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Domestic Rugby Preview Week 3 (2017) - George Millar

3 days ago By Stephen Barbour

Check out George Millars extensive review of Domestic Rugby.

The opening weekend of the Ulster Bank All Ireland League did not disappoint supporters. With a bit of luck we could have had 11/12 wins for Ulster teams. Unfortunately City of Derry suffered a heavy defeat at the Aviva stadium against Wanderers. We had Dungannon score five tries in their 29 – 27 loss at home to Skerries. What we learned about the AIL is you need a good strong set piece with kickers good at kicking the ball both out of hand and placing kicking. Three Ulster teams missed out by one score. Rainey OB out half Andrew McGrath watched a conversion strike the up right to deny his team a win in their 22 – 21 home defeat against Old Crescent. Belfast Harlequins had drawn level 17 – 17 with visitors Navan only for indiscipline and yellow cards to undo all their hard work. Still a much improved performance from the Deramore side. Ballymena despite two yellow cards showed considerable resolve to come from 15 – 3 at halftime to win 21 – 18 away to Old Wesley at Donnybrook. Brian McLaughlin lost out to his old Irish boss Eddie O’Sullivan with Ballynahinch losing 13 – 6 at Old Belvedere. Armagh defeated their rivals from last season Greystones in a thrilling 30 – 26 win at the Palace grounds. Queens Uni left it late to score their winning points at Galway Corinthians. With the match level at 18 – 18 it took a break from former Cambridge Uni captain Daniel Dass to send second row Ali Burke through for the vital try to win 25 – 18. Malone continued their early season form with an opening day bonus point win at Nenagh 37 – 7. In the process winger Rory Campbell kicked 7/7 to contribute 17 points. Bangor showed considerable resilience to come back from a 15 – 7 deficit to win their game at home with Tullamore 21 – 15. Congratulations have to go to Banbridge who in their first match in Div 1B scored a last minute try through winger Tom Caesar to win 20 – 13 at UL Bohemians in Limerick. Can the Ulster sides maintain their opening performances during this block of four AIL games.

What is pleasing about the AIL results at the weekend is the contribution the Ulster clubs have made to the performance of the Ulster team. Friday nights win over the Scarlets was a perfect example. Kyle McCall, John Andrews, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Clive Ross, Peter Nelson and Andy Warwick are all players who have played their club rugby in the All Ireland league.

In the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Ballyclare and Instonians have confirmed their status as the teams to catch in Div 1. If any of the chasing pack are going to close the gap the performances of Coleraine and Enniskillen will give us some indication when these teams meet this week. Carrick are a team who look as if they could finish top four this season.

In Div 2 Grosvenor remain the favourites with Ballymoney and Randalstown in pursuit.

In Div 3 we have four teams tied at the top: Donaghadee Monaghan, Lurgan and Strabane after the opening matches.

I have to thank the clubs for the work being put in via social media to engage supporters and club members and keep them up to date with what is happening at their clubs. Stand alone Apps are assisting clubs to engage the wider community.

Talking to Daniel Soper this week, Regulation 6 has been a welcome development in directing finances to improving club facilities and amenities for the benefit of club members and supporters rather than paying players. As William Leacock at Instonians said to me , Rugby clubs are returning to being rugby clubs. Nicky Wells at Belfast Harlequins was quite clear about ‘club hopping’ by players. Players have to learn to support their club through the good times and the bad times. Daniel Soper was of the view that clubs have to be honest with young players and not offer what they cant deliver. We are all aware what damage bad press can do to a club. Social media has ensured their is no hiding place from openness and transparency in our clubs.
Northern Ireland and the Island of Ireland has its own unique culture and identity. Two words I have heard used to describe it is ‘Nepotism’ and being ‘Insular’. Nepotism refers to (Favourtism being shown to relatives/friends by those in power). Insular (Not open to change or new ideas).
I would be disappointed to hear these words being used to describe appointments to committees in clubs and Governing bodies. The reason I mention this, is are we willing as organisations involved in the promotion of rugby to engage with the wider community to encourage families to participate in and actively engage with our rugby clubs. We need to tap into the resources and talent within the Mini and Youth sections at our clubs to train and develop the future administrators and coaches within our clubs. I was delighted to hear Ballynahinch Chairman Philip Gregg talk about the work their new Director of Rugby at the club Harry McAleese is doing to engage all sections of the club by bringing them together for monthly meetings to progress the aims of the club.

Yes there are difficulties but together we can improve the areas that need addressing in the Domestic game. The objective of committees at the Ulster Branch is to come forwards with new ideas to facilitate players to play rugby. Schools and Club Youth structures should not be prevented from working together for the betterment of rugby. We cant deny players the opportunity to play rugby particularly at under 18 level. We have to support the weaker schools and clubs. Too many talented young players are being overlooked in preference to the established schools and clubs.

ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEADGUE

DIV 1A
Clontarf v St Mary’s College. Played Friday 22.9.17. kick off 7.30PM
Garryowen v Buccaneers
Lansdowne v Young Munster
Terenure College v Cork Constitution
UCD v Dublin Uni

DIV 1B
Ballymena v Dolphin
Ballynahinch v Old Wesley
Banbridge v UCC
Naas v UL Bohemians
Shannon v Old Belvedere

Ballymena v Dolphin
Head coach Andy Graham told me he knew it was in his players to travel to Donnybrook last week and win their opening AIL match with Old Wesley.
Both the coaches and the 1st xv playing squad had sat down together and discussed the culture of Ballymena rugby club and what it meant to wear the club jersey and have pride in it. It was all about building team spirit in advance of the match.

What brought the best out of the Ballymena team during the match was when influential back rowers Stephen Mulholland and Adrian Hamilton were yellow carded within minutes of each other by referee Joy Neville in the first half. For 12/13 minutes the two cards galvanised the 13 players as they dug in and restricted the Old Wesley team to one score during this period to go in 15 – 3 down at halftime.

