Domestic Rugby preview for Sat 9th Dec 2017 by George Millar

Instonians Bit First

Instonians 1st XV have no game this weekend

The final corporate lunch of 2017 will take place before the vital 1XV League match against Portadown on 16th December, 12:30 for 13:00.  

This pre-Christmas event is always the biggest lunch of the year and quite a few tables/places have already been booked.

David Croft 07885 918145                                                                 

and

Ken Bamford 07834 665095

are organising the lunch and would urge you to contact them as soon as possible to ensure you do not miss out.

Should we be concerned at the number of matches amateur club teams are expected to play each season in the Ulster leagues and Cup competitions. At Senior level we have the 12 Ulster UBL teams also competing in the Ulster Rugby Premiership and the First Trust Senior Cup. The same applies to the teams in Div 1 and 2 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship. They have the league along with the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup, with the top four teams in Div 1 competing in the Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup and the two Conference leagues.

This season the Junior Cup has been dominated by the UBL second xv teams in Ulster with Ballynahinch seconds and City of Armagh seconds contesting the final on Thursday the 21st December. In many respects the top teams in Div 1 Ballyclare and Instonians exited early the Junior Cup and All Ireland Junior Cup that has allowed these teams to focus on their pursuit of the league title. For the first time in nine seasons we have no Ulster teams contesting the semi finals of the AIL Junior Cup this weekend. Why is that happening.

In recent seasons we have had teams like Bangor, Instonians and Omagh involved in all these competitions. That has not happened this season. Isn’t it ironic that Ballynahinch seconds, City of Armagh seconds and Malone seconds have been placed in this situation this season. Checking on Malone seconds they will potentially play 17 games by the 30th Dec including a match on the 23rd December. They still have the second xv league and McCrea Cup to play in the second half of the season. Another 11/13 matches.

Why I keep raising this subject is that we are supposed to be looking after the welfare of our club players. What I am seeing and picking up is the increasing injuries players are suffering due to the physical and attritional nature of the game. When I hear the words ‘players being mentally prepared’ and ‘physically up for matches’ I ask how can we keep asking tired bodies to keep performing week in week out without any breaks.

Interesting looking at the other three provinces. In the Junior leagues the teams have a break from playing league games until the weekend of the 6th January. What are we doing for our players in Ulster. We have them playing games on the 9th, 16th and 30th December. It seems like a case of how many matches can we squeeze into a season. After this weekend the UBL clubs down South will rest until the 6th January. We keep asking the question why are the teams down South dominating the UBL, we have no teams in Div 1A. Why do the teams down South keep winning the AIL Junior Cup every season. Is it not time we took action to look after our players. Reduce the size of our leagues with blocks of games and rest weekends included in the playing template.

This weekend the Ulster UBL teams play return fixtures with their opponents from last weekend with Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Ballymena, Banbridge, Malone, Queens Uni and Rainey OB not having access to any of their Ulster players for their All Ireland League matches. It will be a case of their club players having to step in for this vital weekend of matches before the teams break until the 6th January 2018.

Ballynahinch, Banbridge and Ballymena all recorded home wins in Div 1B last weekend with Ballynahinch moving ahead of Shannon into 1st place . How will they fare this weekend when they are all playing their return fixtures away from home. Leaders Malone were the only Ulster winners in Div 2A with both Queens Uni and City of Armagh losing. In Div 2B Rainey OB were not playing at the weekend as their games against Sunday’s Well were rescheduled for the 9th and 16thDecember with Munster having played at Irish Independent Park last Saturday. Dungannon improved their chances of a top four finish by defeating City of Derry 51 – 6 at the Craig Thompson stadium. With Belfast Harlequins losing at Wanderers both Quins and City of Derry prop up the Div 2B table in 9th and 10th place.  In Div 2C both Bangor and Omagh suffered defeats against Sligo and Malahide. Both teams will be aware that 4th place Omagh and 6th place Bangor are only 10 and 8 points ahead of 10th place Tullamore.

