at training with guys keep coming back. The coach is delighted that three former 1st xv players Simon McKinstry, Colin Bickerstaff and Jeff Dodds who have all amassed over 100 appearances in the UBL have joined the clubs coaching staff.
Having discussed with both Daniel and Colin Bickerstaff the difficulties the club are having in putting out an under 18 team it was refreshing to hear the arrangements Daniel has put in place as Director of Rugby at RBAI with Instonians Rugby Club where he releases 15 under 18 players to play for the clubs under 18 team. The School has a good working relationship where those players when not required by the school can play for the club. These are all players who play for the schools 5th and 6th xv teams. It enables these players to get a nice balance of mid week rugby at the school and Saturday with the club.
For the match with Ballynahinch this weekend at Rifle Park the game brings backs memories for Daniel Soper as he played in the first meeting of the two teams in the UBL on the 20th Jan 2007 at Ballymacarn Park with the home side Ballynahinch winning 16 – 3. He recognises that his team have been well behind Ballynahinch in the standings for a long time as they a set a high standard in Ulster club rugby. The goal for his team on Saturday is to prove to themselves that they have closed the gap.
Selection will not be finalised until Thursday with both Caleb Montgomery and Chris Allen awaiting fitness tests. He does welcome back Greg Jones and Rob Lyttle from Ulster ‘A’ duty. Other Ulster releases include Eric O’Sullivan and Tom O’Toole with injury ruling out Michael Lowry and James Hume.
Ballynahinch like their Ulster neighbours Banbridge, Malone and City of Armagh were involved in Ulster Senior Cup and Junior Cup matches during the three week break from UBL action. Both their 1st and 2nds were successful in reaching the semi finals of these two Cup competitions. Ballynahinch 1st xv won 33 – 7 at Bangor and will travel to play Ballymena in the semi final of the Senior Cup on the 18th November. Both teams are also to play each other in the UBL at Eaton Park on Friday the 10th November. Junior Cup holders Ballynahinch seconds defeated Enniskillen 30 – 7 and have been drawn at home to either Portadown or Malone seconds in the semi final on the 25th November. Malone were leading 22 – 3 at Portadown when the referee Stuart Douglas injured himself seven minutes into the second half with the game having to be abandoned.
Coaches Brian McLaughlin and Tom Rock will be reluctant to make many changes to the starting squad that defeated UL Bohemians 34 – 17 at Ballymacarn Park three weeks ago.
Ulster releases for Ballynahinch this weekend include David Busby, Jonny McPhillips, Jack Regan, Rory Butler and Zac McCall. The availability of Jonny ‘Mo’ Simpson and Peter Browne will be confirmed on Thursday. Aaron Cairns and Aaron Hall have not been released by Ulster.
Injuries rules out Peter Browne, Richard Reaney and Zac Ward.
Ballynahinch squad will be selected from following. 1. Campbell Classons, 2. Zac McCall, 3. Jonny ‘Mo’ Simpson, 4. John Donnan, 5.Possibly either Kenny Morton, Keith Dickson, Matthew McKelvey or Conor Phillips, 6. Jack Regan, 7. Ollie Loughead. 8. Conall Boomer, 9. Blane McIIroy, 10. Jonny McPhillips, 11. David Busby, 12. Centre pairing form Will Stewart, Rory Butler, Stuart Morrow, Tom Rock and Callum McLaughlin, 14. Rory Butler or Aaron Ferris, 15. Conor Kelly.
Bench replacements will be finalised on Thursday night with Jonny Blair and Ben Cullen competing for front row cover with either Clayton Milligan or Conor Piper. Rhys O’Donnell will cover for Blane McIIroy. Centre pairing will be 3/5. Team and replacements will be finalised at training on Thursday night. Consistency in team selection has helped to improve continuity and accuracy in the teams play.
Scrum half is so competitive at the club with Aaron Cairns, Blane McIIroy, Rhys O’Donnell and Chris Gibson competing for the jersey. Rhys O’Donnell has impressed on the seconds scoring several tries with his presence putting the other scrum halves under pressure to perform at the club. There is a new refreshing environment at the club that is pushing the players to be better.
Peter Browne is expected to be available for next week with John Donnan unavailable for the next five weeks after this weekend.
