Welcome to the first Domestic Rugby preview of 2018. It seems no time since league action commenced on the 26th August 2017 in the Ulster Rugby Premiership and the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship followed by the Ulster Bank League in September. Two of our premier Cup competitions were settled before Xmas at the Kingspan stadium with City of Armagh defeating Ballymena to win the First Trust Senior Cup for the first time and Ballynahinch seconds retaining the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup at the expense of City of Armagh seconds. In the Ulster Bank league both Ballynahinch and Banbridge are well placed in the top four of Div 1B to challenge for promotion with Ballymena requiring league points to avoid being caught up in the relegation playoffs. East Belfast side Malone are top of Div 2A with City of Armagh and Queens University in 4th and 5th place. Rainey OB remain 2nd in Div 2B with Dungannon moving up to 6th place level on points with 4th place Wanderers for a playoff place. The story is not so good for Belfast Harlequins and City of Derry who occupy 9th and 10th place in this division. Newly promoted Omagh continue to make progress in 3rd place in Div 2C with Ulster neighbours Bangor in 6th place.
In Round 11 of the UBL this weekend we will have five Ulster derbies involving Ballynahinch v Ballymena, Queens University v Malone, Dungannon v Belfast Harlequins, Rainey OB v City of Derry and Bangor v Omagh. Banbridge travel to Dublin to play their return fixture with Eddie O’Sullivan’s Old Belvedere whilst City of Armagh make the long journey to Cork to play Highfield.
The results last weekend in the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership posed some questions. In Div 1 we had wins for Banbridge, Malone and City of Armagh over Ballymena, Ballynahinch and City of Derry. In Div 2 Omagh recorded their first league win over Dungannon with Queens Uni winning at Bangor and Belfast Harlequins defeating Rainey OB at Deramore Park.
What is it telling us. Are we seeing a changing of the guard. Predominantly teams like Ballymena and Dungannon were among the stronger club sides in Ulster. What we have witnessed in the last two seasons is the emergence of City of Armagh who have now won the Stevenson Shield and the First Trust Senior Cup for the first time in 2017. Banbridge are another club who have shown they can compete in Section 1 of the UBL as they along with Ballynahinch look to return an Ulster team to Div 1A of the All Ireland League. Serial All Ireland winners Shannon are the team both clubs have to overtake. Malone have continued their resurgence over the last two seasons under the astute coaching of Paddy Armstrong as they push for promotion in their 125th Anniversary season. Ballynahinch may have slipped back in recent seasons but they will bounce back under the guidance of Brian Mclaughlin this season. Omagh may have been a Junior club last season but after securing promotion they have taken the All Ireland League by storm this season.
Interesting Tweet I picked up from Omagh RFC after their win over Dungannon. Ireland Head coach Joe Schmidt attended Omagh RFC annual dinner in 2014 as their guest speaker. His speech included the following text. “ I can see here tonight that there are a lot of young guys and players taking ownership of this club and if you continue to do that everything else falls into place”. What lessons can other clubs learn from what is happening at Omagh since he made that speech in 2014.
What has driven the five clubs I have highlighted is the depth they have in their player base, again built on the work of Community Development Officers in their region. When it comes to Ulster under age squads and player recruitment at Ulster Rugby will we see consideration given to recognising the achievements of these clubs. The focus over the last two/three decades has been on a number of established clubs and Schools.
Many other clubs will say we are doing the same. Yes I agree and that is welcomed. Dungannon and Ballymena are examples of clubs rebuilding their player base through strong Youth and Schools partnerships.
I know from talking to committee members of former Senior clubs it is taking time to adjust to being a Junior partner in the new rugby environment. These UBL clubs including Instonians, Portadown and Ards along with former Senior clubs CIYMS, and Academy recognising the importance of succession planning being put in place to sustain a clubs playing base. Talking to Richard McCarter at City of Derry it was a case of a talented squad coming to the end of their playing days with no players coming through to replace them. City of Derry are not on their own. Belfast Harlequins will require all the experience of Nicky Wells to turn around their season. Past reputations count for nothing, it is the structures a club puts in place to sustain their future that are crucial to their survival.
In the Rugby Championship Ballyclare and Instonians are separated by one point in Div 1 as they enter the second half of the season. It is a case of Dromore, Carrickfergus and CIYMS chasing a top four finish to qualify for the All Ireland Junior Cup in 2018/19. Two home wins have Clogher Valley moving ahead of Portadown into 9th place as it becomes a three way contest with Enniskillen to avoid finishing in 9th and 10th place.
