The focus for many rugby supporters last weekend was on the Six Nations and what was happening at the Aviva Stadium in the match between Ireland and Scotland on Saturday afternoon. With Domestic fixtures in Leinster, Munster and Connacht being played on Sunday 11th March these arrangements did not impact on their players and supporters being able to attend and watch the game. Due to the postponement of fixtures in the UBL on the 3rd March we had 11 of these 25 fixtures rearranged for the weekend of the 10th March. Six games were played on Wed/Friday and Sunday with five played on the Saturday involving Ulster teams Banbridge, Ballymena, Malone, Omagh and Bangor. The games involving Malone, Omagh and Bangor all involved early kick offs on the Saturday with the Banbridge v Ballymena game kicking off at 2.30PM. Are their lessons from the early kick offs for Ulster teams travelling down South. It is well known the Southern clubs are not into pre match lunches to the same extent as the Ulster clubs to raise revenue. With teams staying overnight the early kick off allows players, coaches, officials and supporters to travel home earlier.
Following the rearranging of the remaining UBL fixtures it has been a case of clubs juggling with dates that have ended with fixtures being played on the 31st March with no room for postponed games from that weekend to be played with Rounds 17 and 18 taking place on the 7th and 14th April. When I look at the rearranged fixtures for Rainey and Dungannon I have to ask the question why the two clubs agreed to play an Ulster Premiership match on Thursday the 8th March instead of playing their postponed UBL games at the weekend. Rainey have ended up travelling to play MU Barnhall in Parstonstown on Saturday with a 11AM kick off whilst Dungannon have to play Navan RFC on Monday the 19th March at Stevenson Park with a 8PM kick off.
I understand the UBL regulations state that the postponed games have to be played on the first available weekend. In light of what has happened maybe it is time the UBL Clubs committee brought in that regulation so such situations don’t occur again. Talking to the Ballynahinch officials they were prepared to travel and play UL Bohemians at the weekend. The Limerick side indicated they would have been unable to field a team. With Ulster A playing Munster A at Banbridge RFC on Thursday the 15th March with a 3PM kick off the Ballynahinch coaches will be hoping their Ulster contracted players come through unscathed for this crucial match in Limerick next Monday the 19th.
Banbridge maintained their promotion bid with a 22 – 5 win over Ballymena at Rifle Park. They are now three points ahead of 2nd place Ballynahinch who have a game in hand with three games remaining. What an achievement this would be for Ulster rugby if we were able to see both Banbridge and Ballynahinch promoted to DIV 1A next season.
Banbridge remaining games: Naas (A), UUC (A), UL Bohemians (H).
Ballynahinch: UL Bohemians (A), Dolphin (H), Old Wesley(A), Old Belvedere(H).
Ballymena find themselves slipping down into 9th place and the playoffs after losing at Banbridge. They are 11 points ahead of 10th place Dolphin with four points separating Ballymena, UL Bohemians, Naas and Old Wesley in 6th – 9th place.
Ballymena remaining games: UL Bohemians (H), Dolphin (A), Old Wesley (H).
Banbridge 22 Ballymena 5.
Banbridge team: 1. Eric O’Sullivan, 2. Peter Cromie, 3. Michael Cromie, 4. Chris Allen, 5. Stephen Irvine, 6. Caleb Montgomery, 7. Nick Hayes, 8. Greg Jones, 9. Jason Gribben, 10. Johnny Little, 11. Adam Ervine, 12. Ben Carson, 13. Andrew Morrison, 14. Conor Field, 15. Adam Doherty, 16. Jonny Weir, 17. Stuart Cromie, 18. Mike Bentley, 19. Robin Sinton, 20. Robin Thompson.
Points scorers: Conor Field, Peter Cromie and Adam Doherty 1 x try each. Adam Doherty 2 x con and 1 x pen.
Ballymena team: 1. Nacho Clandero Crespo, 2. Adam McBurney, 3. Chris Cundell, 4. David Whann, 5. Connor Smyth, 6. Mark Foster, 7. Marcus Rea, 8. Azur Allinson, 9. David Shanahan, 10. Glenn Baillie, 11. James Beattie, 12. Alan Smyth, 13. Callum Patterson, 14. Robert Balacoune, 15. Rodger McBurney, 16. Houston Bonnar, 17. James Taggart, 18. Stephen Mulholland, 19. Dean Reynolds, 20. Michael Stronge.
Points scorer: James Beattie 1 x try.
Leaders Malone increased their lead to 12 points over second place Highfield with a 32 – 17 bonus point win away to Galwegians.
Malone remaining games: Cashel (H), Highfield (A), Nenagh Ormond(H).
City of Armagh remain in 5th place three points behind 4th place Cashel as they push for a top four finish.
Remaining games: Galway Corinthians (A), Blackrock College (H), Galwegians (H), Greystones (A).
Queens Uni need two wins from their remaining four matches to be safe. They are currently on a six match losing run in the UBL.