The response from the Ballymena players in the second half was too much for Old Wesley with the Eaton Park side storming back to win 21 – 18.

Balymena rugby club are writing up a players charter that will outline what the club and coaches expect from the players during the season. This will cover areas such as training and punctuality.

One of the areas of concern for Ballymena is that they don’t have the strength in depth needed to support the 1st xv after the departure of players during the close season. Experienced players including Daryl Montgomery, Alan Smyth and David O’Hara have made themselves available with Smyth playing a key role in the win at Old Wesley.

Additions to the Ballymena squad include Michael Stronge, Angus Kernohan, Azur Allison and Matthew Agnew who are all in the Ulster Sub Academy along with Tim Savoury, Josh Bill, Dean Reynolds and JJ McKee (Antrim Grammar).

Ballymena have been able to field an under 20 team which includes players from Ballymena Academy, Cambridge House and the clubs under 18 team. Amongst these players are Connor and Scott Agnew, Ruben Russell and David Glass from the schools along with club Youth players John Glover, Sean McCormick and Richard Lamont.

After the match at Old Wesley several players are carrying knocks, bangs and bruises. The coach was very pleased with the performance of Ulster out half Brett Herron. He has yet to finalise his squad for match with Dolphin at Eaton Park on Sat with Michael Stronge, Angus Kernohan, Matty Agnew, James Taggart, Houston Bonner and Andrew Cundell all coming into consideration for inclusion.

Ulster players released include Callum Patterson and Adam McBurney. Both Dave Shanahan and Brett Herron are expected to be on the bench for Ulster on Friday night. Their availability will depend on the game time they get with Ulster.

The Ballymena coach had to deal with Ulster players Dave Shanahan and Clive Ross crying off at 9AM last Saturday morning for the match in Dublin. This necessitated Glenn Baillie moving into scrum half with Alan Smyth starting at 12 and Willie McKay replacing Clive Ross at 7.

Andy Graham is expecting a very tough game with Dolphin. Last season his team lost narrowly at their Cork venue. They showed by their strong finish to their season, the quality side they are. In out half Barry Keeshan they have a lot of experience. The Ballymena players are not world beaters after winning at Old Wesley. It is only one game off a long season. They individually and collectively have to be mentally strong to defeat their Cork opponents who lost narrowly to a strong Naas side in their opening game. For the Ballymena players it is all about building on the confidence of their opening win. The coach is also aware there are several areas of the team the players have to work hard on to improve in the coming weeks.

Ballynahinch v Old Wesley
1st xv Manager Ronnie Duncan was disappointed his Ballynahinch team did not do enough in the first half at Old Belvedere to win their opening AIL game. The team had plenty of possession but just were not clinical enough with the ball in hand. The squad are young this season and played with a lot of heart and some great rugby.

Coaches Brian McLaughlin and Tom Rock are not expected to make too many changes for their home match at Ballymacarn Park. Again the coaches will be hoping the weather stays dry to allow the team to play an open running game of rugby.

There is a very positive atmosphere around the club with the second xv carrying on from where they finished last season with the remaining five teams all performing. Hopefully the 1st xv can win at home to Old Wesley to get their season up and running.

Ulster releases include: Jonny ‘Mo’ Simpson, Peter Browne, David Busby, Aaron Cairns, Jonny McPhillips, Zac McCall ( Require late fitness test on toe injury), Jack Regan and Aaron Hall. Rory Butler is unavailable due to a hamstring injury.

Banbridge v UCC
Had time to catch up with Banbridge Head coach Daniel Soper this week to discuss his lengthy association with the club as a player and coach starting in 1998. Now into his eighth season coaching at the club in his second spell at Rifle Park, he has taken the clubs 1st xv into section 1 of the All Ireland League where they will play their rugby in Division 1B. The coach has witnessed many changes during his time at the club. In the early years the 1st xv was a mature team with an older age bracket. Today the players are much younger.

The advent of professional rugby brought about the introduction of strength and conditioning of players in the provincial academies and Schools with the clubs being left behind. In those days you did not have club players training in gyms. That has all changed with strengthening and conditioning an integral part of a players training programme to play in the AIL.

Fitting in training and conditioning along with family and work commitments has placed additional demands on the club player. This has contributed to many older players not being able to remain as players in the AIL. The coach has admired the commitment of a Banbridge squad that has been built on local players coming through the clubs Youth section and neighbouring schools to sustain their competitiveness in the AIL. Many of the players started off as 18/19 year old single men who have had to take on family and work responsibilities yet have remained loyal to Banbridge rugby club.

This season the club has had to embrace the allocation of professional rugby players into the club and their 1st xv playing squad. It has been a case of the coach having to harmonise the relationship between the professional and club players to ensure Banbridge are competitive in the AIL. Both sets of players come from different playing environments. One professional, one amateur. It is important that both recognise that and adapt to their new working relationships in the squad. Professional players can’t make training two nights a week. Rugby is their paid professional job during the week.
For the club players it is all about improving themselves on their training nights. They work hard at participating in a sport that is recreational to them.

What pleases the coach is the information and ideas these new players bring to Banbridge from the professional environment. He is also delighted to see the involvement of Michael Lowry with the Ireland under 20 squad. Injury continues to rule out James Hume ‘s involvement at this time. Again it is the information and ideas these players bring back from these outside environments that with benefit the 1st xv playing squad.

Playing in the AIL ensures the best players rise to the top level. Those not working will be found out and separated. The level of competition is the goal of players who want to improve and step up to the next level. The higher up you play in the AIL the faster and more physical the game becomes.
These are the challenges for the players at Banbridge.

