With 10 of the 12 Ulster UBL teams involved in Ulster derbies there were wins for Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Queens Uni, Rainey OB and Dungannon with Omagh and Bangor drawing their game at the Thomas Mellon playing fields 6 – 6. There were defeats for Ballymena, Malone, City of Armagh, City of Derry and Belfast Harlequins.
In Div 1B Ballynahinch and Banbridge occupy 2nd and 3rd place 3 pts and 4 pts behind league leaders Shannon. The Limerick side suffering a surprise defeat against Naas. Ballynahinch have back to back games with Shannon on the 2nd and 9th of December that could determine who leads this Division going into the Xmas break. Ballymena are looking over their shoulders as 3 points separate them and 9th place UL Bohemians.
In Div 2A Queens Uni surprised league leaders Malone 20 - 11 in front of several hundred supporters at Gibson Park to consolidate their 3rd place 3 pts behind Malone and 2 pts behind 2nd place Highfield. Malone remain top one point ahead of Highfield. The woes of City of Armagh continue as they lost their fourth consecutive UBL game against Highfield to slip down into 6th place.
In Div 2B Rainey OB proved too strong for fellow Ulster strugglers City of Derry winning 40 – 5 at the newly named Craig Thompson stadium to move within 3 points of league leaders Old Crescent. Dungannon moved up to 7th place after convincingly defeating 10th place Belfast Harlequins 41 – 8 at Deramore Park. Both Ulster teams Belfast Harlequins and City of Derry are urgently in need of league points to avoid dropping into Div 2C next season.
In Div 2C Omagh and Bangor could not be separated in their 6 – 6 draw at the Thomas Mellon playing fields last Saturday. Bangor are 3rd on 20 points followed by Bruff and Omagh in 4th and 5th on 19 points.
It has been an encouraging start to the UBL programme for the Ulster sides with a crucial block of three games coming up on the 25th Nov and the 2nd and 9th December before the Xmas break for the Ulster teams. There will be concern for Ballymena, City of Derry and Belfast Harlequins with hopefully City of Armagh turning around this run off losses. Dungannon have shown after their win on Sat they can move further away from the bottom two places in Div 2B.
The focus for four of the Ulster UBL clubs this weekend is the semi finals of the First Trust Senior Cup. Holders Ballynahinch are hoping to make it four in a row when they travel to play Ballymena at Eaton Park. Ballynahinch will be hoping to record another win after defeating Ballymena 27 – 0 at Eaton Park last Friday night. City of Armagh and Malone meet in the other semi final at the Palace Grounds. Both these teams played each other at Gibson Park two weeks ago in the UBL with Malone winning a evenly contested game 28 – 26.
In the All Ireland Junior Cup it was disappointing to read that both Instonians and Enniskillen were knocked out at the quarter final stage to leave no Ulster representation in the semi finals on the 9th December for the first time in nine years. When you look at the Div 1 teams in the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship none of the teams will be involved in the Junior Cup semi finals on the 25th November. It is a long time since this has happened. It means that the teams will have only the league to focus on between now and the second week of February when the Div 1 teams enter the 2nd Rd of the Towns Cup. At this time of the season there is usually a log jam in fixtures. That won’t happen unless the weather dictates otherwise.
In Div 1 Ballyclare will be looking to extend their lead over Instonians when they travel to Enniskillen with the Shawsbridge team playing a Conference league game against Armagh. Third place Dromore also have a Conference league game with Ballynahinch that could allow 4th place Carrickfergus to overtake them if they win at Portadown. We are all aware how tight it is between the five teams in the bottom half of the league with CIYMS playing Clogher Valley and Cooke entertaining Coleraine. Clogher Valley have several key players returning this week and are capable of putting a winning run together. Cooke can have top four aspirations this season if they defeat Coleraine.
In Div 2 Grosvenor remain the pacesetters with the top game in this Division taking place between Grosvenor and 3rd place Ballymoney at Kilraughts Road. Five points separate thes teams with a win vital for Ballymoney. 2nd place Randalstown travel to play UUC and would be expected to pick up maximum points. If Grosvenor are defeated we could see Randalstown top of Div 2 come Saturday evening. Fascinating contest between these three teams to finish in the top two places. Six points separate the bottom five teams with only UUC and Limavady playing league matches. Larne if they defeat Limavady can move ahead of Academy into 4th place.
In Div 3 leaders Lurgan took advantage of their nearest rivals not playing to defeat Civil Service 50 – 8 to move nine points ahead of Donaghadee. The Lurgan side have picked up a maximum 45 points from their opening nine league games. With Lurgan not playing this weekend Donaghadee can close the gap as they entertain North Down rivals Holywood at Donaldson Park. A fixture that will surely attract a large crowd.