Ballynahinch are expecting a very tough game at Banbridge on Saturday. How the referee refs the scrum will have an important bearing on the game. As Ronnie Duncan views the game it is the team with the bigger appetite to fight for a result that will come out on top. All at Ballynahinch have been surprised at the progress the team has made so far this season with all the changes in playing personnel.
Ballymena v Naas
There was a welcome bonus for Ballymena Head coach Andy Graham with his team winning their Senior Cup quarter final 37 – 27 against a tenacious Omagh team who entertained the fans with their attacking style of rugby at Eaton Park. Ballymena Academy pupil James Bovill impressed at full back with former Ballymena Academy prop Scott Agnew making his debut at loose head. What has pleased the coach is the success of the Under 20 tournament being run in the Northern Region by Ricky Huey. This tournament has attracted back players who left school and have decided to return to play rugby after taking time out. He has also noticed how the clubs 3rds and 4ths are benefiting with the players returning to play social rugby. He is hoping these players will get the bug and challenge themselves to play in the higher teams. Not many opportunities are available to play young players outside the UBL with fewer games in the Ulster Premiership league. So far it has been a difficult season for 2nd xv coach Gareth Fisher in selecting a team that has been impacted weekly by changes to the 1st xv. The coach is delighted that the 1st xv have drawn Ballynahinch at home in the semi final of the First Trust Senior Cup with four strong teams left in the semi finals.
The Omagh match was all about the visitors coming to Eaton park and having a go and throwing the ball about. Highly entertaining for the neutral with the lead ebbing and flowing throughout the 80 mins. Despite an early score for the home side, Omagh used their impressive wingers to good effect. The game was a good experience for the young Ballymena players with Omagh counter attacking the Ballymena clearance kicks.
Training has been good with a lot of contact work being done to prepare for the game at Naas.
For this weekend Ulster players Dave Shanahan and Callum Patterson are ruled out with injuries. So far Ulster have released Brett Herron, Adam McBurney and Marcus Rea. Confirmation on the release of Ross Kane and Matthew Rea will be confirmed on Thursday. Clive Ross and Andrew Warwick have not been released.
Michael Stronge is away with the Ireland sevens squad in Spain this weekend. Joe Thompson who has impressed in recent games with his physicality and energy levels is unavailable this week. Willy McKay is unavailable due to work commitments. Alan Smyth is a major doubt with a shoulder injury. Both Mark Foster and Jonny Rossborough are available after following return to play protocols. Number 8 Adrian Hamilton continues his rehabilitation on a knee injury. Scott Agnew is rested with Andrew Cundell ruled out with a shoulder injury. Dominic Gallagher played 30 mins in his first game back against Omagh and will be welcome addition to the squad.
Winger James Beattie remains a long term injury with fellow winger Jordan Foster out in Australia for the season. Centre Paddy James is expected back from Australia before Xmas.
The squad for Saturday is expected to be selected from the following 1. Nacho Clandero Crespo, 2. Adam McBurney, 3. Ross Kane/Chris Cundell, 4. David Whann, 5. Connor Smyth/Mark Foster. 6/7 Matty Rea, Marcus Rea and Matty Agnew, 8. Stephen Mulholland. 9. David O’Hara, 10. Brett Herron, 11. Matthew Norris, 12. Glen Baillie ( Alan Smyth late fitness test), 13. Angus Kernohan, 14. Jonny Rossborough/ Dean Reynolds, 15. Rodger McBurney.
Bench replacements from James Taggart and Mark Foster with remaining depending on releases and late fitness tests that could see the inclusion of Ben O’Ryan and Ryan Matheison.
One area the coach is concerned about is the lack of strength and options in his backline this season. The club have a lot of talented young players but it could take 1/2 seasons to prepare them for the rigours of All Ireland league rugby. What has been positive for Ballymena is that despite 17 players being unavailable for the Omagh match the club were able to select four adult sides on that Saturday.