The coaching team at Banbridge includes former 1st xv captain Simon McKinstry who spent time coaching the clubs second xv. Daniel Soper is full of praise for the leadership qualities and energy Simon McKinstry has brought as the forwards coach and he is assisted by former Belfast Harlequins forward Robert Logan who has responsibility for the scrum. Gareth Bronte has taken over as 1st xv manager with Johnny Matthews continuing as the video analyst.

Former Ireland and Ulster prop Simon Best has stepped back from coaching the forwards due to his commitments with Ulster and the IRFU. Brother Rory has stepped in and is regularly present at the club on a Tuesday night to offer his experience on the set piece and other aspects of the game.

New additions to the Banbridge playing squad this season include Ulster players: Rob Lyttle, Caleb Montgomery. Nick Timoney, Tom O’Toole, Eric O’Sullivan, Greg Jones, James Hume, Michael Lowry and Tom Ceaser.

Other players added to the squad include NZ back row forward Nick Hayes from Otago, Jason Gribben returning from Dromore, Jonny Weir after two years away from rugby.

The coach would like to see the recent game between the Club select xv and the Ulster Academy become a regular fixture. It is an incentive/reward for club players to play in. He also feels that there are club players who could play for the Ulster A team without ever becoming a professional player. Banbridge prop Michael Cromie is one example with the 27/28 year old having played for Rotherham in the Championship. He has been consistently one of their best players on the 1st xv.

What concerns Daniel Soper is the club struggles with putting out an Under 18 side. They have a very successful under 16 side that is coached by Ulster ladies out half Gemma Jackson and Clive Gardiner. The problem they have is not unique to the club with other social distractions deterring players from continuing to play. As the coach pointed out all you need is 3/4 players coming through from the Youth to play in the 1st xv squad each season to add strength and depth.

With Dromore High School players playing good rugby, hopefully these players can be encouraged to play AIL rugby at Banbridge.

The introduction of Reg 6 to prohibit the payment of players has been a welcome introduction. Instead of clubs paying players the money is now going to improve facilities and resources at clubs. On his travels with Banbridge Daniel Soper has noticed the investment in club buildings and gyms. There is a greater professionalism within the Governance and management of rugby clubs. The appointment of Director of Rugby in clubs and improved coaching is a positive development.

He is concerned that many good schools players are being overlooked because they don’t come from a school with the right profile. This is an area clubs need to address when recruiting and welcoming new players to their clubs. (Colin Atkinson Head coach at Cooke rugby club goes into Wellington College each season to encourage the 6th form players to join Cooke). How many other clubs would do this each season.

As Daniel told me two of his regular 1st xv props Stuart Cromie and James McCrum did not stand out at their school. They have become regular front row players for Banbridge over the last 3/4 seasons

For the match with UCC this week Banbridge are missing 2nd row Robin Sinton through injury. Second row Kallan Martin has been ruled out with a long term injury following the Ulster Rugby Championship match at Ballynahinch. Ulster Academy back rower Greg Jones is also unavailable due to injury with Nick Timoney not released by Ulster. Rob Lyttle is involved with Ulster on Friday night. Game time will determine his availability to play on Saturday. Ulster releases include Caleb Montgomery, Tom O’Toole, Eric O’Sullivan and Michael Lowry.

Nick Timoney was very prominent in his teams win in Limerick with his physicality and work at the rucks proving decisive along with Caleb Montgomery and Rob Lyttle in setting up the match winning try for winger Tom Ceasar.


DIV 2A
Blackrock College v Cashel RFC
Galwegians v City of Armagh
Greystones v Galway Corinthians
Malone v Highfield
Queens Uni v Nenagh Ormond

City of Armagh v Galwegians
Assistant coach Chris Parker was pleased his Armagh players came through a stiff opening AIL test against Greystones to open their league campaign with a 30 -26 win. This week they head off to Galway to play Galwegians. The Connacht side may have been relgeated from Div 1 B last season. But they showed their ambitions by winning 26 – 19 win at Cashel.

Armagh will finalise their selection on Thursday night with a number of players confirming their availability to travel. Full back Tim McNeice is ruled out for the next two weeks. Stuart Hooks picked up an groin injury against Dromore that rules him out.

James Hannah and Paul Mullan have returned from injury and will come into consideration in the pack. Evin Crummie returns from Ulster under 19 commitments and will be considered as a midfield option. Ryan Purvis, Andrew Morton and Harry Doyle had impressive performances for the 2nd xv last week in their win against Dromore and will be pushing hard for selection. A lot of selection headaches for the coaches but it is a good problem to have.

Malone v Highfield
The Cork visitors missed out on the automatic promotion place by two points to Banbridge last season. They will again be one of the firm favourites for promotion this season. Malone made an impressive start picking up the b/p in their 37 – 7 win at Nenagh last week with winger Rory Campbell kicking 7/7 to contribute 17 points for his team.

Malone head coach Paddy Armstrong acknowledges Highfield were unlucky to miss out on getting promoted last season. Both games between the two sides were very difficult. Highfield are renowned for having a well drilled and very tall and physical pack of forwards.

The coach has a few injury concerns but is hoping to keep a similar team to last week with late fitness tests on Thursday night. The team performed well last week, in particular Nathan Brown and Ryan Clarke as well as Captain Ross Todd who stood out. It is important for the team to build on the win last week.

Ulster players released: Jack Owens, Matthew Dalton, Joe Dunleavy and Peter Cooper who will be subject to a late fitness test.

Queens University v Nenagh Ormond.

Former Cambridge player Daniel Dass made the break that set up second row Ali Burke for the crucial winning try in Galway against Corinthians last Sat. With the teams all square at 18 – 18 it was a last ditch breakaway that won the game for the students 25 – 18. It ensured former Ulster coach Neil Doak got his side off to a winning start. For several of the young Queens players it was a step up in intensity and physicality from playing in the Ulster league and Cup. Captain Nigel Simpson was amongst the try scorers along with centre Conor Shiels and out half Richie McMaster who converted 10 points from two penalties and two conversions.

