Domestic Rugby preview Saturday 26th Nov 2016 by George Millar

Instonians bit first

1st XV have a weekend of as we are out of the Junior Cup


However cup weekend for 2nd XV & 3Rd XV

2nd XV host Ballynahinch 3rd XV in their cup (2.30pm kick off)

3rd  host Queens 3rd XV in their cup (2.30pm kick off)


Then Ireland v Australia in the club at  (5.30pm kick off)

Has been an interesting week following the Ireland v New Zealand game at the weekend and the fall out. What we were expecting and what we witnessed will certainly not help to encourage young boys and girls to take up playing the game of rugby. I notice in my preview the shocking injury lists in our clubs. Having spoken to Gareth Fry the Head coach at CIYMS after his scrum half Cameron Stewart was injured playing against Limavady, there is a real dilemma for clubs , coaches and players. His mother does not want her son to play rugby again. He does. The results of further scans will determine whether he plays again. Jamie Heaslip is quite right when he talks about rugby being a physical game. You prepare yourself to take risks when you walk on to a rugby pitch. 

This weekend we have the return of the Ulster Bank All Ireland League  with teams breaking after fixtures on the 3rd December until 21st January for Section 2 teams and 28th January for Section 1 teams. There are three Ulster derbies involving Ballynahinch v Ballymena, Belfast Harlequins v Queens Uni and City of Derry v Dungannon. Ballymena are in 4th place in Div 1B with Ballynahinch two places further back in 6th place. In Section 2A Banbridge are level on points with Nenagh Ormond with Queens Uni positioned in 3rd place. In Div 2B Armagh remain at the top as the only undefeated team in the AIL  with Dungannon holding on to 4th place. In Div 2C Rainey OB are top three points ahead of 3rd place Bangor.

Malone need to pick up league points to move into the top four of Div 2A with Belafast Harlequins and City of Derry firmly rooted at the bottom of Div 2A and B.

The four inform teams in Junior rugby in Ulster meet in the semi finals of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup this weekend. Ballynahinch seconds host Div 1 leaders Portadown at Ballymacarn Park with 2nd place Omagh hosting Div 2 league leaders Coleraine at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields. Who will make it through to the final at the Kingspan stadium on Tuesday the 13th December. Will it be a Ballynahinch v Coleraine Final. We will have to wait and see.

Is it not of concern to the IRFU and the provincial club committees  that we have 'cracks' appearing in our league structures both in the Ulster Bank league and our own provincial structures. Two weeks ago we witnessed Belfast Harlequins travelling to Cork and going down 73 - 5 at Highfield. City of Derry made the  journey to Old Crescent in Limerick and lost 59 - 0. Thomond travelled from Limerick to Armagh and lost 71 - 10. It is quite clear in the AIL there are clubs and teams struggling in the AIL who don't have the playing resources to be competitive. Will we witness similar results over the next two weekends. 

It is interesting to read the current IRFU strategy document 2013 - 2017 on rugby in Ireland . The 'Plan Ireland' document has clearly created the structures and appointments to secure and promote professional rugby in Ireland and the Four Provinces. It is also interesting to read the 'Vision 2020' document produced for the IRFU. My interpretation is that the professional game has put in place structures to progress the professional game at the expense of domestic rugby. Where does the Amateur game fit in. I am not so sure it has a place alongside the professional game in Ireland. Reading these documents the Schools structure in Ireland is the pathway into professional rugby for aspiring players. The dilemma for the clubs is have they left it too late in reviewing the present structures in the hope of forging closer links with the professional game. If you want to read these documents go to the IRFU website and click on IRFU link and scroll down to Strategy +. Documents including 'Plan Ireland' and 'Vision 2020' are available to read.

As was hinted to me. Are we moving in the direction of what happens in the USA (NFL). If you don't play College Football, then you don't move into the professional game. Is this what is happening in Ireland. If you don't play Schools rugby you have no opportunity to play professional rugby. Have these changes been made by the Professional Games Committee with the clubs no longer considered to be part of the programme to develop future professional players.