Blackrock College (9) v Malone (1)
Cashel RFC (5) v Greystones (10)
City of Armagh (3) v Nenagh Ormond (2)
Galwegians (7) v Queens Uni (6)
Highfield (4) v Galway Corinthians (8)
Malone v Blackrock College
Again like fellow Ulster sides Ballynahinch, Banbridge and City of Armagh the three week break from UBL action was a busy period for the extended 1st and 2nd xv squad at Gibson Park. The 1st xv progressed to the semi finals of the Senior Cup after defeating Dungannon 32 – 24 in the quarter finals. They have been drawn away to Cup favourites City of Armagh in the semi finals on the 18th November. Both these teams will meet in the UBL at Gibson Park on the 4th November. Malone 2nd xv were unlucky not to progress to the semi finals of the Junior Cup when a leg injury sustained by referee Stuart Douglas resulted in their game being abandoned seven minutes into the second half with Malone leading 22 – 3. This game I understand has been rearranged for Saturday the 4th November at Chambers Park.
Head coach Paddy Armstrong is making sure his Malone players are not thinking any further than their UBL game with Blackrock at Stradbrook this weekend. Every team in this league has to be respected and as I have said many times it is one of the toughest leagues he has seen in years.
Ulster ‘A’ full back Jack Owens is ruled out through injury this week with the team not being finalised until late in the week due to injury concerns. He wants these injured players to be given every opportunity to prove their fitness.
Blackrock have some very strong and talented runners throughout their team and will be a big challenge for his side.
He is full of praise for the work Davy Heron and Sam McBurney have done with the 2nd xv this season with it pleasing to see all their hard work paying off.
Ulster releases for Saturday include forwards Peter Cooper, Matthew Dalton and Joe Dunleavy.
City of Armagh v Nenagh Ormond
For Assistant coach Chris Parker this is another exciting season that promises much after leaving behind the successes he had achieved at Ballynahinch. With Armagh 1st and 2nd xv sides competing well in league and Cup competitions the competition for starting places has increased the edge to training and playing at the club. Such is the depth at the club, players know they can not allow themselves to slip behind in maintaining their high standards. One week you are involved with the 1st the next it is the 2nds. In the three week break from UBL action the 1st xv have progressed to the semi final of the First Trust Senior Cup where they will play DIV 2A rivals Malone at the Palace Grounds on the 18th November. These two teams are due to meet at Gibson Park on the 4th November in a crucial UBL league game. The 2nd xv swept aside Coleraine in the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup quarter finals last Saturday. They now have been drawn away to Ballymoney with the semi final due to be played on the 25th November. Busy times at the Palace grounds for all involved. Brian McLaughlin put in place a model and a framework that is being carried on by coaches Willy Faloon, Chris Parker and Dave Eakin. Continuity has been the key with a strong administrative/management structure driving and supporting these achievements. Heady times at Armagh after the 1st xv won the Stevenson Shield for the first time last season. Ballynahinch seconds have dominated Conference league 1 for several seasons with both them and Armagh seconds currently undefeated. Will we see another changing of the guard this season. This is what makes club rugby so exciting. Increasing numbers are coming out to support the club game and you can be sure there will be another vociferous crowd present at the Palace grounds for the home sides meeting with County Tipperary side Nenagh Ormond this weekend.
Chris Parker points out it will be another huge ask for the 1st xv against Nenagh Ormond this week. They are the only side with three try bonus points from their first four matches. By all accounts their NZ fly half Clayton Stewart is one of the best players in Div 2A. The goal for his team is to make sure he is not allowed to dictate the game. Armagh are expecting a very physical match but the coach is also aware that both sides will want to play attacking rugby that should ensure a great encounter for spectators.
One welcome piece of news for Armagh is the return of full back Tim McNeice to full training this week. Chris expects it will be another week before he plays. Daryl Morton is fit again in the front row with Jonny Pollock available after missing the Senior Cup match with Banbridge. Harvey Young has been playing well for the 2nd xv and his versatility means he will be considered as a centre and full back option this weekend. He scored all 20 points in the 2nds 20 – 7 win at Coleraine in the Conference league and contributed 15 points in the teams 32 – 5 Junior Cup win over Coleraine last Sat.
Armagh is a great place to be at present. November will be a huge month for the 1st and 2nd xv teams with Senior and Junior Cup semi finals and two Ulster derbies for the 1st xv against Malone on the 4th Nov and Queens Uni on the 25th Nov in the UBL.
Queens Uni v Galwegians
The students were disappointed to lose their home UBL game with Cashel 25 – 14 after leading 14 – 6 with 20 minutes to go. Talking to 1st xv Manager Ian McAvoy injuries have impacted on their front row options with Jonny Black, Jordan Southway and Nicky Woods all ruled out for this weekend. Former 1st xv prop Brian Cunningham returns to training next week to strengthen the options available to the coaches.