What an impact Jacob Stockdale has made in stepping up to play International Rugby. 12 months ago on the 26.11.16 Jacob played for Ballynahinch 1st xv against Ballymena 1st xv in the UBL with Ballymena winning 28 – 18. Also interesting to note the number of players who 12 mths later played for both teams from that match in the UBL game at Eaton Park on Friday 10th November 2017.
Ballynahinch: Stuart Morrow and Jonny Simpson with injury ruling out James Simpson.
Ballymena: Rodger McBurney, Jonny Rossborough, Connor Smyth, Adam McBurney, Mark Foster and Glenn Baillie with injury and illness ruling out Stephen Mulholland, Chris Cundell, David Whann, Callum Patterson, and Dave Shanahan.
An issue that is being raised with me is the concern over referees not engaging with coaches and players during and after games. There is a feeling that match officials can’t wait to exit the pitch and clubhouse after matches instead of coming in and joining with the rugby family in the clubhouse afterwards. In the feedback I am receiving match officials are not communicating with players during matches and explaining decisions so coaches and players can avoid repeat making the same mistakes. Historically referees always integrated with teams, players and coaches in clubhouses after matches. On occasions in clubhouses I have asked has the referee not come in to which I have told he has already gone. Without referees we can’t play rugby matches. Sometimes I get the impression there is a fear factor amongst young referees in having to integrate with coaches, players and supporters after a rugby match. To me this is the wrong approach. As I said match officials are an integral part of the rugby family.
Ulster rugby are looking to recruit new referees through David Wilkinson at the Ulster Branch. I was shocked to learn that 14 clubs in Ulster don’t provide any referees. Not a statistic I expected to hear. Every club should be making efforts to ensure they are assisting David Wilkinson to recruit additional referees through their clubs.
FIRST TURST SENIOR CUP SEMI FINALS
City of Armagh v Malone
Ballymena v Ballynahinch
City of Armagh v Malone
After Round 3 of the UBL City of Armagh were sitting top of Div 2A alongside Malone on 13 points. Since then Armagh have went on to lose their last four UBL leagues games that has seen them slip down to 6th Place – 11 points behind 1st place Malone. Their last win camein the quarter finals of the Senior Cup when they defeated Banbridge 16 – 3 at the Palace Grounds.
Malone suffered their first UBL defeat when they lost 20 – 11 at home to Queens Uni last Friday night at Gibson Park to reduce their lead over second place Highfield to one point. In the quarter finals of the Senior Cup Malone defeated Dungannon 32 – 24.
When Malone and City of Armagh met in the UBL two weeks ago at Gibson Park Malone won a keenly contested game 28 – 26.
Assistant coach Chris Parker has been encouraged by the rugby his Armagh team have played in their four losses in the UBL with the team striving for consistency across the 80 minutes. Division 2A is such a competitive league that if you make mistakes they will be punished by your opponents. The squad has been working hard to reduce errors in training and improve their accuracy in all areas of their game to limit the amount of opportunities they give away to the opposition.
For the match against Malone there won’t be too many changes from the team that lost at home to Highfield. Jonny Pollock will come into the squad after recovering from injury. Andrew Willis, Captain Ali Birch and James Hanna remain on the sidelines.
Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong is expecting another tough game against Armagh and has been impressed by the work done by Willie Faloon so far this season. He is also hoping to give squad players opportunities to play this weekend, but this will again depend on the availability of some players.
It will be Thursday before the team is finalised as the coach waits to hear on the availability of players. The coach has been pleased to see the clubs 2nds and 3rds doing so well. Credit for this has to go to the guys who put so much work into getting these teams sorted week in week out.
Ballymena v Ballynahinch
It has been a disappointing start to the season for Ballymena in the UBL losing their four home games including defeats against Ulster neighbours Ballynahinch and Banbridge. Their last home win was against Omagh in the quarter finals of the Senior Cup when they won 37 – 27.
Ballynahinch have made it 6/ 7 wins in their last seven games as the team moved up to 2nd place in DIV 1B of the UBL. They have lost two games away from home to Old Belvedere and Banbridge in the UBL. The team face back to back games against league leaders Shannon before the Xmas break on the 9th December. In the quarter finals of the Senior Cup they won 33 – 7 at Bangor.