What consultations will take place in the coming months on Club rugby as the IRFU look to complete their 2018 - 2022 strategy document on rugby in Ireland. Is it not time all clubs sat down and had a honest discussion on the future club structures in Ireland. Club officials need to set aside their prejudices against change and think about the playing resources available to sustain the Domestic game. 

We look at our own league structures in Ulster. Last Saturday both Donaghadee and Larne went down  51- 0 and 70 - 0 nil defeats against CIYMS and Coleraine with both games being blown up 20 minutes early. Small clubs with a small playing squad were depleted due to the playing of club fixtures on the same day as Ireland played New Zealand. 

Another interesting question was poised to me. Is there an age limit restriction when young rugby players are permitted to lift weights. When I researched I could find no guidance on age limit in Ireland. This question was asked of me by a parent with a son under 16 years. 

There is an interesting link on the home page of the IRFU website. Go to the Link 'Playing the Game' and scroll down to 'Fitness'. It provides very detailed information for Coaches, Players and the General Public on Fitness. No where does it mention age limits. Very surprised there is no guidance for Schools and Clubs on age limits. Are we exposing under developed young players to the rigours of weight training without proper age limits being put in place. This is an area that concerns parents and young players. We constantly hear the term that Schools players are burned out by the time they leave School and walk away from playing adult rugby. 




Played Friday 25.11.16. Kick Off 7.30PM

Terenure College (10) v Clontarf (8)

UCD (9) v Old Belvedere(5)

Young Munster (1) v Garryowen (7)

St Mary's College (6) v Lansdowne (2)

Played Saturday 26.11.16. Kick off 2PM

Dublin Uni (3) v Cork Constitution (4)


Ballynahinch v Ballymena 

Coaches Derek Suffern and Chris Parker will be delighted to see their 1st xv reach their fourth consecutive First Trust Senior Cup Final where they will play Dungannon at the Kingspan stadium on the 15th December. For this weekend they face Ulster neighbours Ballymena at home with two points separting the two sides in 4th and 6th place. Home form has been an issue for the Hinch squad and they will look to address this on Sat.

Hinch will be missing Aaron Cairns, John Donnan, and Lorcan Dow through injury with Conor Joyce expected to be involved with the Ulster Senior squad against Zebre on Friday night. Selection will be difficult with the clubs second xv playing a Junior Cup semi final at home against Portadown.

Hinch squad expected to be along the lines of Johnny Simpson, Jonny Murphy, Craig Trenier, James Simpson, kenny Morton, Michael Graham, Gareth Gill, Keith Dickson with prop Stuart Orr also in contention after performing well at Banbridge last week along with Conor Phillips.

In the backs a decision has to be made on scrum half with Angus Lloyd at Munster and Aaron Cairns out injured. Ulster trio Sam Windsor, Jonny McPhillips and David Busby have all been released. They will come into consideration along with James McBriar, Ross Carlisle, Davy Nicholson, Stuart Morrow, Stevie McCauley, Will Stewart, Chris Quinn, Chris Orr and Jordan Gratton. 

Ballymena Head coach Andy Graham is looking to put out a strong squad this weekend and build on the teams narrow 35 - 34 win at Galwegians two weeks ago with the returning Richie McMaster kicking 15 points including a late penalty to win the game for the Braid side. 

Injuries continue to rule out Marty Irwin, Josh McIIroy, Matthew Norris, Michael Lagan, Ross Kane, Alan O'Connor, Matty Rea and James Gallagher. Winger Jonny Rossborough has a chest infection and will face a late fitness test. The coach welcomes back Conor Smyth and Glen Baillie who had a run out for the Ulster Development squad against Georgia last week along with James Beattie. 

The Ballymena squad is expected to be 1 - 20 Aidy kirkpatrick, John Andrews, Chris Cundell, Kieran Treadwell, David Whann, Conor Smyth, Tony McGuinness, Stephen Mulholland, Dave Shanahan, Richie McMaster, Jonny Rossborough/Jordan Foster, Mark Best, Callum Patterson, James Beattie, Rodger McBurney, Bryan Young, Adam McBurney, Mark Foster with backs bench replacements coming from Glenn Baillie, John Creighton and Paddy James. Forwards Willy McKay, Joe Thompson, Andrew Ferguson and James Taggart are also on standby subject to any issues over the release by Ulster of John Andrews, Kieran Treadwell and Mark Best.