Neil Doak, Derek Suffern and DJ Creighton have had the opportunity to look at several players after a training match was held with Rainey last week.
Players returning this week include Conor Shiels, Mark Keane, Jonny Lees, Jack Milligan and Angus Curtis to the playing squad. Injury rules out influential centre Conor McKee. Other changes will see Daniel Dass (Former Cambridge Uni and BRA pupil) starting at number 8 with Gary Dillon dropping down to the bench.
Ulster releases this week include Angus Curtis, Mark Keane and Alexander Clarke with Jonny Stewart being retained by Ulster.
Queens squad for trip to Galway to play Galwegians:
1.Anton Lupari, 2. Alexander Clarke, 3. Andrew Clingan, 4. Dave Whitten, 5. Ali Burke, 6. Nigel Simpson (Captain), 7. Jonny Lees, 8. Daniel Dass, 9. John Creighton, 10. Richie McMaster, 11. Mark Keane, 12. Rory Bell, 13. Conor Shiels, 14. Gerard treanor, 15. Jonny Milliken, 16. AN Other, 17. David Swann, 18. Gary Dillon, 19. Jack Milligan, 20. Angus Curtis.
As Ian McAvoy put it the target for this Queens squad is to make the playoffs this season. The team has to be more consistent after an excellent away win at Highfield in the opening block of four UBL matches that saw Queens lose their two home matches with Munster sides Nenagh Ormond and Cashel.
Belfast Harlequins (10) v MU Barnhall (6)
City of Derry (9) v Old Crescent (1)
Dungannon (8) v Rainey OB (4)
Skerries (2) v Sunday’s Well (5)
Wanderers (3) v Navan RFC (7)
Belfast Harlequins v MU Barnhall
Quins were disappointed to lose their UBL game in Cork last Sat 17 – 12 after leading 12 – 0 through two tries from winger Richie McKee. For this crucial game with Barnhall the coach is able to put out his strongest pack this season. He welcomes back Jaz Andress along with former Cooke and Ulster Juniors number 8 Toby Mannus starting his first game of the season. The Quins players are in good spirits and are just looking forward to getting that first win.
City of Derry v Old Crescent
Assistant coach Richard McCarter and Head coach Trevor Will had to deal with a lot of unavailabilities for the Cork trip to play Sunday’s Well three weeks ago. The team gave a good account of themselves in the circumstances before going down 36 – 19.
For the game with league leaders Old Crescent Richard is expecting the City of Derry squad to be close to full strength. Simon Logue returns to the squad with key forward Adam Bratton unavailable due to schools commitments. He is hoping for a good game and would gratefully take a 3 – 0 win at this stage.
Dungannon v Rainey OB
For Dungannon Head coach Andrew Hughes the challenge for his players is to reverse their disappointing start to their season. He feels with a little more accuracy they could be sitting with 3 wins from four. The first 50 mins against Malone in the Senior Cup quarter final was positive so the players have taken a lot of confidence from that match.
He and his players aere expecting a tough and physical encounter against a confident Rainey side at Stevenson Park on Sat. Their forwards have a good mix of young and up and coming talent along with some experienced players.
Every week the Dungannon team are coming together that little bit more with the coach hoping it will not be long before the side are playing to their full potential.
Selection wise Mark Riddell, Andrew McPhillips, Ben Matchett, David Leyburn,, Mark Faloon and Rodney Bennett are unavailable along with Captain James McMahon. Second row Ross McCaughey makes a return this week.
For Rainey Head coach John Andrew’s it is dealing with the expectations amongst the club supporters after the opening four games that sees the team in 4th place. The addition of South African Hooker Brad Roberts has added to a front row that has struggled in the absence of Ulster prop Tommy O’Hagan. Both scrums and lineouts have been an added concern for the Rainey coaches as they strive for consistency with many good field positions being lost due to indiscipline. Former Ireland Club xv back rower Paul Pritchard has been outstanding for the team at this level after playing Section 1 rugby in the UBL. The new half back pairing of Jason Bloomfield and Andy Magrath have made a big impact while centre Josh McIIroy has been a revelation in the centre. Winger Robert Lamberton unfortunately picked up an injury against Belfast Harlequins after a promising start and along with the returning Nicholas Stirling add attacking options to the Rainey back line. One welcome piece of good news is that the talented Scott Mclean has been given the all clear to resume training. Good news indeed. Not only are we witnessing a strong push for promotion again this season by Rainey but with the increased player depth at the club their 2nd xv sit top of Ulster Rugby provincial league 2. Head coach John Andrews has put this down to the clubs brilliant Youth set up coupled with the work Peter Boyle and Damien Campbell are doing in the Senior set up to develop and progress these players. Closer links with local schools has improved the playing numbers coming into the club. Much of this work is again credited to Peter Boyle and Damien Campbell with Ulster centre Luke Marshall playing his part in helping the club coaches.