Queens team: 1. Anton Lupari, 2. David Swann, 3. Andrew Clingan, 4. Ali Burke, 5. Marc Campbell, 6. Nigel Simpson (Captain), 7. David Whitten, 8. Gary Dillon, 9. John Creighton, 10. Richie Mcmaster, 11. Conor McKee, 12. Conor Shiels, 13. Rory Bell, 14. Andy Nicholl, 15. Jonny Milliken, 16. Jordan Southway, 17. Nicky Woods, 18. Daniel Dass, 19. Josh Fullerton, 20. Eunan Shaw.

Players unavailable/injured included Zac Jordan, Mark Keane, Angus Curtis, Gerard Treanor, Jack Milligan, Jonny Stewart, Alexander Clarke. Jonny Lees.

DIV 2B
Skerries v Wanderers
City of Derry v Belfast Harlequins
Navan RFC v Rainey OB
Old Crescent v MU Barnhall
Sunday’s Well v Dungannon

City of Derry v Belfast Harlequins
Both sides lost their opening AIL games, with Derry losing 71 – 3 at Wanderers and Quins going down 26 – 17 at home to Navan. City of Derry have two homes games coming up now with Quins and Skerries before they prepare for the long trip to Cork on the 7th October to play Sunday’s Well. We will learn a lot about the depth of this young Derry squad to be competitive in this league. New Head coach Trevor Will and NZ scrum half Tyler Rogers – Holden have much work to do.

Quins Head coach Nicky Wells will have been frustrated his players lost their discipline in the final quarter after clawing back an early Navan lead to level the scores at 17 – 17. Two yellow cards for 2nd row and captain Danny Annett along with centre Mark Gribben being red carded for a second yellow was not the response the coach wanted from his players on the opening day. With games coming up against City of Derry and Rainey OB, Quins can make a statement of their intentions this season. The ability is within the squad. They maybe lacked the experience on the pitch to close out this match. No doubt lessons learned for this Quins squad.

Nicky Wells is making minimal changes this week with former Methody centre James McConnell coming in for the suspended Mark Gribben. ( 1 x match suspension). Steven Weir comes in at hooker. As he said he is not subjected to changes due to the allocation of Ulster releases. Areas of the game he is looking for improvement include the teams line kicking for field position along with discipline and making sure they convert kickable penalty opportunities into points. Both the Quins half backs are only 19 yrs old, Conor McAuley (BRA) and Paul Kerr (Methody). They have the talent and ability to develop into an exciting combination in these key positions.

Talking to Moss Dineen from City of Derry. New Head coach Trevor Will has arrived from NZ with the task of keeping City of Derry in Div 2B of the AIL. He is a man with a considerable coaching reputation who worked alongside new Connacht Head coach Kieran Keane at Hawkes Bay. This is not his first visit to the North West having coached at Foyle College between 2004 and 2006. Trevor will be assisted by former City of Derry Captain Richard McCarter with the coaching duties.

With the departure of scrum half Jason Bloomfield to Rainey OB, City of Derry made the decision to bring in NZ scrum half Tyler Rogers - Holden from Manawatu. He made a big impact coming on as a replacement during the loss away to Wanderers.

The challenge for the City of Derry squad is for the young players to adapt to the intensity and physicality of playing in the AIL. Two experienced forwards return to the pack this week in Sam Duffy at tight head and Richard Baird at open side.

City of Derry team: 1. Ross Harkin, 2. David Ferguson (Captain), 3. Sam Duffy, 4. Rodney Hill, 5. Gerard Doherty, 6. Adam Bratton, 7. Richard Baird, 8. Craig Huey, 9. Tyler Rogers – Holden, 10. Neil Burns, 11. Killien Thorton, 12. Paddy Blenerhassett, 13. David Graham, 14. Tiernan Thorton, 15. Thomas Cole, 16. Barry Lafferty, 17. Cathal Cregan, 18. Callum McDonald, 19. Jack Beattie, 20. AN Other.

Rainey OB V Navan
Two adversaries who fought it out last season in the Div 2c promotion race. Rainey lost their home fixture with visitors Old Crescent 22 – 21 after going behind in this match. A late rally almost brought the win with out half Andrew McGrath watching his conversion attempt strike the upright to win the game. Still they can reverse their defeat this weekend. It wont be easy against an Navan team who travelled to Deramore Park and won 26 – 17 against Belfast Harlequins.

Rainey Head coach John Andrews has only two absentees from the squad last week with Jody McMurray unavailable and Nicholas Stirling ruled out with an injury.

Dungannnon v Sunday’s Well

Outscoring your opponents Skerries 5 tries to 4 and losing the match was difficult to stomach last Sat for Dungannon Head coach Andy Hughes at Stevenson Park. As he said himself his worst fears came true. With so many new combinations playing together for the first time his team were lacking that bit of cohesion. Losing the experience of backs coach Seamus Mallon to an ankle injury before kick off did not help.

Full credit to Skerries they brought an intensity for the first 60 minutes that Dungannon could not match.

The coach is looking forward to the Sunday’s Well trip this week. Players coming into contention for selection include Chris Swash, Ben Matchett and Seamus Mallon.

Sunday’s Well lost their opening match at MU Barnhall 11 – 6.