The coach is delighted that his players have an away game with not too far to travel this week. He was particularly pleased with the teams effort in Galway and how Richie McMaster stood up to the pressure of kicking the winning points against Galwegians. He was also pleased with how many players he has available this week. He is not on his own when work commitments determine the release of players particularly for away matches in the AIL.

Ballymena are expecting a very closely contested game at Ballymacarn Park. The coach is of the view that there is little between the two teams. He is expecting it to be a nip and tuck affair. Its outcome could come down to 1/2 plays to decide the match. The coach is also looking his players to tighten up their defence. He is expecting his players to play a smart game and take it to Ballynahinch. He is full of praise for the strength in depth at Ballynahinch and how they continue to develop young players. 

UCC (7) v Dolphin (9). Played Friday 25.11.16. Kick off 7.30PM

Naas (5) v UL Bohemians (2)

Ballynahinch(6) v Ballymena (4)

Shannon (10) v Old Wesley(3)

Buccaneers (1) v Galwegians (8). Played Friday 18.11.16. Buccaneers won 24 - 12.


Banbridge v Galway Corinthians

Head coach Daniel Soper was disappointed his side could not progress in the Senior Cup in their defeat at home to Ballynahinch last Sat. The game just proved a step too far against a strong Ballynahinch team. The coach was missing missing 5 of the pack and 2 of the backs that started the previous week who were unavailable due to the Ireland v New Zealand match in Dublin. As the coach pointed out it was unfortunate the Senior Cup semi final was on the same afternoon as the International as many players and supporters went to Dublin. It is an area that the Ulster Branch can revisit in their scheduling in the future. 

Returning to the Banbridge team this weekend for the visit of Galway Corinthians are Michael Cromie, Peter Cromie, Dale Carson, Stephen Irvine, Aaron Kennedy and Adam Doherty.  The coach is expecting a tough fortnight against Corinthians and Highfield before the Xmas break. The squad have had a positive calendar year and are hoping to finish it on a high.

Belfast Harlequins v Queens Uni

Queens Uni are in 3rd place in Div 2A - three points behind Banbridge and leaders Nenagh Ormond on 25 points after seven games. Their opponents Belfast Harlequins have one win from seven games and are firmly rooted to the bottom of the Division after being relegated from Div 1B last season. Their opportunity to return to winning ways after their 73 - 5 defeat at Highfield two weeks ago came unstuck at home to Dungannon in the semi final of the Senior Cup last Sat. They let slip a 14 - 3 halftime lead to lose 18 -14. Coaches Andrew Gillespie and Keith Pyper have a major task on their hands to turn around the fortunes of this team.

When you look at the playing resources available at Deramore. You look at the players who were unavailable last week. This included Rory Blake Knox, Philip McVitty, Steven Weir, Peter Cooper, Mark Kettyle, Andrew Pollock, Malcolm Corry, Ben Sloan, Roger Kirkwood, Marc Logan, Christian Bennison, Mark Wylie, Ollie Loughead, Danny Annett, Rory Harrison and Joe Rooyakkers it is difficult to understand how this club continues to struggle in the AIL.

Queens Head coach Bob Young is hoping his team can maintain their form with these two remaining games coming up against Belfast Harlequins and Cashel before the Xmas break. His players are taking nothing for granted against two sides who are scraping for every point  at the bottom end of Div 2A. The squad are reading nothing into the heavy defeat Belfast Harlequins suffered in Cork against Highfield two weeks ago. His players are expecting a tough encounter at Deramore Park on Sat. Cashel are a much improved side from their early season results and with key players returning after injuries, they will be a tough challenge.

Queens have been dealt a serious blow after their Captain Alex Thompson suffered a dislocated shoulder playing for the Ulster Development against Georgia at Belmont last Sat. His form and leadership had been decisive this season and he will be a huge loss to the team. The coach is confident that the extended squad they have at Queens this season will have able replacements.

The only changes from the team that defeated Blackrock College will see the return of back row forward Nick Timoney who has been training with the Ireland Sevens squad this week. Ali Burke who was also involved with the Ulster Development squad will move from the back row into the second row to replace Alex Thompson. Queens have a couple of injury concerns in the backs with Rory Butler and Josh Jordan pushing for inclusion in an area where there is huge competition within the squad.