In Round 10 we have a full league programme with Clogher Valley looking to make it three wins at home when they entertain CIYMS who are chasing a top four finish. Coleraine and Cooke who sit mid table have lacked consistency in their performances this season. Third place Dromore entertain leaders Ballyclare at Barban Hill. Enniskillen and Portadown meet at Mullaghmeen in a crucial bottom of the table clash and Instonians on the back of an impressive win over Cooke are looking to keep the pressure on leaders Ballyclare when they entertain 4th place Carrickfergus at Shaws bridge.
In Div 2 Grosvenor have an eight point advantage over Ballymoney and Randalstown as these two teams appear to be fighting it out for the playoff place. At the bottom end it appears to be a contest between UUC, PSNI, Lisburn and Limavady to avoid 9th and 10th place.
There was a surprise last weekend in Div 3 as previously undefeated league leaders Lurgan went down 9 – 6 at Letterkenny to leave three points separating them and second place Donaghadee.
This weekend we have the 1st Round of the River Rock Towns Cup. The eight Div 1 teams have been given a bye with holders Ballynahinch seconds drawn away to Div 3 Donaghadee at Donaldson Park. There are seven other matches with a North West derby involving Strabane and City of Derry seconds, M 1 neighbours Lisburn and Lurgan meeting at Blaris. Dungannon and Ballymena seconds meeting again after Dungannon won the Kyle Cup 27 – 24 at Stevenson Park on Boxing Day. Junior Cup Finalists City of Armagh seconds hosting Provincial Two league leaders Rainey OB seconds at the Palace Grounds. There is a Div 2 clash involving Junior Cup semi finalists Ballymoney at home to Larne at Kilraughts Road. Ards entertain Omagh seconds with Limavady hosting Banbridge seconds in the remaining two ties.
I understand that the completion of outstanding matches in the Conference league will be discussed with clubs in the coming weeks as several teams are in contention for the Div 1 and 2 league titles. Will the clubs want to play these fixtures. They are into the second half of the season with attention focused on their leagues including 2nd xv league, Towns cup and McCrea Cup.
Domestic rugby clubs need financial assistance to modernise and maintain their existing clubhouses and playing surfaces. These clubs are having to embrace the growing expansion of ladies rugby at all levels with requirements for clubs to provide additional changing and showering facilities. There is also the impact on playing surfaces with rugby clubs losing out on the allocation of funding in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. The clubs need help. Can Ulster Rugby and the IRFU assist. I don’t believe so due to the demands of the professional game. We need voices raised by the Ulster Branch to alert funding organisations such as Sport NI to assist the clubs at this time. The introduction of the Participation Criteria for UBL clubs in Ulster has encouraged club administrators to improve existing clubhouse provisions and playing surfaces over the last three seasons. The criteria is matching requirements in the existing Club Excellence awards scheme.
Talking to Chris Webster, the Ulster Branch are working with Sport NI and their Government Department to look at ways of rugby securing additional funding for clubs. Chris is also at pains to point out that David Johnston (Funding Manager) and Matt Holmes (Club Services Officer) at the Ulster Branch are only to willing to make themselves available to support clubs in bidding applications for funding from other sources. Examples of successful funding applications include:
Newry RFC - £44,000 from Newry, Mourne & Down District Council along with £30,000 from the IRFU Loan Programme to conduct upgrades to their clubhouse and changing facilities.
Virginia RFC - £27,000 from the Sports Capital Programme towards improving their changing facilities.
Malone RFC - £10.000 from Groundwork NI/Alpha small grants programme for refurbishment of their changing rooms.
It was interesting reading the contributions of Bryn Cunningham and Kieran Campbell in the Ulster v Munster match programme on the recruitment and development of players to play professional rugby for Ulster. Sadly no mention was made of the contribution from the clubs. It is the case that a number of Ulster UBL clubs provide valuable playing time and experience for Ulster players who are on Development and Academy contracts to play rugby throughout the season in the All Ireland league. When we talk about players entering the player pathway at under 16 it is all the Ulster clubs playing in the UBL and Ulster Rugby Championship who have a crucial role in taking forward that individual players development both for his club and the Ulster under age teams. To ignore the contribution of the clubs sends the wrong message to the expanding Ulster supporter base that the clubs only have a minor role to play in developing players when that is not the case. Too often we hear about young players walking away from playing club rugby after failing to make progress at Ulster under age level. They regard themselves as failures, when that is not the case. There is a future for all potential rugby players. Each player will find a level in clubs where they can enjoy playing and be part of a team. Rugby is renowned for its camaraderie and creating life long friendships. Kieran Campbell talks about the role of the Integrated Service team that supports all the Academy players through its six service providers. These deal with Strength and Conditioning, Nutrition, Physio and Medical, Performance Psychology and Personal Development. The role of the clubs in providing playing opportunities should not be over looked and the part they play in a players overall development. What it means to be part of a team, loyalty and the culture that exists within a club. There should be no distinction between playing for Ulster or your domestic rugby club. As Peter Malone has said at Munster. He expects his Academy players to be stand out players for their Domestic clubs when they play. The message is clear, without the Domestic clubs the player development required between 16 and 21 would not be progressed without their involvement.