In the Kukri Ulster Rugby championship Ballyclare and Instonians occupy the top two places in Div 1 with Ballyclare having a seven point advantage. There were surprise defeats for top four teams Carrickfergus at Clogher Valley and Dromore at Cooke. With Clogher Valley recording their first league win their next league game will be against neighbours Enniskillen at Mullaghmeen on the 16th December with four points separating the two teams in 9th and 10th place. Portadown suffered another defeat at Ballyclare to remain in 8th place level on points with Enniskillen. There were wins for Coleraine against Enniskillen with Instonians romping home 40 – 9 at Belfast neighbours CIYMS.

In Div 2 leaders Grosvenor just about got over the line winning 19 – 18 in a thrilling game against Ards at Gibson Park. There were also wins for Academy over Lisburn with Ballymoney winning their game with the PSNI at Newforge.

The top of the table clash in Div 3 between Lurgan and Donaghadee resulted in a narrow 12 – 10 win for leaders Lurgan with Strabane closing the gap on 2nd place Donaghadee to four points after winning at Cavan.

ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE : ROUND 10

DIV 1A

Buccaneers (10) v St Mary’s College (9)

Cork Constitution (5) v Garryowen (3)

Dublin Uni ((8) v Clontarf ((4)

Lansdowne (1) v UCD (6)

Young Munster (7) v Terenure College (20

DIV 1B

Dolphin (10) v Banbridge (3)

Old Belvedere (5) v Ballymena (8)

Old Wesley (7) v Naas (6)

Shannon (2) v Ballynahinch (1). Kick off 1PM

UCC (4) v UL Bohemians (9)

Banbridge v Dolphin

Head coach Daniel Soper and his players have come through three tight matches of late, winning by one point against Old Belvedere and Dolphin and losing by one point at Old Wesley. Nothing his players did not expect in the UBL. Last weekend they came across a Dolphin side who played with a lot of enthusiasm and physicality. They were a very good team with his Banbridge side doing well to come away with five points.

The return fixture this weekend in Cork will present a big challenge to his team, particularly up front.

No Ulster players have been released this week with the match providing the opportunity for some players who have had limited chances to put a marker down. Dale Carson who has played 100+ games in the UBL makes a timely return after being out with a shoulder injury since February. He is joined by Mike Bentley who returns after surgery on his knee. He has not played since April 2017. Conor Field returns to take his place on the wing in place of Rob Lyttle. Stuart Cromie is another player who has had limited involvement on the 1st xv and gets a deserved opportunity in the front row.

This game has been moved to a 4PM kick off.

Ballymena v Old Belvedere

There was relief all round at Eaton Park when the 1st xv recorded their first UBL home win of the season defeating Eddie O’Sullivan’s Old Belvedere side 25 -16. Head coach Andy Graham was delighted with the performance. He felt his team could have scored another 3/4 tries to put 40 points on the Dublin team. The return of the injured Adrian Hamilton at number 8 along with the performance of Matthew Rea in the unaccustomed position of the second row played a significant part in the win. Prop Nacho Crespo was another stand out performer along with second row Conor Smyth who is starting to find his form.

There are many challenges for the coach this week. He does not have any of his Ulster players including Angus Kernohan, Callum Patterson, Adam McBurney, Brett Herron, David Shanahan, Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, Ross Kane and Clive Ross with only Ulster Sub Academy players Michael Stronge and Matthew Agnew being released.

He will welcome back second row David Whann along with James Taggart, James Boville, Matthew Norris and Alan Smyth into the starting xv. Injuries rule out Jonny Rossborough, Mark Foster, James Gallagher, Scott Agnew, Andrew Cundell with Joe Thompson, Bryan Young and Matthew Dick unavailable to travel.

Ballymena team: 1. Nacho Crespo, 2. James Taggart, 3. Chris Cundell, 4. David Whann, 5. Conor Smyth, 6. Stephen Mulholland, 7. Matthew Agnew/Dominic Gallagher, 8. Adrian Hamilton, 9. Michael Stronge, 10. Glenn Baillie. 11. James Boville, 12. Alan Smyth, 13. Matthew Norris, 14. Dean Reynolds, 15. Rodger McBurney. Replacements from Houston Bonnar, Ryan Matheison, Russell Blair, Andrew Ferguson, Tim Savoury, Ben O’Ryan, Nathan Rankin, John Loughlin and Stephen Shaw.