Rainey Head coach John Andrews has almost a full squad to select from this week against Dungannon with Tommy O’Hagan returning to the front row and Tim Barker taking his place in the front five for this match. The only back missing will be Josh McIIroy who is still recovering from injury, but should be available next week. Training has been brilliant in the three weeks without a game with the players having a good run out against Queens Uni last Thursday night that has sharpened up their match fitness for the Dungannon game.
The coach is looking forward to what should be a tough fixture.
Both Tommy O’Hagan and John McCusker have been released by Ulster this week to play.
Bective Rangers (9) v Sligo (1)
Bruff (3) v Seapoint (1)
Malahide RFC (6) v Bangor (2)
Midleton (8) v Thomond (5)
Omagh (4) v Tullamore (10)
Bangor v Malahide
Over 35 players were at 1st xv training on Tuesday night in the heavy rain at Upritchard Park demonstrating that the club is in a good place according to 1st xv manager Ricky Armstrong. The bonus is that the club 2nd xv are getting stronger by the week with players returning from injuries and unavailability.
For the game at Malahide Captain Philip Whyte, Andrew Shaw, Desi Fusco Rob Gamble, Lewis Stevenson and James Leary return after being rested against Ballynahinch in the Senior Cup. Jamie Clegg, Chris Jordan and Ali Lockhart remain on the long term injury list. Gareth Wright is unavailable this week with Jules Storey making a return to rugby this weekend after a lengthy lay off.
Head coach Jason Morgan and Player coach Lewis Stevenson will not finalise their playing squad for Saturday until after training on Thursday night. There will be some tight calls with commitment to training determining selection.
Regardless of the squad the team are looking forward to another trip to Dublin with a view to putting right the errors right from the last time they played against Seapoint. A big away win would start to pull the Bangor team away from the mid table teams. This is a big ‘moving’ weekend in Div 2C and looking at the fixtures there could be after this weekend a widening of the table into two mini leagues if matches go to form. With Bangor and Malahide being separated by a few points it is a huge game for both teams. After this weekend the team will be looking up or down.
The Bangor front row who have been strong in the UBL this season are relishing the opportunity to pit themselves against 61 times Irish capped prop Mike Ross.
Omagh v Tullamore
There is an air of positivity about the Thomas Mellon Playing fields in Omagh. After the defeat at Sligo the team put in a very creditable performance in their 37 – 27 Senior Cup defeat at Ballymena. Visitors to the County Tyrone venue this weekend are 10th place Tullamore who have yet to win a match. There is a surprise the County Offaly side are struggling after finishing in the top four over the last two seasons and making the playoffs. Omagh Head coach Phil Marshall and his players will be wary of the threat posed by Tullamore.
The coach is looking to his players to build on the performance at Ballymena after having last weekend off. The rest will have been good for the players with several players returning from injury to make themselves available. Again the coach will be faced with making some difficult calls. But as he says it is a great problem to have.
Players including Ryan Mitchell, Adam Longwell and Matthew Sproule are available this week with other players including Jonny Sproule, Yonga Taleni, Simon McCarroll, Richard Hemphill and Alastair Beckett being considered.
The front row was an area that concerned the coach. This week he has Past Captain Kyle Alexander, David Thompson and John Blair adding depth and options in this area. All three will have to work hard to displace Richard Smyth and Matthew Sproule who despite their relative inexperience in the front row at this level have done a real job for the 1st xv. There will be tough calls with everyone of the squad performing and sticking their hands up for selection.
Omagh are confident but they will show respect for their opponents Tullamore this week. In the UBL any team can turn any other team over on a given weekend.