In reading the Front Row Union website I was interested in the comments of John McMurtry after the Ballyclare HS v Ulster Clubs Under 18 match at Xmas. Ballyclare won 32 – 17. John’s view was that the Ulster clubs squad needed more game time together. All the Ulster Age Grade representative sides needed is more game time and resources at a more competitive level if Ulster really want to develop all the talent at their disposal. Interesting noting the Ulster back five forwards who finished the match against Munster. Three were former Leinster Academy players, One exile and One Ulster player Matthew Rea who was picked up playing for Ballymena rugby club.
As an Ulster Rugby Supporter I am aware of the advantages for those club members who sit on committees at the Ulster Branch in the Professional era now spanning over 20 years. I witness these members including their partners and guests avail of prime seating arrangements in the main stand at the Kingspan stadium as a reward for their work on these committees. These same arrangements apply in the other three provinces and to those members involved with IRFU committees. It does not go unnoticed by the Rugby community the advantages you enjoy. What I am asking is it not time we opened up the opportunities for hard working volunteers within their clubs to be included on match day in the pre match lunches. Rugby is viewed as a Sport that is inclusive and not merely representative of the middle and professional classes. We are engaging with Non playing rugby communities in an effort to build the player base in Ulster. I am thinking of the clubs in Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Londonderry. Sometimes these rugby communities appear to be forgotten with the focus on the Greater Belfast area. Teams like Clogher Valley, Enniskillen and Omagh have provided teams that have contested club finals in recent seasons at the Kingspan. Cavan are another team who came to the Kingspan last season and defeated the PSNI to win the Gordon West Cup. I might be old school but a thank you and a shake of the hand is always appreciated wherever you travel in the rugby community. We pride ourselves on these long held values that epitomise our sport and culture.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE. ROUND 11
Young Munster(6) v Garryowen (5). Played Friday 5.1.18. Kick off 7.30PM
Cork Constitution (3) v Buccaneers (10)
Dublin Uni (9) v St Mary’s College (8)
Lansdowne (1) v Clontarf (2)
UCD (7) v Terenure College (4)
Dolphin (10) v UCC (4)
Ballynahinch (2) v Ballymena (8)
Old Belvedere (5) v Banbridge (3)
Old Wesley (7) v UL Bohemians (9)
Shannon (1) v Naas (6)
Ballynahinch v Ballymena
In their Round 10 UBL game at Thomond Park, Ballynahinch minus their Ulster players lost 49 – 19 to league leaders Shannon. The team suffered a 15 – 11 defeat at Gibson Park against Malone in the Ulster Rugby Premiership. Brian Mclaughlin and his coaching team will want to see their squad win this game to maintain their promotion challenge.
For this weekend Ulster releases include Peter Browne, Peter Nelson, Aaron Cairns, David Busby and Zac McCall. Injury rules our Jonny Simpson, Jack Regan, Rory Butler and Aaron Hall with Jonny McPhillips not released by Ulster.
Ballymena Head coach Andy Graham is hoping for a positive reaction from his team after defeats away to Old Belvedere in the UBL, City of Armagh in the First Trust Senior Cup Final, Dungannon away in the Kyle Cup Final on Boxing Day and Banbridge away in the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership. Injuries and unavailability have not helped as the coach continues to bring through young players into the 1st xv squad. It is experience these players need and it is a question of how quickly they adapt to the rigours of the All Ireland League.
Ulster releases for the Ballynahinch game include Ross Kane, Adam McBurney, John Andrews, Marcus Rea, David Shanahan, Brett Herron and Callum Patterson. Clive Ross and Matthew Rea have not been released. Both Angus Kernohan and Matty Agnew have been involved with the Ireland under 20 squad in practice games against Leinster and Munster Development teams as the squad prepare for the Six Nations.
Injuries rule out Mark Foster, Alan Smyth, Dean Reynolds, Nathan Rankin, John Loughlin with Matthew Norris, James Taggart, Andrew Ferguson and Houston Bonner are likely to be involved with the seconds in their Towns Cup match away to Dungannon seconds. Bryan Young is not available this weekend.