Head coach Andy Graham was disappointed by his teams 27 – 0 defeat at home to Ballynahinch last Friday night. Despite alot of possession there were too many mistakes made by the players that resulted in turnovers, knock on’s and penalties being conceded. On 5/6 occasions the pack mauled to the line and should have scored tries. Credit has to go to the Ballynahinch team who defended very well. It is frustrating as a coach to see the team doing a lot of good stuff in phase play with the decision making letting them down. Ballymena also suffered a late cry off with prop Chris Cundell ruled out due to flu. It necessitated changes with James Taggart moving into prop and Ryan Matheison starting at hooker with Adam McBurney limited to 40 minutes play.
The Ballymena team missed the presence of Brett Herron at out half to control and manipulate space. His team were naïve, young and inexperienced with too many changes having to be made to the starting team.
With Ulster rugby yet to confirm the release of players the coach is already without the experienced David Whann and Stephen Mulholland through injury after missing the first game last Friday. At the minute Ballymena are not in a position to select a team with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
Ballynahinch like Ballymena are awaiting on news from Ulster rugby on the release of players before their team can be finalised on Thursday night.
Director of Rugby Ronnie Duncan was delighted with the teams win at Eaton park on Friday night. It was more like a Hinch performance. The team all played well with the pack and the back five very good. Stand in second row Keith Dickson had another great game for the 1st xv. Ballynahinch are expecting a much tighter game on Saturday.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 1
CIYMS (6) v Clogher Valley (10)
Cooke (5) v Coleraine (9)
Enniskillen (8) v Ballyclare (1)
Portadown (7) v Carrickfergus (4)
CIYMS V Clogher Valley
Both teams know how important this game is with nine points separating the bottom five teams in this league. These two teams have played five games with CIYMS winning two and Clogher Valley still searching for their first league win.
This will be Clogher Valley’s first league match since their 14 – 5 home defeat against Portadown on the 14th October. With new Head coach Hemi Taukiri arriving at end of September this welcome break has enabled the coach to work with his squad during this break and create a new positive environment. The team were unlucky not to inflict the first defeat on City of Armagh seconds at the Palace Grounds in the Conference league with a late converted try denying the visitors a win in their 18 – 18 draw.
Talking to Clogher forwards coach Davy Black the arrival of the new Head coach has been positive despite the team winning only one match this season in the Junior Cup at Dromore 19 – 18. He was disappointed for the players at Armagh that all the hard work being put in at training did not produce a win. With the referee playing 8 minutes of injury time the Armagh team held on to their unbeaten record to score a converted try in the last play to snatch a 18 – 18 draw two weeks ago. The players were able to take a lot of positives from the match with the team putting in place a different game plan that allowed new patterns of play to be run against Armagh. As the coach put it is a new situation for Clogher Valley not being involved in Cup competitions at this stage of the season. He is confident that the work put in, in recent weeks will produce results. It may have been a difficult start to the season but there were still 36 players at training on Tuesday night.
Clogher Valley team to play CIYMS: 1. Philip Hopper, 2. Kyle Cobane, 3. Neil Henderson, 4. David Sharkey, 5. Michael Treanor, 6. BJ Wilson, 7. Allister Trenier, 8. Ryan Wilson, 9. Mark Ellis, 10. Neil Trotter, 11. Fleming Agnew, 12. David Speers, 13. Toby McAlpine. 14. Dillon Crawford, 15. Clive Donaldson, 16. Philip Moore, 17. Dave Kelly.
Clogher Valley put out their strongest team this season and welcome back Captain Michael Treanor for his first game after playing on the seconds last week. The experienced David Sharkey is another player returning after outings against Portadown and Armagh seconds.
Injuries rule out Eugene Mckenna, Ian Milligan and PC Falconer with Tom Mills and Matthew Keyes unavailable.
Davy Black feels the club are in a good place with three adult teams being fielded. Much work is ongoing at Youth level with Andy Breen and Richie Haire working hard with the under 16 squad. Eugene McKenna in his role as a CCRO is looking after the under 14s and continues to attract under age players to the club through his role.
As Davy Black pointed out clubs are building bonds with their players and creating that feel good factor again.
On the game at CIYMS the Clogher players are expecting a tough game. CI have a very sharp backline and are no pushovers in the scrum. It is a massive game for both teams in terms of their season with CIYMS coach Gareth Fry looking a result.
Cooke v Coleraine
The Shawsbridge side have won their two league games at home to Portadown and Carrickfergus and will be looking to make it three. They were unlucky at Enniskillen two weeks ago to let slip a 11 – 0 lead to lose 15 – 11. With a game in hand Cooke have the opportunity to challenge for a top four finish this season.