The return game will be difficult with new combinations at 9/10 and 12/13 this weekend. Old Belvedere have a big pack that rely on their set piece ability. Where they struggle is in the broken field play. Eddie O’Sullivan felt his team could not match Ballymena in the loose play. Ballymena were able to hold their own in the set scrums and lineouts. They will look to their forwards to do the same this week at Anglesea Road in Dublin.

Andy Graham is looking his team to build on their win. With players returning from injury and young players having experienced the rigours of the UBL in the first half of the season he feels his squad can challenge for a top four finish in the second half of the season.

Ballynahinch v Shannon

The 42 – 15 win over Shannon will have boosted the confidence of the Ballynahinch squad for the return trip to play Shannon at Thomond Park this weekend. I understand Shannon were missing 6/7 of their 1st xv squad who were unable to travel last weekend due to exams. The Ulster players have been the backbone of the Ballynahinch team this season. Missing for this weekend will be: David Busby, Rory Butler, Jonny McPhillips, Aaron Cairns, Zac McCall, Jack Regan, Peter Browne and Jonny Simpson with Sub Academy players Conor Kelly and Campbell Classon expected to be available.

DIV 2A

City of Armagh (6) v Cashel (5)

Galway Corinthians (7) v Malone (1)

Greystones (10) v Queens Uni (4)

Highfield (2) v Galwegians (10)

Nenagh Ormond (3) v Blackrock College (8)

City of Armagh v Cashel

Despite a number of changes to the 1st xv, City of Armagh were unlucky to lose 13 – 10 at Cashel. They were missing their regular back row of James Morton, Neil Faloon and Captain Ali Birch along with backs Chris Colvin and Cormac Fox. James Hanna suffered a back injury on Saturday so will miss the return fixture this week. He joins Paul Mullan and Stephen Morton on the side lines with Andrew Willis not expected to return until January.

Assistant coach Chris Parker is expecting to have Chris Colvin, Captain Ali Birch, Cormac Fox and Neil Faloon available for this week with a few players undergoing late fitness tests on Thursday night before the squad is finalised.

Malone v Galway Corinthians

Head coach Paddy Armstrong was full of praise for his Malone side who overcame a strong Galway Corinthians team to win 22 – 20 at Gibson Park. He once again emphasised how competitive Div 2A of the UBL is. Both he and the players are looking forward to another tight game this week in the return fixture with the players having trained really well this week.

Andy Bryans will start in place of Jack Owens at full back with Max Porter coming into the back row.

Corinthian Park in Galway has not been a happy hunting ground for the Malone team over the last four seasons. Despite their best efforts they have lost all four away matches in the league. Last season they suffered a 46 – 3 loss. Can the team and the players overturn this record and come away with a win this weekend.

Queens Uni v Greystones

The students poor home form  continued in the UBL when they lost 27 – 17 at home to 10th place side Greystones. Injuries had ruled out Alexander Clarke, Dave Whitten and Angus Curtis last Sat along with the unavailable Jonny Lees, Jonny Milliken and Rory Bell.

Both Rory Bell and Jonny Milliken will be available for the return match this weekend at Dr Hickey Park.

DIV 2B

Belfast Harlequins (9) v Wanderers (3)

Dungannon (6) v City of Derry (10)

MU Barnhall (5) v Skerries (7)

Navan RFC (4) v Old Crescent (1)

Rainey OB (2) v Sunday’s Well (8)

Belfast Harlequins v Wanderers

Quins Head coach Nicky Wells was happy with the teams 1st half at Wanderers. It was only when the team went two scores behind that they fell away slightly. Both the coaches and the players are hoping to get a chance to redeem themselves at home this week.

Selection wise the pack will be the same as last week apart from Dan Bingham replacing the injured Zac Jordan in the back row. Mark Glover will return at full back with Christian Bennison reverting to the wing. Paul Kerr comes into the centre to partner Mark Gribben.