Ballymena team: 1. Nacho Clandero Crespo, 2. John Andrews, 3. Ross Kane, 4. David Whann, 5. Connor Smyth, with back row to be selected from Marcus Rea, Matthew Agnew, Adrian Hamilton, Stephen Mulholland, James Gallagher and Joe Thompson. 9. David Shanahan, 10. Brett Herron, 11. Glenn Baillie, 12. Callum Patterson, 13. Angus Kernohan, 14. James Beattie, 15. Rodger McBurney, 16. Chris Cundell, 17. Adam McBurney,18.A N Other 19. Jonny Rossborough, 20. Michael Stronge. Bench replacements will be finalised on Thursday after back row agreed.
Andy Graham is expecting a very tough encounter at Ballmacarn Park. He wants his team to be more clinical with the ball and take the chances they are creating. This Brian McLaughlin coached Ballynahinch team are very good at keeping the ball and frustrating their opponents. His team will need to be physical in the contact zone.
The ingredients are their for a keenly contested match. When these two sides met at Eaton Park on the 11th Novemeber, Ballynahinch were comfortable 27 – 0 winners.
Banbridge v Old Belvedere
Round 10 in Cork ensured Banbridge came away from Irish Independent Park minus their Ulster players with an impressive 16 -11 win over 10th place Dolphin to maintain their promotion challenge. The team continued their winning run with a 31 – 12 defeat of Ballymena at Rifle Park last Saturday in the Ulster Rugby premiership. When these two teams last met on the 11th November Banbridge hung on to win 15 -14. This time it is the return journey to Dublin.
Head coach Daniel Soper was delighted with the performance of his three Ulster players Greg Jones, Nick Timoney and Rob Lyttle in the 24 – 17 win for Ulster over Munster on New Years Day. They all played a significant role. He was particularly pleased for Rob Lyttle who has been waiting to get his opportunity on the 1st team.
Both Caleb Montgomery and Eric O’Sullivan have been released by Ulster with injury ruling out Tom O’Toole, Michael Lowry and James Hume. Greg Jones, Nick Timoney and Rob Lyttle have been retained by Ulster. It is touch and go whether Michael Lowry or James Hume will recover in time to play a part for Ireland in the Under 20 Six nations tournament.
The coach is aware his team have plenty of areas to work on and improve in the second half of the season. If they do, the team could have a strong finish. His team are expecting a difficult match at Old Belvedere.
Galway Corinthians (9) v Galwegians (10). Played Friday 5.1.18. kick off 7.30Pm
Nenagh Ormond (3) v Cashel RFC (6). Played Friday 5.1.18. Kick off 7.30PM
Greystones (7) v Blackrock College (8)
Highfield (2) v City of Armagh (4)
Queens Uni (5) v Malone (1)
Queens University v Malone
There was relief that Queens ended a losing run at Bangor last Sat winning 36 – 7. The team had lost their last three matches in the UBL against City of Armagh and Greystones in back to back games. With work taking Daniel Dass to London there was a bonus with the return to playing of former Ards, Instonians and Bangor No 8 Curtis Stewart who put in an impressive ball carrying display against his former club.
There are doubts about the availability of centres Conor McKee and Rory Bell with Captain Nigel Simpson and David Whitten returning this week to the pack. Back rower Jonny Lees is a major doubt. Winger Mark Keane is another doubt after following return to play protocols. Only Alexander Clarke has been released by Ulster. Scrum half Jonny Stewart has not been released by the Ireland under 20 camp. Angus Curtis remains on the injured list.
Queens team: 1. Anton Lupari, 2. Alexander Clarke, 3. Andrew Clingan, 4. Ali Burke, 5. David Whitten, 6 Gary Dillon, 7. Nigel Simpson (captain), 8. Curtis Stewart. 9. John Creighton, 10. Richie McMaster, 11. Curtis Dundas, 12. Conor Shiels, 13. Jonny Milliken, 14. Mark Keane/Gerard Treanor, 15. Jack Milligan, 16. David Swann, 17.Jonny Black. Remaining replacements to be confirmed at training on Thursday night.
Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong has lost the services of back row forward Phil Lucas for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. He has been delighted with the response of the players who have trained hard throughout the Xmas period. The first half of the season has shown how tough the league is. It is a case of taking it one game at a time. Both the coaches and the players are looking forward to the return game with Queens at the Dub after losing 20 – 11 at Gibson Park on the 10th November. Malone warmed up for this fixture with a 15 – 11 win over Ballynahinch last week. The players showed their fighting qualities to come back from 11 – 3 to win the match with a strong final quarter.
Ulster releases include Jack Owens and Peter Cooper. Both Joe Dunleavy and Matthew Dalton have been ruled out due to injury.