Newcastle West (Munster) v Enniscorthy (Leinster)
Ballina (Connacht) v Portadown (Ulster)
DLSP (Leinster) v Connemara (Connacht)
Enniskillen (Ulster) v Bandon (Munster). Conceded by Bandon
Ashbourne (Leinster) v Ballyclare (Ulster)
Clonmel (Munster) v Westport (Connacht)
Instonians (Ulster) v Gorey (Leinster)
Monivea (Connacht) v Kilfeacle & District (Munster)
Portadown v Ballina
There was concern for young Portadown out half Michael Orr who was injured in the early minutes of the Portadown v Malone seconds Junior Cup quarter final at Chambers Park last Saturday. Despite this early set back the player wanted to return to the action with Head coach Richard Hedley deciding otherwise with the player fit to travel to Ballina this weekend. This Cup tie had to be abandoned seven minutes into the second half with Malone leading 22 – 3 after Referee Stuart Douglas picked up a serious knee injury with the abandoned fixture scheduled to be replayed at Chambers Park on the 4th November. We all wish Stuart a speedy recovery.
Malone had some quality players and it was good for the Portadown team to play against them as it highlighted parts of the home defence which needs worked on. Malone put the Portadown team under real pressure with their speed and continuity once they made the line breaks. It is something the Portadown coach is hoping his players can work on in preparation for playing Malone in two weeks time.
Portadown had a tough game with Ballina at Chambers Park last season in the 1st Rd of the AIL Junior Cup before winning 22 – 11. Both he and the players are expecting the game to be harder with it being played away from home.
There will be changes made this week with Ryan Muldrew, Matthew Wilson and Josh Matchett unable to travel. Markhenderson, Jonny Reid, Luke Ashton, Conor Megarity and Jordan Tayloe come into the extended squad for Saturday.
Ballyclare v Ashbourne
Home Cup draws have not favoured Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever since his appointment at the club. In fact the game at Ashbourne will make it 3/3 games drawn away from home in the AIL Junior Cup. He feels it adds to the experience of playing in this All Ireland Competition. It would be great to have home advantage but his team will take as much from the experience and challenge of travelling to the holders this Saturday to help them grow as a squad for the season ahead. It will also show a comparison between both provincial leagues.
The coach is aiming to select his strongest side for the game with selection to be confirmed on Thursday night. Players returning to the forwards will include Ricky Lutton, Captain Grant Bartley, Rab Boyd, Paul Robinson, Gary Weatherup and Dave Clarke with Robert Smith, Robbie Reid, Stuart Cusick and Gary Clotworthy to be included in the backline. These players offer the squad great experience and an understanding of the game.
It is a great occasion for the club to be involved in this competition, especially for senior men in the club like Eddie Simms, Ken Wylie, Alistair Lindsay and Robin Byers who have travelled and supported the club around the Ulster over the years but now to get into All Ireland league fixtures for a second season is a great achievement for the club. Along with these club members we have our youngest member on the side line support in Sam Lamont, our ball boy. He is a P7 pupil travelling with the team for his first All Ireland rugby experience outside of his own mini rugby.
Mike McKeever is expecting a very fit physical side in Ashbourne that will play with a high tempo. This fixture will set his team up well for the teams following league game with Instonians at Shaws bridge on Saturday week after having a two week break from Ulster league competition.
Instonians v Gorey
Director of Rugby William Leacock was disappointed to see his team lose their two games against Ballynahinch seconds and Dromore. His attitude is that the squad have to move on and focus on this weekend against Gorey in the All Ireland Junior Cup. The players response to those defeats have been to work hard over the last couple of weeks in training. Gorey will be a tough game but one the team is looking forward to. The AIL junior Cup is a competition Instonians enjoy playing in.
The coaches Roger Wilson and Jon Andress have a fully fit squad to choose from except for long term injuries Aaron Davis, Zach Finlay, Richard McCarthy and Blair Robinson. Roger Wilson has returned to full training and will be a key player for the team in the upcoming matches against Gorey and Ballyclare.