Malone v Blackrock College

With both teams placed mid table, Blackrock College have a five point adavantage on Malone. Defeat for the East Belfast side would seriously impede their top four ambitions. These next two games away to Blackrock and home to Belfast Harlequins will be crucial for Malone coach Paddy Armstrong and his players.

Head coach Paddy Armstrong is well aware of the challenge Blackrock College will present to his players in Dublin this weekend. He has been pleased by the response of the players who have taken ownership of what needs to be done for the team to move forward with the players working hard in training since the 16 - 16 draw at home to Sunday's Well two weeks ago.

The squad will be affected by some unavailability this weekend, however a number of players are returning from injury. Ulster Academy player Jack Owens makes his first start for Malone at fullback this season after turning out for the Ulster Development team against Georgia last Sat. Phil Lucas returns in the back row with James McAllister reinstated in the second row. The rest of the Malone playing squad will be finalised on Thursday after some late fitness tests. 

Banbridge (2) v Galway Corinthians (8)

Belfast Harlequins (10) v Queens Uni (3)

Blackrock College (5) v Malone (6)

Cashel RFC (9) v Highfield (4)

Sunday's Well (7) v Nenagh Ormond (1). Kick off 2PM


Armagh v Greystones

Five points separate these two sides who meet at Dr Hickey Park this weekend with 1st playing 2nd.  Two crucial games coming up for Armagh Head coach Alex McCloy and his players in the next eight days. First up is the difficult away assignment at Greystones followed by the visit of 3rd place Wanderers to the Palace Grounds. Two wins and Armagh can open up a significant gap on the chasing pack.

The coach is still missing a number of players due to injury including Stuart Lester, Matthew Steenson, Jonny Pollock, Harvey Young and Matty Wright. The good news is that he welcomes back Captain Ali Birch and Chris Colvin to the squad. There was delight amongst the coaches in the performance of debut out half Cormac Fox against Thomond in their 71 - 10 win. This young player who starred for the Winning Ulster under 19 squad in September was also included in the Ulster Development squad that played against Georgia last Sat at Belmont.

The attitude of the Armagh coach and his players is to focus on one game at a time. He is aware his players face a huge test this weekend against an excellent Greystones side who have been scoring 30+ points per game this season. Struggling City of Derry conceded 71 points at the same venue in October.

It is the case of the Armagh side concentrating on their own performance and to forget about the 1st v 2nd scenario. If Armagh can execute with the ball and be disciplined and strong defensively the players have an excellent chance of getting a result. 

City of Derry v Dungannon

Head coach Richard McCarter has few options to strengthen his City of Derry playing squad. Stuart Simpson is struggling with a back injury after recovering from a fractured wrist. William McCleery is back training but won't be fit in time for Saturday. Ian Britton may return after being out with a head injury. Derry won't be in a position to finalise their squad until Thursday night.

Dungannon Head coach Andy Hughes is delighted his players grabbed the opportunity to secure a place in the Final of the First Trust Senior Cup where they will play holders Ballynahinch at the Kingspan Stadium on Thursday the 15th December. After a couple of difficult seasons 

a night out at the Kingspan stadium is a great reward for the guys who have been working so hard to stabilise the club, both blazers and the players alike.

The next two AIL weeks are all about the team hanging on and trying to get through to Xmas break still in touch with the top four. With the squads ever growing injury list the players are well aware of the task ahead.

Each week is about recovery and patching players up for the following week.

This weekend is a huge game. Even though City of Derry are going through a transformation phase we would be naive in underestimating them in any way. They have quality players throughout the team and its only a matter of time before they turn things around.

Dungannon are still missing some key players with Seamus Mallon, Steven Sinnamon, Mark Faloon, Paul Armstrong and Josh Kennedy all ruled out to the new year. Tianua Poto comes back into the team after being cup tied last week  with Peter Cashel returning from injury.