City of Armagh v Highfield
Talking to Armagh assistant coach Chris Parker, his team is expected to be on similar lines to the side that defeated Ballymena in the First Trust Senior Cup Final before Xmas. Armagh warmed up for their weekend fixture in Cork by defeating struggling City of Derry 82 – 0 at the Palace Grounds last Saturday in the Ulster Premiership league scoring 13 tries in the process.
Both Peter Starrett and Andrew Willis remain on the injured list with the coaches hoping they will be available for the Round 12 fixtures on the 27th January.
Old Crescent (1) v Sunday’s Well (8). Played Friday 5.1.18. Kick off 7.45PM
Navan RFC (5) v Skerries (7). Played Friday 5.1.18. Kick off 7.30PM
Dungannon (6) v Belfast Harlequins (9)
MU Barnhall (3) v Wanderers (4)
Rainey OB (2) v City of Derry (10)
Dungannon v Belfast Harlequins
Head coach Andy Hughes was disappointed with the performance of his team in their 22 – 15 defeat at Omagh last Saturday. He acknowledged it was not a good day for his team on all fronts. The performance lacked intensity and structure. On top of that Dungannon lost two props Sean O’Hagan and Rodney Bennett to season ending injuries. The positives the team can take from the game is that it was certainly a wake up call ahead of the game against Belfast Harlequins with a number of players who have not featured on the 1st xv for some time getting valuable game time. With no fewer than 12 changes to the squad this week the coach is hopping the players can shake off the effects of Xmas and pick up from where they have left off prior to the Xmas break. Influential back rower Jonah Mau’u is unavailable as he hasn’t returned from NZ yet.
Quins head coach Nicky Wells was delighted with the attitude of his players in their 18 – 17 win over Rainey OB in the Ulster Rugby premiership at Deramore Park last week.
Belfast Harlequins team was: 1. Mark McGrath, 2. Steven Weir, 3. James Harrison, 4. Danny Annett (Captain), 5. Callum Leckey, 6. Jaz Andress, 7.Toby Mannus, 8. Daryl Marshall, 9. Conor McAuley, 10. Timmy Emmerson, 11. Ethan Boal, 12. Paul Kerr, 13. Christian Bennison, 14. Matthew Robinson, 15. Richie McKee, 16. Rory Harrison, 17. Matthew Borne, 18. Thomas Gallagher, 19. David Devine, 20. Malcolm Corry.
Points scorers were Christian Bennison and Matthew Robinson 1 x try each with Paul Kerr 1 x con and 2 x penalties.
For the game at Dungannon Nicky Wells is expected to retain the same pack with Matthew McKenzie and Mark Glover returning to the backline.
Rainey OB v City of Derry
Head coach John Andrew’s was not too concerned about his teams loss at Belfast Harlequins last Saturday. He used the match to give his extended squad some valuable game time. The only players missing this week are Jason Bloomfield and Josh McIIroy. Ulster releases include Tommy O’Hagan and John McCusker. Rainey will be looking maximum points with their postponed game coming up against Sunday’s Well on the 13th January to narrow the gap on leaders Old Crescent.
City of Derry are in a battle for their survival after another heavy defeat away to City of Armagh last Sat in the Ulster Rugby premiership. As assistant coach Richard McCarter put it to me the playing squad will have to experience a lot of pain to complete their league programme in the UBL. Sadly the match at Armagh became a training game for the home side. The players in the seconds and thirds are not up to the standard to play in the UBL. He even expressed his concern for the safety and welfare of the players who are representing the 1st xv at present. Last Saturday several of the players were down with a flu bug to add to the injuries and unavailability. If all the players are fit City of Derry can put out a competitive team. Sadly that strength in depth is not there. Marshall Kilgore has outlined a long term plan for the future of the club that will involve building the club from the bottom up through the Minis and Youth. It is a case of the club accepting that the team have to find their own level to be competitive to rebuild. The group of players who formed the core of the 1st xv 8/9 years ago has moved on with no players to replace them. It is a case of the club finding their own level and getting back to enjoying their rugby. As Richard put it, the best years he enjoyed playing rugby were when they were playing Qualifying Rugby. There was the best of crack and an atmosphere about the club. You did not have the journeys to Galway, Limerick or Cork to worry about.
Current Head coach Trevor Will is in place for two years with Kiwi scrum half Tyler Rogers -Holden due to return to New Zealand. Out half Neil Burns has plans to travel to NZ. Current assistant 1st xv coach James Doherty has a pivotal role as a Community Development Officer in increasing the numbers playing rugby at the club.