DIV 2C
Omagh v Midleton
Seapoint v Bangor
Sligo v Malahide RFC
Tullamore v Thomond
Bective Rangers v Bruff

Omagh v Midleton
It was a winning start for Omagh at Bruff as out half Scott Elliott kicked a 40 metre penalty to give his side a winning 14 – 13 margin. With a host of players unavailable it was a fantastic result for the County Tyrone side returning to the All Ireland league after 17 years. There was rejoicing at the news the clubs 2nd xv had won 15 – 12 away to Randalstown 1st. With back to back games at home to Midleton and Bective Rangers to play the Omagh side can make an early statement of their intent.

Head coach Philip Marshall is forced to make two changes with full back Lee Murphy ruled out with concussion to be replaced by Lee Warnock with seconds scrum half Adam Beattie taking his place on the bench. Bench prop Peter Todd is not available and will be replaced by John Blair.

Midleton opened their season with an impressive 20 – 10 win over Seapoint.

Omagh squad for Saturday: 1. Matthew Sproule, 2. Adam Pollock, 3. Richard Smyth, 4. Jamies Sproule, 5. Mervyn Edgar, 6. Martin Clyde, 7.Adam Longwell, 8. James Catterson, 9. Stewart McCain, 10. Scott Elliott, 11. Ryan Mitchell, 12. Luke Hanson, 13. Scott Barr, 14. Neil Brown, 15. Lee Warnock, 16. Phil Ewing, 17. John Blair, 18. Richard Harper, 19. Dean Kane, Adam Beattie.

Bangor v Seapoint
The ‘sea siders’ surprised the pundits when they deservedly defeated top four side Tullamore 21 – 15 at a ‘rain sodden’ Upritchard Park. It was the character shown by the players to come back from 15 – 7 down to win that will have pleased Head coach Jason Morgan.

1st xv Manager Ricky Armstrong described it as a great win over one of the league favourites in miserable conditions.
Bangor lost their former Captain Jamie Clegg mid way through the first half to be replaced by James Stewart who put in an outstanding performance.
There were many huge performances , too many to single out with the players putting in a big second half defensive effort.
Bangor are mindful they defeated Div 2C winners Navan early last season and just avoided the drop after their season went into free fall. The challenge for the players is to back up this win.

Head coach Jason Morgan made it clear to the players at training on Tuesday night he was looking for another huge effort at Seapoint this weekend.
The training was intense with several of the younger players stepping up as they push for a 1st xv place.
Team selection will be finalised on Thursday night with a few players facing late fitness tests. The intention is to keep the same squad as a reward for their efforts against Tullamore.

Seapoint lost their opening match 20 – 10 at Midleton.

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 1
Coleraine (3) v Ballyclare (1)
Cooke (7) v Portadown (9)
Dromore (4) v Carrickfergus (5)
Enniskillen (8) v Instonians (2)

Coleraine v Ballyclare
Must win game for Coleraine Head coach Richard Boyd and his players if they intend to challenge top two pace setters Ballyclare and Instonians for the Div 1 title. Ballyclare have carried on from where they left off last season scoring 16 tries in their opening three league games. They will present a formidable challenge for this newly promoted Coleraine squad who lost their opening league match at Instonians 18 – 17.
and followed this up with a win over Clogher Valley.

Coleraine Head coach Richard Boyd and his players are excited by the visit of Ballyclare to Rugby Avenue this weekend. These are the sort of games the coaching staff, players and supporters have been looking forward to and we hope to have a big crowd out to cheer us on. Nine 1st xv players return to the match day squad after the defeat at Ballynahinch in the Conference league. These include Dijon McCorkell, David Greatorex, Chris nash, Michael Ferguson, Steven Dickey, Bokkie Carstens ( Captain), Mikey Poskitt , Niall Irwin and Brian Cochrane all return after injury or being rested.

Ballyclare have got off to an excellent start and have been playing a good brand of rugby to date. We go into the game very much as underdogs but will be fully focused on getting something out of the game. We have performed well in the league so far but are yet to fully click and put an 80 minute performance together. This Saturday provides a real challenge to the team and we will have to improve in certain areas but we do have real confidence and belief in ourselves and we will be hard team to beat at home.

Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever regards every game as important. His focus is his players enjoying training and playing rugby. The league itself does not take shape until Christmas when the Conference league is complete. Until then as a coach you will only frustrate yourself with mind games of who has played and whom has to play. Simply go out and enjoy the next match.

There are too many variables to try to prepare a playing squad over a club season with Junior Cup, Towns Cup and All Ireland Junior Cup plus work and family commitments for players.

Selection for Saturday will be finalised on Thursday night. With so much competition for starting places , especially in the pack it is a coaches dream with having a very competitive squad. Our depth is getting stronger and stronger, with the second xv improving with more Youth and Schools players challenging for places.

The new additions to the squad this season include Joel McBride, Ricky Lutton, Aaron Playfair, and Andy Eastop. The mix with the experience of Rab Boyd, Willy Logan, Bobby Smith, Gary Weatherup, and Gary Clotworthy is great to surround the youthfulness of Matthew Robson, Matthew Coulter, Dean Jones and Robbie Reid.

Our Captain Grant Bartley is thriving under the role and leading the side well.

Cooke v Portadown
Two teams that will be fighting for the league points on Saturday. Cooke have played two league games winning at Clogher Valley and losing at Ballyclare. This is their first home league game and they will want to open with a win at Shawsbridge. Visitors Portadown have had a difficult start to their season losing their opening three matches with Enniskillen, Dromore and CIYMS. Head coach Richard Hedley has had to manage a change in playing personnel and knows the importance of Saturday’s game with Cooke.

Cooke Head coach Colin Atkinson felt the conditions determined the out come of the game at Ballyclare with the home side adapting much better to the conditions than his side. Ballyclare were very clinical in taking their scoring opportunities. Unforunately he can’t say the same for his side who lacked accuracy at crucial times. A couple of injuries forced rotations in the first half and disrupted the team. In the end Ballyclare fully deserved their 5 points.