Academy (4) v UUC (9)
Limavady (10) v Lisburn (6)
PSNI (8) v Larne (5)
Randalstown (3) v Ards (7)
Academy v UUC
Head coach Gareth Lynn is expecting to make 1/2 changes after the teams dramatic 23 – 22 win over Randalstown with selection to be confirmed on Thursday night. He is expecting another difficult game and probably a different challenge from the Randalstown match. It is all about being more clinical in the students twenty two and making sure the team finish of the chances they are creating. As he says it is always a good game against UUC , with the coaches and players looking forward to the match.
Limavady v Lisburn
Head coach Mark Nicholl and his players are looking forward to this game against Lisburn. What he is looking for from his players is a 80 min performance and for the team to get their decision making right at crucial times. The squad have picked up a lot of injuries this season and with a lot of players working shifts this has made it difficult in terms of putting out the same team consistently.
His players know Lisburn will make life very difficult for his team with the coach expecting his team to execute their game plan better. Selection will be finalised after training on Thursday night.
Lisburn Director of Rugby Michael Knowles is anticipating only one change to the Lisburn team that defeated the PSNI 44 – 0 with centre Yabia Lemeki unavailable. It is expected that vice captain Jake Bebbington will make his return from injury to take his place.
Michael was also keen for me to clarify comments that I included last week. He wants me to stress that the schools in the Lisburn area are trying to work with the club with a lot of progress being made in recent years. He is also aware that the onus is on Lisburn Rugby club to go out and build and develop their relationships with these schools.
The club are currently trying to build on their relationship with Friends School and offer their Under 15 rugby players the opportunity to play within the Lisburn Youth system. This again would be mutually beneficial to both the school and the rugby club.
Lisburn rugby club have good links with Wallace High School with a number of former pupils playing their rugby at the club. In addition the club have picked up a number of players who have left Wallace after completing their GCSE’s in recent years. Wallace also use the pitches at the club a couple of times each year for ad – hoc fixtures on a Friday night. This presents a great opportunity for the club to get in front of the players and sell Lisburn Rugby Club.
PSNI v Larne
Larne Head coach Graham Cloke has been quick to remind me how unlucky his team have been this season as they look to move away from the bottom six teams in Div 2 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship. They lost at the Glynn 32 – 28 against holders Ballynahinch seconds in the Junior Cup. 33 – 27 away to 2nd place Ballymoney in the league. Lost narrowly at home to Div 2 league leaders Grosvenor 17 -14 and have recorded wins over Ards 16 – 15 and won at Ballymena seconds 29 – 5 in the Conference league. What Graham is pointing out to me is that his side have played a number of the better teams in the opening two months of the season. With fixtures coming up against PSNI and Lisburn there is an opportunity for this talented Larne side to move up into the top half of the table.
When Graham took over at Larne this year morale was low. There was no structure on or off the pitch. It has taken a monumental effort to align many aspects within the club. Larne have a very small playing squad which means injuries have an impact on the squad. As Graham points out complacency sets in with a few players. This week the coach has a strong squad available for the match against the PSNI. Ryan McAllister comes into the back row with Colin McKinty going to the bench. Joseph Johnston returns as front row cover after following return to play protocols.
In the backs Anton White comes in on the wing with Scott Montgomery rested. Aaron McBride switches from 15 to 10 with Philip Andrews reverting from 10 to 15.
Larne are expecting an abrasive and competitive match at Newforge against the PSNI and are looking forward to the fixture.
Randalstown v Ards
Head coach Gary Longwell felt his team did not play to their potential against Academy and had no complaints about losing. Their opponents this weekend Ards have plenty of players with UBL experience and with Scott Young’s influence they will be a very difficult side to play against.
Ards coach John West recognises Randalstown is never an easy place to go and play rugby. Looking at the league table the team can’t really afford too many slip ups. It is all about getting our focus for the next game and trying to get something out of it. The teams next three league games are against teams above them in the league. The coach is expecting a couple of changes from the defeat at Ballymoney with a number of players putting their hand up for inclusion after strong performances for the 2nd xv. Both Stewart Paul and Scott Young are available for selection with several players facing late fitness tests, selection will not be finalised until Thursday night.
Ballymena seconds (10) v Ballymoney (2)
Banbridge seconds (4) v Malone seconds (3)
Grosvenor (1) v Omagh seconds (5)
BHSFP V Donaghadee
Cavan v Bye
Civil Service v Strabane
Donegal Town v Bye
Holywood v Bye
Lurgan v Bye
Monaghan v Letterkenny
Newry v Virginia