Yes it is frustrating for everybody at the club. But with the right people in charge this club can return to being a force in Ulster rugby. City of Derry can learn lessons from their neighbours Omagh who have experienced this pain to re establish themselves as a force in Ulster.
When these two teams met at the Craig Thompson stadium on the 11th November, rainey won 40 – 5.
Bangor (6) v Omagh (3)
Malahide (5) v Midleton (9)
Seapoint (7) v Bective Rangers (8)
Thomond (2) v Bruff (4)
Tullamore (10) v Sligo (1)
Bangor v Omagh
The seasiders Manager Ricky Armstrong along with the coaching staff are aware of the threat Omagh pose this weekend at Upritchard Park. His team suffered a heavy defeat to Queens Univ at home last Saturday. Bangor were missing a few players with the team failing to take their chances early on. He felt when the students got into their stride in the third and fourth quarter, Bangor were unable to cope with their pace and handling skills as they ran in a number of tries. As he put it, it was a joy to watch some of their rugby as a change from the attritional rugby in the UBL.
It is back to All Ireland rugby with the Bangor team looking forward to this Ulster derby with Omagh. Players who were carrying knocks pre Xmas have recovered to strengthen the options for the coaches. Both Captain Philip Whyte and back row forward Ryan Latimer are ruled out for the remainder of the season with long term injuries.
The club has a fully booked pre match lunch with a buzz amongst supporters and players in anticipation of this match. Ricky Armstrong is aware his Bangor team will have to be at their very best to beat Omagh who are the in form team in the league away from home.
Bangor team: 1. Evan Wellard – McMillan, 2. Andrew Shaw, 3. James Leary, 4. Dave Caughey, 5. Lewis Stevenson, 6,7,8 will be made up from James Henley, Jamie Clegg, David Bradford and Jack Cooke. 9. Lewis Brett, 10. Ross McCloskey, 11. Dave Charles, 12. Mark Widdowson, 13 Mike Weir, 14. Desi Fusco, 15. Phil Broderick. The bench will be finalised at training on Thursday night.
Omagh Head coach Phil Marshall has lost hooker Adam Pollock to a shoulder injury. He is hoping to have Richard Hemphill in to replace him with Ally Beckett expected to take a place on the bench. Otherwise the team will be the same that done so well against Dungannon. The coach is expecting a really difficult game at Bangor on Saturday.
When these two teams met at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields on the 11th November the match finished in a 6 – 6 draw.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 1
Clogher Valley (9) v CIYMS (5)
Coleraine (7) v Cooke (6)
Dromore (3) v Ballyclare (1)
Enniskillen (8) v Portadown (10)
Instonians (2) v Carrickfergus (4)
Clogher Valley v CIYMS
Two wins over top four teams Carrickfergus and Dromore at the Cran have moved Clogher Valley up to 9th place. With fellow strugglers Enniskillen playing Portadown will we see Clogher move out of the bottom two places. CI have quietly moved up to level on points with 4th place Carrickfergus after winning at Coleraine 15 - 11 last Saturday.
The Clogher team that defeated Dromore was: 1. Philip Hopper, 2. Kyle Cobain, 3. Neil Henderson, 4. Michael Treanor (Captain), 5. David Sharkey, 6. BJ Wilson, 7. Ross Finlay, 8. Ryan Wilson, 9. Neil Trotter, 10. Toby McAlpine, 11. Fleming Agnew, 12. Allister Trenier, 13. Clive Donaldson, 14. Mark Ellis, 15. Dillon Crawford, 16. James bates, 17. David Speers.
Points scorers: Clive Donaldson and Fleming Agnew 1 x try each with Neil Trotter 1 x con and 2 x penalties.
CIYMS team that defeated Coleraine: 1. Aaron Kilpatrick, 2. Scott mcnarry, 3. Elliott Boyd, 4. Cory Tipping, 5. Stephen Gilliland, 6. Scott Dowle, 7. Jason Gilliland, 8. Mark McConkey, 9. Cameron Stewart, 10. Paddy Beverland, 11. Matthew Butler, 12. Callum Irvine (Captain), 13 Matthew Kilgore, 14. Craig Devlin, 15. Peter Raine, 16. Rorrie Meharg and David Kealey.
Points scorers: Craig Devlin and Callum Devlin 1 x try each with matthew Kilgore 1 x con and I x penalty.
CIYMS Head coach Gareth Fry was delighted with his teams performance at Coleraine. It was a tight game with the team scoring two excellent tries and then defending until they conceded a late try. As with any fixture around Xmas both teams were missing a few players with the players coming into the CIYMS team performing and adding to the selection decisions to be made this week. The Head coach was full of praise for the work being done by forwards coach Darren Barbour who is using all his experience from the All Ireland league to mould the pack into a really competitive unit. This has allowed the backs to play some really good rugby in all conditions.