Jason Lyons and Adrian Dodd will not be available for selection this week due to injury. Matthew Elliott returns from holidays with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.

Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley makes two changes due to injuries received by Peter Lamb and Matthew Thorton. They are replaced by James Wright and Thomas Johnston who return to the squad.. The coach is waiting on a couple of late fitness tests before finalising his team for Saturday.

Dromore v Carrickfergus
What has been happening at Barban Hill in recent weeks. I was able to catch up with Director of Rugby Jeremy Ogle. Jonny Cullen continues as Head coach with former Ballynahinch player Jamie Kirk in as his assistant. Jamie has had to take time out following knee surgery and has impressed everybody at the club with his set piece work with the pack. New Director of Rugby Jeremy Ogle is also looking forward to his new role as he steers all sections of the club to success on the pitch this season.

There have been a few changes in playing personnel with experienced hooker Michael Harshaw retiring. Gary Dillon has moved on to Queens Uni with Dylan Cobb not available. Another key player Ali Kinghan continues his rehabilitation from an ACL injury.

There are a few other players who have returned to training with numbers averaging around 30 on training nights.

There have been a number of new additions to the 1st xv squad with NZ prop Clark McCleod joining the club. Prop Mark Hylands has returned after a couple of years out due to work commitments and Michael Allen who has moved up from the seconds.

Early season league results included a loss at Ballyclare and a 32 – 14 win over Portadown. This Saturday they welcome a strong Carrickfergus team who impressed in their 33 – 3 win over Enniskillen at the Tom Simms Memorial Grounds last week. Their win was built on a powerful performance by their pack with prop and Captain Paul Greenaway scoring two tries.

Dromore team for Saturday: 1. Aaron Stewart, 2. Fraser Mulholland, 3. Mark Hylands, 4. Rory Pepper, 5. Ross Bingham, 6. Blair McDonald, 7. Adam McCregor, 8. Jonny Maguire,9. Lee Steenson, 10. Ryan Cobb, 11. Michael Allen, 12. Graham McCandless, 13. Sam Russell, 14. Brian McClearn, 15. Aaron Stewart, 16. Andrew Black, 17. Stuart Russell.

Enniskillen v Instonians
The Belfast side will make the journey to Mullaghmeen knowing they came second in their league meeting last season. Enniskillen opened their season with a 20 – 19 win at Portadown. In their second league game at Carrick last Sat they were well beaten by a powerful Carrick team who won 33 – 3. With several key players missing in their forward pack this season Instonians will look to exploit this advantage with the experienced Ben Alexander and Josh Atkinson added to the Inst back row along with Jon Andress in the front row. The return of their talented out half Fraser Wright to Shawsbridge this season will strengthen the options available to the coaching staff in the backs.

Enniskillen Head coach Willy Gibson acknowledges it was a tough day for his players at Carrick. The Carrick side were very good with his Enniskillen side making a lot of handling errors, combined with the blooding off two new front row players. Losing both Adam lendrum and Jamie Johnston to injury did not help. He felt it was just a poor performance and lack of execution by the players. The players have the chance this week to reverse that performance.
Training this week has been back to basics to make sure we get that right.

The coach is without Adam Lendrum, Ricky Lee and Jamie Johnston this week. He is aware the depth in strength at the club will be fully tested but it is also an opportunity for the younger players to gain more experience. Again he feels it is about these young players adjusting to playing in Div 1. After that he sees great potential in the squad.

Instonians Director of Rugby William Leacock has a couple of injuries and unavailability for the trip to Enniskillen. Captain Josh Atkinson and scrum half Cameron Black are unavailable. 2nd row Jack Scott joins the injured list with former Ulster player Roger Wilson out long term. Selection will be finalised on Thursday night.

Congratulations to CIYMS 1st xv who won their first match of the season defeating Portadown 31 – 18 in the league at Chambers Park.
CI team: 1.Alastair Coulson, 2. Scott McNarry, 3. Tim Acheson, 4. Cory Tipping, 5. Mark Scott, 6. Scott Dowle, 7. Jason Gilliland, 8. Mark McConkey, 9 Cameron Stewart, 10. Matt Kilgore, 11. Ruairi Meharg, 12. Callum Irvine (Captain), 13. Nathan Burns, 14. Casmier Yandall, 15. Josh Newell. 16. Angus Keefe, 17. Stuart Ferguson.

Scorers: Tries Casmier Yandall, Mark McConkey, Ruairi Meharg and Nathan Burns. Matthew Kilgore 1x con and 3 x pens.

Players unavailable included Aaron Kilpatrick, Elliott Boyd, Paddy Aiken, David Cobain, Craig Devlin, Rob Haldane, Matt Butler and Peter Raine.

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMP/CONF LEAGUE DIV 1
CIYMS (9) v City of Armagh seconds (3)
Clogher Valley (12) v Ballynahinch seconds (1)

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 2
Academy (4) v Limavady (9)
Larne (6) v Ards (5)
UUC (10) v PSNI (8)

Academy v Limavady
Again I caught with Academy Head coach Gareth Lynn this week in what has been a difficult start to their season. A much needed last gasp 18 – 17 win over the PSNI at Newforge has got their season up and running. After a good pre season with warm up games against Cooke (20 – 20) and Carrickfergus (15 -15) Academy suffered two defeats against Ballymoney and early league pacesetters Grosvenor. As the coach put it the players are have not been performing. It was just not happening for the team on the pitch. There is plenty of talent in the squad. The players are creating the opportunities and making the wrong decisions and not taking the right options.

An example was the league match against Grosvenor. The team took an early 14 – 0 lead with tries from Stevie Stewart and Mark Wylie, converted by Chris Cooper. They stopped playing and lost their shape and discipline resulting in three yellow cards to lose the match 32 – 17. The challenge for the coach is the team need to get an intensity into their game with numbers to the breakdown to look after the ball. It is all about getting the team to click. In their first match at Ballymoney the club had 21 players unavailable with several of these 1st xv players.