Dungannon v City of Derry

Head coach Andrew Hughes was delighted with his teams clinical performance away to City of Derry in their 51 – 6 win. The players knew after last seasons defeats they had to start well to deny City of Derry any momentum which they managed as they went on to score nine tries.

City of Derry lost a couple of players to injury early on which probably helped Dungannon with the coach delighted with his teams approach as they controlled the ball, went through their patterns and got their rewards.

With recently signed NZ second row Adam Batt securing a full time contract with the Doncaster Knights in the English Championship the coach was delighted to see Peter Doran step into the second row and put in a great performance after being out of the team for a few weeks.

This week the challenge for the Dungannon players is to keep their focus and put behind them the result last week as they focus on the home return game at Stevenson Park.

Like every coach, you expect a response from your team if you suffer a heavy defeat with City of Derry being no different. His players would be naive to think its only a matter of turning up, so there is certainly no drop off in intensity in training this week.

The only injury doubt from last week is winger Mervyn Brown who strained a knee ligament. Daniel Maxwell returns to the squad with John Russell, Jordan McIIwaine and Andrew McPhillips still on the injured list.

Rainey OB v Sunday’s Well

Head coach John Andrews will make a number of changes with both Tommy O’Hagan and John McCusker involved with Ulster A in the British & Irish Cup away to Hartpury RFC on Saturday with Jody McMurray at a wedding.

Everyone else is fully fit and competing for a starting place. The coach felt his teams performance against Skerries was one of their worst this season. There will be no complacency in the squad as the players complete their preparations this week, determined to kick on and really challenge Old Crescent at the top of Div 2B.

Sunday’s Well will not be an easy game. It is the players mind set that is the key to them getting a result on Saturday.

DIV 2C

Bangor (6) v Sligo (1)

Malahide (3) v Omagh (4)

Midleton (9) v Bruff (5)

Seapoint (7) v Tullamore (10)

Thomond (2) v Bective Rangers (8)

Bangor v Sligo

Despite their narrow 9 – 7 loss at league leaders Sligo last Saturday the Bangor squad remain full of confidence for the return game at Upritchard Park this week. The team controlled many areas of the game last week with the set piece again proving too strong for the big Sligo pack. Defence was another positive with the Sligo team unable to threaten the Bangor line throughout the 80 mins. The pack were disappointed to concede a last minute penalty that decided the game despite driving Sligo off the ball. The dominance of the Bangor pack won them 6 scrum penalties and a penalty try during the game.

The Bangor team played with a real intensity with several collisions in the midfield due to the line speed and desire of the defensive formation. The coaches will be looking the same response from the players this weekend. There is a belief in the Bangor squad that they are fitter and stronger and know how to play for 80 mins. Despite back to back defeats the team is looking for a win this week before the Xmas break. After that the squad have a three week break before they play Omagh at home on the 6th January in the UBL.

Given the bruising nature of the game at Sligo, Bangor lost their back row forward Ryan Latimer with a dislocated shoulder. His place is expected to be taken by Jamie Clegg. Jack Cooke who had his best game for Bangor in the second row last week is ruled out after picking up an injury and will be replaced by player coach Lewis Stevenson who was unavailable last week. His presence and leadership will be a welcome boost for the team.

Final selection will be made on Thursday night from a squad of 20. 1.Captain Philip Whyte, 2. Andrew Shaw, 3. James Leary, 4.Evan Wellard – McMillan, 5. Andrew Jackson, 6. Dave Caughey, 7. Lewis Stevenson, 8. Martin Withers, 9. James Henley, 10. David Bradford, 11. Jamie Clegg, 12. Lewis Bret, 13. Ross McCloskey. 14. Mark Widdowson, 15. Phil Broderick, 16. Rob Gamble, 17. Davy Charles, 18. Jules Storey, 19. Desi Fusco, 20 Michael Weir.

Omagh v Malahide

Head coach Phil Marshall makes two changes to his squad for the return game at Malahide. Phil Ewing replaces Kyle Alexander on the bench with Neil Brown returning from injury to replace the unavailable Alastair Beckett at full back.

The coach is looking a big reaction from his players after their 27 – 5 home defeat last Saturday. They get their chance in the return fixture this weekend. He felt the players lacked the right mental attitude for the home game. As he says you must bring your A game each week to win.