The players know that Clogher will be tough opposition especially after their win over Dromore last week. The Cran is a tough place to go but the players are looking forward to the challenge. Both Clogher firsts and seconds are in Fivemiletown this weekend with the squad using the occasion as a Xmas team builder.
Forwards Davy Cobain and Paddy Aiken are joined by Rob Haldane on the injured list with the coaches having a strong squad to select from. Selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
When these two teams met at Belmont on the 18th November, CIYMS won 27 – 14.
Coleraine v Cooke
Head coach Richard Boyd was disappointed with his teams loss at home to CIYMS on Saturday. The coaches are blooding lots of young local players this year due to the long injury list with the players learning a lot from this defeat. The team were excellent for the first 60 mins with the coach having to focus on the positives. In experience in the third quarter told when the team started to force the game, giving away silly penalties.
The team are looking forward to another home game against a big and physical Cooke side. It is important the players knuckle down at training this week to improve in certain areas but also to reinforce all the positives and confidence they gained from the CIYMS game.
Cooke Head coach Colin Atkinson conceded his team struggled against a very strong Instonians pack in their 33 – 15 loss at Shaws bridge last Saturday. With a number of players missing this had an impact on his small playing squad. Injuries continue to hamper the squad as they prepare for the trip to Coleraine with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
When these two teams met at Shaws Bridge on the 18th November Coleraine won 26 – 18.
Dromore v Ballyclare
Director of Rugby Jeremy Ogle was deeply disappointed with the performance of his team in their 18 – 8 loss at Clogher Valley last Saturday. Once again the teams poor performances away from home have let them down with the coaches Jonny Cullen and Jamie Kirk working to reverse these defeats.
The team to play Ballyclare will be finalised on Thursday night with Rory Pepper, Blair McDonald and Matty McMaster available for selection after missing the Clogher game.
The teams points scorers in the game at Clogher were Adam McGregor 1 x try and Lee Steenson 1 x penalty.
Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever and his players are looking forward to the run of league fixtures that will test each clubs strength in depth as they pick up injuries and deal with unavailabilities. The coach is happy that Ballyclare have developed strength in depth that will allow for a busy schedule to kick start 2018. He was delighted with the teams win over Carrickfergus on Boxing Day. It was a real strong effort by the squad and from both teams to turn out on Boxing Day which made a real occasion for both towns supporters, this being the second year the fixture has been played on Boxing Day.
The challenge for the squad is to focus on themselves in training, the next opposition and aiming to make little improvements each week. Dromore are a strong side at home as they showed in defeating Instonians earlier in the season. The win over Carrick will assist the squad in preparing for a team that has a strong pack and a talented player in Lee Steenson at scrum half.
Selection is to be confirmed on Thursday with the likely team to be: 1. Rory Henderson, 2. Matthew Coulter, 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Robert Boyd, 5. Grant Bartley (captain), 6. Ryan Tweed, 7. Gary Weatherup, 8. David Clarke, 9. Andy Eastop, 10. Robert Smith, 11. Owen Kirk, 12. Joel McBride, 13. Robbie Reid, 14. Stewart Cusick, 15. Gary Clotworthy, 16. Dean Jones, 17. Aaron Playfair.
The Ballyclare team contains a real mix of youth and experience, who have a great attitude to training but the most pleasing part is seeing who is returning to training and competitive rugby from injury, work or travel. These include Niall Lawther, Gareth Byers, Michael Kirk, Matthew Robson, David Chambers, Paul Robinson along with Ryan McIIwaine and Johnny Holmes who were home from Uni/work over the festive period.
When these two teams met on the opening day of the season at the Cloughan , Ballyclare won a high scoring game 48 – 34.
Enniskillen v Portadown
Head coach William Gibson is looking a similar performance from his Enniskillen players that saw them defeat Clogher Valley 31 – 0 before Xmas. He is asking the players for another big effort as they look to cut out the mistakes that cost them the game at Coleraine. The challenge is for the players to move away from the bottom of the table. The injury list that has plagued the club since the beginning of the season is reducing with competition for places. This has increased the intensity of training at the club this week. Nothing less than the hard work put in by the players against Clogher will be needed to win this crucial game with Portadown. Selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley is very much aware of the need for his players to win at Enniskillen this week. It has been a stop start period for games over the last month. Selection again has been difficult due to injury and unavailability with the team and replacements to be finalised on Thursday night. Robert Greenlee, Danny Alexander and Mark Henderson are unavailable for the match and will be replaced by Robert Reid, Taylor Tweedie and Matthew Wilson in the forwards.