There has been welcome additions to the playing squad with the return of former BRA scrum half Max Oates who has been playing at out half. Mark Wylie’s experience from playing at Belfast Harlequins has helped with the organisation and direction of the backs. In fact the coach would say he has the best backline Academy have had in years. RBAI Schools Cup winner and 2nd row Pierce McLernon has joined the Mallusk side this season along with NZ scrum half Josh Lennox who is working at BRA in addition to former BRA centre Lewis Davidson.

Knee surgery has ended Kyle Dobbin’s playing career as he takes up a position coaching the clubs 2nd xv. Centre Stephen Fawcett fractured his collarbone in the pre season game against Carrick. Number 8 Stuart Martin suffered concussion at Ballymoney on the opening day and only returned last Sat against the PSNI. Jordan Buchanan picked up an injury pre season. With several former 1st xv players not training and others not performing to the level of last season there is much work for the club coaches to do in the coming weeks. After the league game against Limavady this weekend the coach is going to use the two week break with no Junior Cup match to organise a mini pre season to get all the players focused for the remainder of the season.

Team that played against the PSNI : 1. Stevie Ferguson, 2. Lee Moody, 3. Adam Martin, 4. Craig Jackson, 5. Keith Dobbin, 6. Stephen Biggar, 7. Stuart Martin, 8. Richard Henderson, 9. Josh Lennox, 10. Max Oates, 11. Lewis Davidson, 12. Steven Stewart, 13. Mark Wylie, 14. Jamie Wilson, 15. Chris Cooper. 16. Peter Jackson, 17. Simon Beattie.

Scorers Penalty try, Richard Henderson, Chris Cooper 2 x cons, 2 x pens.

The coach will finalise his selection for the match with Limavady on Thursday night.

Limavady Head coach Mark Nicholl like his Academy counterpart Gareth Lynn experienced many of the difficulties clubs encounter in early season managing injuries and unavailability of players. After enduring a heavy home league defeat against Randalstown they had the opportunity to reverse this result against the same opponents in the Junior Cup winning 10 – 0. They had their Conference league game with Banbridge seconds postponed last week due to a waterlogged pitch.

The coach was disappointed with this outcome as his team will go in against Academy on Sat a little undercooked. To win the game against Academy the players will have to win the battle up front to beat them and allow his Limavady team to play their natural game. At this stage he is expecting to field a pretty much full strength team.


Larne v Ards
Supporters of the East Antrim side will have enjoyed the rugby played by their team against Ballynahinch seconds in the Junior Cup ( Losing 32 – 28) and the sterling performance at Ballymoney last week before losing 33 – 28. Larne Head coach Graham Cloke and his players will be wary of an Ards team who have won 3/4 of the opening games scoring 15 tries in the process. For spectators this could turn out to be a high scoring entertaining game.

Scorers for Larne in their defeat at Ballymoney: Johnny Cole, Charlie Cloke and Ryan Garrett 1 x try each with Ryan Garrett kicking two cons and three penalties.
Graham Cloke is frustrated by the narrow losses but has been pleased by the efforts and performance of the team. The team will be similar to last week with forward Colin McKinty requiring a late fitness test. Two former Larne Grammar schoolboys Gareth Martin and Jack Hill will be added to the squad this week. There will be changes in backs with out half Phil Andrews a doubt and full back Aaron McBride unavailable. Again the coach adds Schoolboys Anton White and Barry John McFaul to his squad with final selection decisions held off until Thursday night.

What has brought about the reversal in the fortunes of Ards 1st xv. This week I had the opportunity to catch up with Head coach John West who is assisted by former Ulster centre Scott Young. John West has experienced the highs and lows of coaching a club 1st xv. After their struggles to remain in the Ulster Bank All Ireland league Ards were eventually relegated at the end of the 2014/15 season. They just about hung on to their league position in Div 1 of the Ulster Rugby championship. Fate caught up with them when they were relegated from Div 1 last season into Div 2 this season.
What is it about being former Ulster Senior rugby clubs that have experienced the highs and lows. Witnessed what has happened at Academy, CIYMS, and Bangor. Bangor have now returned to the AIL and like neighbours Donaghadee who have suffered relegation in consecutive seasons are we witnessing a revival taking place at these three clubs. I have heard it said many times that it is all about finding your level. Maybe that is the case. Last weekend we had Bangor, Ards and Donaghadee all winning their matches. Is the tide starting to turn in the North Down/Ards area. Schools rugby at Regent House and Sullivan Upper has witnessed a decline in preference to Hockey and Soccer in recent years.

Have Ards in John West and Scott Young found a coaching team that can steer this club back into Senior rugby. As John West admitted he has experienced relegation at Donaghadee and Ards in the last couple of seasons. He had the opportunity to join the Ards coaching team last Xmas. Time was not on his side but encouraging results and performances in the latter half of last season gave hope despite relegation. The key was putting in place the building blocks to resurrect this famous club.

Pre season allowed the coaches and players to fully focus on their personal goals and the teams ambitions for the new season. The players have responded to S & C coach Paddy McGratton’s new fitness programme with the impact it has on the pitch. New players came into the club off season from Regent House. Their impact has been considerable. These included players such as Alex Hendrick, Josh McFarland and Robert Hull. Scrum half Hendrick is one everybody is talking about in his debut season on the 1st xv. Two former Youth players Adam Coulter and Paddy Bond have become regulars on the team. Full back Matty Neill had been out inured for 2 years at Uni and again the former Regent pupil has been another player to make an impact at fullback. Competition is competitive in the forwards with Matty Kane, Tom Arthur Donnan, Paddy Bond, Captain Andrew Foster battling it out for starting places. It is not often you have two hookers in Tom Arthur Donnan and Paddy Bond who can also prop. The second row has Gareth McBurney, Ross Torney, Adam McKee, Davy Calvert, Matthew Bell and Josh McFarland providing competition for starting places. Utility forward Peter Croan is one of the most improved players this season at the club and along with the returning Paul Hamilton at number 8 gives the coaches options in the back row.