Bective Rangers (6) v MU Barnhall (5). Played Friday 25.11.16. Kick off 7.30PM

Greystones (2) v Armagh (1). Kick off 2PM

Wanderers (3) v Skerries (8). Kick Off 2PM

City of Derry (10) v Dungannon (4)

Old Crescent (7) v Thomond (9)


Bangor v Bruff

The North Down club are in 3rd place in Div 2C after winning 5/7 in the first half of their return to AIL rugby. The team and the players are looking to win their two remaining games over the next two weekends against Bruff and Sligo to consolidate their top four placing. Leaders Rainey OB are only 3 points ahead off Bangor with Navan holding a 2 point advantage in second place.

Bangor 1st xv Manager Ricky Armstrong feels the team have now bedded into the league and know what it takes to win AIL games. Lessons were learned in the heavy defeat away to Tullamore.

The focus for the coaches is managing the squad through the next two games where they will then get a long break until after Xmas before their next game in the SONI Ulster league on the 31st January against Queens Uni.

Bangor will lose second row Dave Caughey  for the rest of the season as he undergoes surgery on a damaged wrist on Thursday. Glenn Burton who has been playing really well would have taken his place alongside his brother Craig in the second row. He is currently following return to play protocol after taking a head knock against Kanturk.

Curtis Stewart who has been playing for the 2nd xv in recent weeks will come in to start in the second row against Bruff. He has been returning to full fitness following a bicep injury.

Ulster Academy centre Lewis Sampson remains on the sidelines after a second concussion this season. He has been told to take an extended time off as a precaution that will see him miss the next two AIL games.

For this weekend the front row of Phil Whyte (Captain), Conor Pyper and James Leary remains unchanged. This combination have been totally dominant at scrum time this season in the AIL. At times they have been the difference in matches.

Craig Burton and Curtis Stewart are in the second row. Jamie Clegg, Mike Apsley and David Bradford continue in the back row with bench replacement Ryan Latimer giving the coach the option off the bench. In recent games these four players have rotated well in the last two AIL games. 

Alaister Lockhart continues at scrum half with Jason Morgan returning at out half. Desi Fusco returns to join Phil Broderick in the centre. Mark Widdowson and Rob Gamble are on the wings with Mike Weir continuing at full back. 

The Bench includes Andrew Jackson, Andrew Shaw, Ryan Latimer, Gareth Wright and Ross McCloskey.

Rainey OB v Kanturk

Head coach John Andrew's  and his players face two Munster sides Kanturk and Bruff over the next eight days as they aim to finish the first half of their AIL league programme as league leaders. First up are Kanturk who travel to Hatrick Park on Sat. The last occasion these two sides met was in the All Ireland Junior Cup in 2006. Rainey are missing Captain Jonny Lees, along with Ronan and Michael McCusker this weekend through injury. Andrew Harbinson returns to join Bernie Mullan and Darren Corrigan in the back row. Both Mullan and Corrigan   retain their places in the back row after putting in a superb performance against Tullamore two weeks ago. Both Jody McMurray and Jonny Burgess return to the backs.

Boyne (9) v Tullamore (4). Kick off 2PM

Seapoint (7) v Sligo (6). Kick off 2PM

Bangor (3) v Bruff (8)

Midleton (5) v Navan RFC (2)

Rainey OB (1) v Kanturk (10)


Ballynahinch seconds v Portadown

Can Portadown upset the form book at Ballymacarn Park this week. Ballynahinch seconds are firm favourites to win the Junior Cup this season. They demonstrated their strength in depth when they overcame closest rivals Enniskillen at Mullaghmeen last Sat 15 - 10 to make them firm favourites to win Div 1 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship/ Conference League. When Ballynahinch hosted Portadown in the Conference league on the 22nd October they ran out comfortable 50 - 0 winners. Portadown returned to the top of Div 1 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship last week after defeating Ards 40 - 7 at Chambers Park.

Ballynahinch are expected to select from the following squad for Sat. Chris Stevenson, Ben Pentland, Jerry Cronin/ Samuel/Gordon, Stuart Evans/Dave Gunson/ Davidson, Callum Irvine, Andy Simpson, Jones, Chris Gibson, Jonny Murdock, Ryan Wilson, Aaron Ferris, Davy Harris, Callum McLaughlin, Chris Orr, Paddy Wright, Stuart Orr and Will Stewart.

Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley is expecting a tough game on Saturday at Ballynahinch. His team travelled to to the same venue earlier in the season and were given a lesson in counter attacking rugby. His players are looking forward to going and putting in a better performance.

Dairmuid O'Kane misses the game through injury and is replaced by Matthew Thorton. Mal Allister, Matthew Wilson, Mark Henderson, James Wright, Gary Hall, Michael Orr and Tom Caesar return to the squad this week after missing the teams win over Ards last Sat.

Omagh v Coleraine

The County Tyrone side are 2nd in Div 1 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship, behind leaders Portadown with a game in hand. Their opponents at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields are a Coleraine side who lead Div 2 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship and Div 2 of the Conference league.

Omagh head coach Philip Marshall is missing back row Adam Longwell and centre Alan Heaney. They have been replaced by Richard Harper in the back row and Yonga Taleni in the centre.  Otherwise the coach has a full squad to select from.

The coach is expecting a big challenge from Coleraine but both he and his players are looking forward to it. 

Coleraine Head coach Richard Boyd has welcomed the Junior Cup run as it has been a welcomed distraction from the weekly pressures of chasing points in the league. The Cup run has been challenging including a big win away to Ards, a local derby against Limavady and a tough encounter against an in form Ballyclare side to get to the semi final . Omagh provides another difficult challenge that his players are looking forward to as a squad.

The coach is aware Omagh are a very strong side who are well drilled and like to play rugby like his Coleraine side.They have been battle hardened in recent weeks with some tough wins and will be expecting not to lose this game at home. His Coleraine side have nothing to lose on Saturday and have had a good record against Omagh in recent seasons.

The coach has added Dijon McCorkell, Daniel Ramage, Steven Dickey and James Blair to his squad to bolster his forward options along with Steven Callaghan coming in to add cover in the backline.

For the coach this is the first time this season his players go into a game as underdogs with the pressure very much on Omagh at home. He is hoping his team can raise their game and show they can compete with one of the top Junior sides.

Coleraine have a large group of supporters travelling to the game. His squad are in a positive frame of mind  for the match. The coach is also proud of the squads efforts this year. His players will give it their best shot this week to keep the momentum going in the club. 

Ballynahinch Seconds v Portadown

Omagh v Coleraine


CIYMS V Randalstown

Despite missing several 1st xv backs at Donaghadee last Sat, the East Belfast side proved too strong for their opponents, running in 9 tries to lead 51 - 0 with the referee blowing the game up 20 mins early. What impressed me watching CI last Sat was their forwards who can compete with any forward unit in Junior rugby in Ulster. Their back five in particular with Ulster Junior Paddy Aiken and Davy Cobain in the second row along with Scott Dowle, Jason Gilliland and Captain Mark McConkey in the back row. Not to mention the fact that they had the experienced Ross Hackney to introduce into the back row in the second half. Davy Cobain was the stand out player with his ability to do all the unselfish work that can go unseen on the pitch. Jason Gilliland who played at 7 has switched from the backs. What stood out watching his performance were his lines of running and his ability to be always on the shoulder of the ball carrier. He will be an exciting and dynamic player to watch this season.

For this weekend Head coach Gareth Fry welcomes back Matty Butler and Nathan Burns in the centre with Peter Raine restored at full back. He is still missing 2/3 other backs but is confident his side will be competitive. In the forwards Gavin Woods comes in at tight head for Tim Acheson.

CIYMS will be looking to keep the pressure on league leaders Coleraine by taking maximum points from this match with a crucial league game coming up between the two sides on the 17th December at Belmont.

Randalstown are positioned in 7th place with three wins from their opening five league games. After their strong finish to last season. Gary Longwell and his squad were expected to push on and challenge at the top of Div 2 this season. They face league leaders Coleraine away next week. Two big games coming up for the Randalstown players and their coaching staff.

CIYMS (2) v Randalstown (7)


BHSFP (5) v Newry (7)

Holywood (8) v Monaghan (11)

Ophir (12) v Ballymoney (1)

PSNI (2) v Letterkenny (6)

Strabane (4) v Cavan (10)

Virginia (9) v Lurgan (3)