Can Omagh prevent Malahide from making it three wins over them in 2017. Omagh lost at home in Round Robin playoffs in April and suffered a second defeat last Saturday.

ULSTER BANK AIL JUNIOR CUP SEMI FINALS

KIlfeacle & District (Munster) v Newcastle West (Munster)

Ashbourne (Leinster) v Ballina (Connacht)

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 2

Ards (6) v PSNI (9)

Ballymoney (3) v Limavady (8)

Larne (5) v Academy (4)

Lisburn (7) v UUC (10)

Ards v PSNI

Head coach John West was very pleased with the performance of the team in their narrow 19 – 18 loss away to league leaders Grosvenor last Saturday. A couple of individual mistakes and missed opportunities to score points cost the team the win. He was particularly pleased with the performance of Gareth McBurney and Onisi Burekama in the forwards and wingers Trevor Devlin and Adam Coulter who have developed into very good finishers.

For the game at home to the PSNI there will be a number of players available who missed last week. For coaches John West and Scott Young they will have some difficult decisions to make. With several players picking up knocks no final decision on selection will be made until Thursday night.

Ards are expecting a hard game with the PSNI who were competitive in their 29 – 3 home defeat to Bal;ymoney last week.

Ballymoney v Limavady

Larne v Academy

Head coach Graham Cloke was encouraged by the performance of his team in their 29 – 14 loss away to Banbridge seconds in the conference league. His squad trained with Carrickfergus last night and had a full on hit, so this will prepare the team for what they expect to be a physical match against Academy at home on Saturday. He feels they are like Larne up and down in recent performances. It is a case of which team takes the initiative on the pitch first will win the game.

Selection still to be finalised on Thursday with a couple of players missing through injury. Aaron McBride is unavailable with hooker Craig Gibson returning to pack down alongside Sam McWhirter and Jack Hill in the front row. The rest of the pack is the same with Ian McilHeron taking his place in the centre.

Academy Head coach Gareth Lynn was pleased with his teams 18 – 12 win over Lisburn at Roughfort on Sat. It was an important win with the game on Saturday at Larne even more important for the players. He is also aware that it is always a difficult game for his players against Larne with team selection not being finalised until Thursday night.

Lisburn v UUC

Director of Rugby Michael Knowles was pleased with the performance of his Lisburn team in their 18 – 12 loss at Academy. The game he felt was there for the taking and Lisburn will welcome picking up the bonus point. It is now a case of converting these narrow defeats into wins starting this Saturday against UUC.

The team will be missing several players including Tom Fraser, Adam Heaps and Ernest Caseta who are all unavailable while Rick Henning and Craig Walsh are still carrying injuries. Chris Magill who has been impressing for the seconds will get his opportunity this week.

UUC Director of Rugby Brett Campbell was delighted with the 1st xv and their 39 – 15 win over Malone seconds in the Conference league last week. The players are sticking to their principles of working hard on their core skills that allowed them to score 7 tries against Malone. The result gives the students the belief that they have the ability and just need to put this into practice in their league games. The same squad gets the vote of confidence for the crucial league game at Lisburn on Saturday. Captain Michael Smith has been driving home to the players the importance of playing for the full 80 mins during training this week.

Full back John Allen makes his league debut after an impressive game against Malone. He becomes the 9th 18 year old player to play for the 1st xv this season. Club Chairman Philip Beattie hopes progress on the field will continue. But he was clear at selection that Lisburn are a very capable side and how hard it will be for the players to get a result at Blaris.

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP/CONFERENCE DIV 2

Ballymena seconds (7) v Grosvenor (1)

Malone seconds (2) v Randalstown (3). Played Thursday 7.12.17. Kick off 7.30PM.

Omagh seconds (6) v Banbridge seconds (5)

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3

Cavan (9) v Virginia (5)

Donegal Town (120 v Monaghan (4)

Holywood (7) v Strabane (3)

Letterkenny (10) v Donaghadee (2)

Lurgan (1) v BHSFP (6)

Newry (8) v Civil Service (11)

Cheers

George