Coleraine have only won two games this season. Both against Clogher Valley in the Junior Cup and League. Newly promoted Coleraine sit in 9th place and despite a difficult opening playing schedule they need to start picking up league points with two points separating the teams in 6th – 9th place. In their last league game at Carrickfergus Coleraine lost 18 – 7 two weeks ago.
In the league Cooke have won 3/5 and Coleraine 1/5.
Enniskillen v Ballyclare
The Fermanagh side defeated Cooke 15 – 11 in the league at Mullaghmeen two weeks ago. They followed this up with a home quarter final loss to Newcastle West in the AIL Junior Cup last Saturday.
With no Cup games between now and the 2nd round of the Towns Cup in February Ballyclare will be able to focus totally on the league. A win this weekend at Enniskillen would enable Mike McKeever’s team to open up a 6/7 point lead on 2nd place Instonians.
Big game for both teams at opposite ends of the Division 1.
Enniskillen Head coach Willy Gibson felt his team put in their best performance of the season against Newcastle West last weekend. Again minor errors such as missed touch kicks and knock on’s are the difference at key times in matches. He is pleased with the how his forward pack is developing and the progress they are making in their set piece and tight play with the focus on cutting out unforced errors. The backline are showing improvement, but again are suffering from to many changes every week. Standout players on Saturday were Ricky Lee at tight head who had a great game in the tight and loose along with Gavin Parke and Grayson Donnelly in the second row who kept the Newcastle West lineout under constant pressure throughout the game.
Several players return this week including Chris McVitty at out half, Gareth McCoy at 7 and Ashley Finley at full back. The squad is still impacted by a series of injuries that will not be cleared until post Christmas.
Ballyclare are playing very well with the Enniskillen team looking forward to a good hard battle at Mullaghmeen. The goal for the team is to keep improving week on week regardless of the opposition.
Enniskillen have won 2/6 with Ballyclare 5/6 after suffering their first league defeat at Instonians two weeks ago 17 – 13.
Portadown v Carrickfergus
Crucial game for Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley and his players. Along with Enniskillen they have played one more game than the other three teams in the bottom five. After winning three back to back games Portadown lost two Junior Cup matches with Malone seconds and suffered a 1st Rd defeat away to Connacht league champions Ballina in the AIL Junior Cup. Amongst those three wins was a home defeat of Coleraine and an away win at struggling Clogher Valley.
Carrickfergus 1st xv are well positioned to finish in the top four this season and will be hoping to make it five league wins from seven to move into 3rd place this weekend with Dromore playing a Conference league game. In their last league outing two weeks ago Carrick defeated Coleraine 18 – 7 at the Tom Simms Memorial Fields. In their four defeats this season they lost 31 – 28 at Armagh seconds. 15 – 7 at home to Instonians and 14 – 8 away to Enniskillen and allowed Cooke to over turn a 15- 0 lead to win 19 – 18. As you can see this Carrick team have been very competitive this season and will be formidable opponents for Portadown at Chambers Park.
In the league Portadown have won 2/6 and Carrick 4/6.
Talking to Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley injuries and unavailability will rule out several players including James Wright, Jonny Holden both injured along with Robert Greenlee, Rab Reid, Ryan Muldrew and Michael Orr. In fact the coach is missing three hookers due to unavailability of Robert Grenlee, Rab Reid and long term injury Peter Lamb who was injured early season against CIYMS. This week the coach welcomes back Mark Muldrew, Thomas Johnston, John Purdy and Jack Orr into the 17 man squad for the Carrick game.
Portadown team: 1. Matthew Davison, 2. John Purdy, 3. Matthew Wilson, 4. Willy Graham,6. Gary Hall, 7. Thomas Johnston, 8. Stuart Douglas, 9. Brian Forrestal, 10. Dave Whitten, 11. Jack Orr, 12. Josh Matchett, 13. Craig Woods, 14. Aaron Morton, 15. Luke Ashton, 16. Mark Henderson, 17. Mark Muldrew.
Richard Hedley felt his team should have beaten Malone seconds in the rearranged Junior Cup match at Chambers Park. The team squandered numerous opportunities in the first half to build up a commanding lead to allow Malone to come back in the second half to win 29 – 14. The coach is aware his team is in for a tough season as they look to pick up vital league points.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP/CONFERENCE DIV 1
City of Armagh seconds (1) v Instonians (4)
Dromore (6) v Ballynahinch seconds (2)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 2
Ballymoney (3) v Grosvenor (10)
Larne (5) v Limavady (8)
UUC (10) v Randalstown (2)
Ballymoney v Grosvenor
With Ballymoney five points behind leaders Grosvenor this is a must win game for them to stay in contention for the league. For Grosvenor it is all about opening up distance between themselves and their nearest rivals Randalstown and Ballymoney.