When these two teams met on the opening day of the season at Chambers Park Enniskillen won a closely fought game 20 – 19.
Instonians v Carrickfergus
Director of Rugby William Leacock was delighted with the manner of his teams performance in picking up a much needed bonus point win against neighbours Cooke to close the gap on leaders Ballyclare to one point with nine games remaining. The attitude and commitment of the players to training has been reflected by their hard work in picking up three consecutive bonus point wins. The seconds returned to league action after a four week break and picked up a bonus point in their win against Banbridge thirds.
His team are expecting another tough encounter with Carrickfergus at Shaws bridge this week with the players looking another win to keep the pressure on league leaders Ballyclare. Selection is to be finalised on Thursday with the coaches welcoming back Sean Shuttleworth into the squad after a strong appearance for the second xv.
Carrick coaches Davy Scott and Michael Rainey will be looking to reverse two consecutive defeats away to Ballyclare and Clogher Valley as the team challenge for a top four finish this season.
When both these teams met at the Tom Simms Memorial Grounds on the 2nd September Instonians won 15 – 7 in a tightly contested game.
RIVER ROCK TOWNS CUP 1ST ROUND
Coleraine v Bye
Strabane v City of Derry
Limavady v Banbridge seconds
Lisburn v Lurgan
Dungannon seconds v Ballymena seconds
Enniskillen v Bye
Clogher Valley v Bye
Dromore v Bye
Randalstown v Bye
Carrickfergus v Bye
City of Armagh seconds v Rainey OB seconds
Ballymoney v Larne
Ballyclare v Bye
Portadown v Bye
Donaghadee v Ballynahinch seconds
Ards v Omagh seconds
Limavady v Banbridge seconds
Head coach Mark Nicholl has been pleased with his Limavady teams last two wins against the PSNI and Malone seconds. This has been built on a much improved defensive effort which is keeping his team in the game for longer to give them opportunities to win matches. With so many young players in the squad it is all about the team being patient as they learn from their mistakes. The coach is having to make changes this week due to unavailability with the team to be finalised on Thursday night.
Lisburn v Lurgan
Director of Rugby Michael Knowles is looking forward to this game with near neighbours Lurgan. Their opponents are going well at the top of Div 3 and will travel full of confidence. Lisburn beat Lurgan in a pre season friendly but Michael Knowles is expecting a very different Lurgan side at the Blaris this weekend. He is hoping his Lisburn team can turn some of their nearly performances in the league pre Xmas into wins. The team had a couple of disappointing games in the Conference league over Christmas with it giving the coaches the opportunity to look at different combinations.
For this weekend the team will be without second rows Alan Hughes and Andy Barron, prop Tom Fraser and scrum half Ernest Caseta. Out half Adam Heaps faces a late fitness test. Scott Colligan and Epi Ratu are likely to continue in the centre after impressing at Omagh last Saturday. Captain Phil Jefferson will continue to cover the second row alongside Luke Ballard. Selection will be finalised at training on Thursday night.
Ards v Omagh seconds
Head coach John West was delighted with Ards 45 – 10 win over UUC last week at Hamilton Park. It was a case of the coaches having to wait a fortnight to play a game. He was pleased with the way his players controlled the game playing into a strong wind. The game against Omagh seconds will be interesting and hard fought no doubt. Several of the players have picked up bugs from the weekend with selection to be finalised on Thursday night. An Ards under 19 select defeated a Canadian under 19 side 14 – 7 under the floodlights at Ards last Saturday night.
Ards team that played UUC: 1. Andrew Foster (captain), 2. Tom Arthur Donnan, 3. Matty Kane, 4. Ross Torney, 5. Gareth McBurney, 6. Danny Patton, 7. Onisi Burekama, 8. Graeme Taylor, 9. Stewart Paul, 10. Mark Banford, 11. Adam Coulter, 12. Scott Young, 13. Trevor Devlin, 14. Matthew Neill, 15. Paul Cox, 16. John Dowey, 17. Josh McFarland.
Points scorers: Onisi Burekama 2 x tries, Stewart Paul, Trevor Devlin, Mark Banford, Matthew Neill and Gareth McBurney 1 x try each. Paul Cox 5 x cons.
Ards met Omagh seconds in the Conference league on the 7th October winning 30 – 21.
Hope you all enjoy your club rugby this weekend. Please make the effort to get along and support your community club. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy new year.
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Updated 15:24 - 4 Jan 2018 by Stephen Barbour