Other players coming into contention this season include Matthew and Adam Warnock, Jamie Lemon, Mark McLean and Michael Taylor. Winger Trevor Devlin has taken over the kicking duties in the absence of the injured Vice Captain Paul Cox with considerable success.

There are several players I have not mentioned yet. Every team needs a bit of experience and In Stuart Paul, Scott Young, Graeme Taylor and Mark Banford, Ards are indebted to these players who have stuck with the club during the difficult days. They in their latter years are now enjoying the revival and the style of rugby Ards have been playing. I have noted that both Stuart Paul and Scott Young are scoring tries along with winger Adam Coulter. Well done guys.

Just before I forget Ards were unable to send a seconds team to play Randalstown seconds two weeks ago. In stepped former President Colin McLean to assemble a seconds team for the long trip to Enniskillen to play their seconds last Sat. Many ‘old hands’ answered the call off Colin. The result was immaterial it was the fact that rugby was the winner on the day with their efforts being acknowledged by the Enniskillen club.

Ards got their league season off to a winning start at home to Lisburn last week winning 18 – 3.

Team 1. Andrew Foster (Captain), 2. Tom Arthur Donnan, 3. Matthew kane, 4. Ross Torney, 5. Matty bell, 6. Paddy Bond, 7. Josh McFarland, 8. Paul Hamilton, 9. Alex Hendricks, 10. Mark Banford , 11. Adam Coulter, 12. Stewart Paul, 13. Scott Young, 14. Trevor Devlin, 16. Adam McKee, 17. Graeme Taylor.

Scorers. Tries Ross Torney and Scott Young with Trevor Devlin kicking 1xcon and 2 x pens.

John West is expecting a tough game at Larne. Graham Cloke will have his team well drilled. With the positive environment at Ards the coach is confident his team can get a result at the Glynn.


UUC v PSNI
It has been a tough opening number of fixtures for both these teams. I understand the PSNI team missed a straight forward conversion to lose their home match against Academy 18 – 17 last week. The students came up against a strong Grosvenor team before losing losing 62 – 0.

Talking to Brett Campbell at UUC the student team were given a good lesson by Grosvenor on how to play 15 man rugby. Despite the defeat the students are looking forward to their home match with the PSNI this weekend. UUC are fielding a similar team with Calvin Galbraith coming into the second row and Sam Hall reverting to his favourite left wing position with Robin Murphy coming into the centre.

Registration started this week at the University with the rugby club assessing the new talent. PSNI will be looking at the students for their first league win. Last season the two teams shared 70 points in the playoff match.

KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMP/CONF DIV 2
Banbridge seconds (9) v Randalstown (6)
Lisburn (10) v Ballymena seconds (7)
Malone seconds (2) v Grosvenor (1)
Omagh seconds (4) v Ballymoney (3)

KUKRIULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3
BHSFP (7) v Donegal Town (12)
Civil Service (9) v Strabane (4)
Donaghadee (1) v Newry (6)
Lurgan (3) v Letterkenny (11)
Monaghan (2) v Cavan (5)
Virginia (8) v Holywood (10)

Just to be clear to the many followers of the preview. Several have questioned why my name is not added to the preview published by Ulster Rugby on their website. The work I have been doing for the last five seasons has been voluntary to raise and promote the Domestic game in Ulster. Yes I am fortunate to be able to raise issues that may sit uncomfortably with the status quo. It is understandable when Ulster rugby view the preview they will edit these issues I raise to improve the Governance and sustainability of the Club game.

I have to thank the rugby community in Ulster for the overwhelming support I have received in recent weeks. It is refreshing to see more clubs publishing the preview on their websites. I keep receiving requests for additions to my mailing list. The difficulty is readers want to read the unedited version of my preview.

I am also aware of the excellent work that is being delivered by Domestic Manager Chris Webster and his staff to improve and strengthen the club game in Ulster. A lot of this unseen work goes unrecognised by the wider rugby public.

If you have any issues please e mail me at ga_millar@hotmail.com

Enjoy your rugby this weekend.

Updated 09:39 - 22 Sep 2017 by Stephen Barbour

Where next?

Clubhouse and bar open prior to this evenings Ulster game against the Dragons Clubhouse and bar open prior to this evenings Ulster game against the Dragons
Malone - Thursday night Quiz resumes on Thursday 14th September Malone - Thursday night Quiz resumes on Thursday 14th September at 8:45pm

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Fixtures
Sat 30 Sep
a
Friendly 10:00
a
Friendly 10:00
a
Friendly 10:00
a
Friendly 10:00
a
Friendly 10:00
a
1st Team Cashel
League 14:30
h
2nd Team Grosvenor
Cup 14:30
a
3rd Team (Vikings) Clogher Valley 2
League 14:30
h
4th Team (UD's) Queen’s University 3
League 14:30
Sun 1 Oct
a
Friendly 10:00
Sat 7 Oct
a
P7 CIYMS
Friendly 09:15
a
Friendly 09:15
a
P5 CIYMS
Friendly 09:15
a
P4 CIYMS
Friendly 09:15
a
P3 CIYMS
Friendly 09:15
h
League 11:00
h
1st Team Galwegians
League 14:30
a
2nd Team P.S.N.I.
League 14:30
a
4th Team (UD's) Lisburn 2
League 14:30
a
5th Team (Tankards) Ards 3
League 14:30

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