As Jonny Hanna described it. It is a big week for the Ballymoney club with Grosvenor and Armagh seconds travelling to play crucial league and cup games in the next eight days. Both are good teams who are on a great run of form , not only this season but built on successes last season.
Ballymoney are a team building for the future with the players still learning. The team did not expect to find themselves near the top of the league and in the semi final of the Junior Cup. The coaching team know the players will have to be at their very best to get results from these games. In the home games against Banbridge and Academy in the Cup the team showed the level of intensity required to win these games. The players are looking forward to the upcoming challenges.
The 1st xv squad have picked up a number of injuries since October. From the 27 – 11 win at UUC two weeks ago the coaches welcome back Thomas Hunter, Nathaniel Steele and Peter Irvine with both Daniel Ramage and Michael Armstrong undergoing late fitness tests on Thursday night. Backs Chris Watson and Andy Young are out injured. Rory Strang is unavailable with the experienced Nigel Nevin returning to play for the seconds after being out for six weeks.
For Grosvenor Head coach Robert Ford this is a crucial period for his players between now and Xmas with games coming up against, Ballymoney, Ards and Randalstown. The squad have had a couple of weeks of very physical training with a couple of live training matches 15 v 15. Its been great to have good numbers at training and hopefully both the 1sts and 2nds will benefit from these sessions in the coming weeks.
Ballymoney on Saturday will be very tough as they have a number of experienced players who add quality to their team. They are a well run club and it’s great to see the youth flourishing and feeding the senior club.
In terms of selection Grosvenor are awaiting a number of fitness tests with selection being finalised on Thursday night. Both David Egner and Stuart McIIwaine will be unavailable for Saturday.
League record: Ballymoney 5/6 and Grosvenor 6/6
Larne v Limavady
Two good wins over Lisburn and the PSNI have moved Larne up to within three points of 4th place Academy. A win will see both teams switch places. For Limavady they won a crucial league game at home to Lisburn 36 – 24 to record their first league win. They did lose 36 – 5 at home to leaders Grosvenor with all the points being scored in the first half of that match.
The goal for Larne Head coach Graham Cloke is to make his team as competitive as he can in this league. This weekend it is all about targeting the home match with Limavady. He knows Limavady Head coach Mark Nicholl and his players will be looking to reverse their league defeat against Grosvenor.
Selection is being delayed until Thursday because of a few injury concerns over Colin Mckinty, Matthew Agnew and Aaron McBride with possible changes in the front row. The coach is also looking at introducing younger ex Larne Grammar players into his squad with BJ McFaul and Jack Hill being added to the squad.
Good to hear that Graham’s son Charlie is back in light training after picking up a serious injury during early season matches.
For Limavady Head coach Mark Nicholl is expecting a tough game at Larne on Saturday. It is a difficult place to get a result. Despite the defeat against Grosvenor he felt their second half performance was much better with the team unlucky not to have scored a few tries.
This week the coach has a few players who are unavailable for different reasons with the squad looking forward to the Larne game with the players looking to improve on that second half against Grosvenor.
League record: Larne 3/5 and Limavady 1/5
UUC v Randalstown
The last two league games for the students have been up against top four sides Academy and Balllymoney. In their last outing the team were very competitive before going down 27 – 11 at home to Ballymoney.
Randalstown have looked strong in their last two wins over Ards and the PSNI to move into 2nd place four points behind league leaders Grosvenor.
Randalstown Head coach Gary Longwell: games against UUC have been very tight over the past two seasons. They are at a disadvantage early in the season playing games when the students have not started their term. They have a very talented side and he expects them to start climbing the table.
League record: UUC 1/5 and Randalstown 5/6
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP/CONFERENCE DIV 2
Academy (6) v Malone seconds (2)
Ballymena seconds (9) v Ards (5)
Lisburn (11) v Banbridge seconds (7)
Omagh seconds (8) v PSNI (14)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3
BHSFP (5) v Monaghan (4)
Donaghadee (2) v Holywood (7)
Donegal Town (12) v Strabane(3)
Letterkenny (10) v Virginia (6)
Newry (8) v Cavan (9)
Sorry to teams I have not been able to include. Have commitments tomorrow that necessitated preview being completed tonight.
Updated 14:43 - 16 Nov 2017 by Stephen Barbour
Enjoy your rugby this weekend.