Remaining games: Cashel (A), Highfield (H), Nenagh Ormond (A), Galway Corinthians (H).
Malone 32 Galwegians 17
Malone team: 1. Ben Halliday. 2. Danny Kerr, 3. Philip Eadie, 4. James McAllister, 5. Michael Shiels, 6. Dave Cave, 7. Ross Todd (Captain), 8. Ryan Clarke, 9. Connor Spence, 10. Callum Smith, 11. Michael Cartmill, 12. Nathan Brown, 13. Josh Pentland, 14. Rory Campbell, 15. Andy Bryans, 16. Lee Barlow, 17. Neil Alcorn, 18. Tiarnan Dillon, 19. Graham Curtis, 20. Jack McMurtry.
Points scorers: Michael Shiels, Penalty try, Ross Todd, Callum Smith 1 x try each. Rory Campbell 2 x cons and 2 x pens.
Leaders Old Crescent maintained their unbeaten run with a 29 – 14 win at Wanderers on Sunday to open up a 13 point lead on 2nd place Rainey OB. The Ulster side travel to play MU Barnhall on Sat with seven points separating the two teams as these two teams look for home advantage in the playoffs with 2nd playing 3rd.
Raineys remaining games: MU Barnhall (A), Belfast Harlequins (H), Navan RFC (H), Old Crescent (A)
Dungannon need to win their game with Navan to have any chance of making the playoffs. Navan are in 4th place six points ahead of Dungannon in 6th place.
Remaining games: Navan RFC (H), Old Crescent (A), Sunday’s Well (H), Skerries (A)
Belfast Harlequins look consigned to the playoffs to keep their place in Div 2B next season. With four games remaining they are 13 points behind 8th place Sunday’s Well.
Remaining games: Rainey OB (A), Skerries (H), City of Derry (H), Navan RFC (A).
City of Derry are 12 pts adrift of 9th place Belfast Harlequins in 10th place as they look to life in DIV 2C next season.
Remaining games: Skerries (A), Sunday’s Well (H), Belfast Harlequins (A), Wanderers (H).
The most tightly contested league with 20 points separating the ten teams. The unpredictability of results was illustrated on Saturday with 10th place Tullamore winning 35 – 5 at 6th place Bruff. Bangor were unlucky to lose 16 – 10 at leaders Thomond in Limerick after leading 10 – 9 late into the game only for a controversial converted try to deny them a deserved win. Omagh maintained their promotion bid with an impressive 22 – 14 win over 3rd place Sligo at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields. Seven points separate 5th place Bangor from leaders Thomond with Omagh in 4th place five points behind the league leaders.
Omagh remaining games: Bective Rangers (A), Midleton (A), Bruff (H)
Bangor: Midleton (H), Seapoint(H), Tullamore (A).
Omagh 22 Sligo 14
Omagh team: 1. Peter Todd, 2. Adam Pollock, 3. Richard Smyth, 4. Johnny Sproule, 5. Stewart Allen, 6. James Catterson, 7. Adam Longwell, 8. Matthew Clyde, 9. Stewart McCain (Captain), 10. Scott Elliott, 11. Matty Eccles, 12. Luke Hanson, 13. Scott Barr, 14. Ryan Mitchell, 15. Eoin Murnaghan, 16. Matthew Sproule, 17. Philip Ewing, 18. Jamie Sproule, 19. Stephen MacLaine, 20. Yonga Taleni.
Points scorers: Luke Hanson 2 x tries, Matty Eccles 1 x try, Scott Elliott 2 x cons and 1 x pen.
Bangor 10 Thomond 16.
Bangor team: 1. Andrew Shaw, 2. Max Montgomery, 3. James Leary, 4. Dave Caughey, 5. Lewis Stevenson, 6. Jamie Clegg, 7. Mike Apsley, 8. Jack Cooke, 9. Gareth Wright, 10. Ross McCloskey. 11. Rob Gamble, 12. Mark Widdowson, 13. Mike Weir, 14. Chris Jordan, 15. Phil Broderick, 16. Evan Wellard McMillan, 17. Charlie Clegg, 18. James Stewart, 19. James Henley, 20. Nathan Graham.
Poins scorers: Rob Gamble 1 x try. Mark Widdowson 1 x con and 1 x pen.
In the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship we had a full programme in the three leagues.
Instonians were made to work hard for their 19 – 12 win at Portadown with 2nd place Ballyclare losing 20 – 8 at Carrickfergus. Balyclare won their game in hand away to Portadown last night 39 – 10 to close the gap on leaders Instonians to two points. The league could be decided next Tuesday night with Instonians hosting CIYMS and Ballyclare travelling to play Clogher Valley. Both teams play their final league games on the 24th March with Instonians hosting Cooke and Ballyclare welcoming Enniskillen to the Cloughan.
The battle for a top four placing continues with Carrickfergus replacing Dromore in 4th place after their win over Ballyclare. CIYMS need one win from their final two league games against Instonians and Coleraine to secure 3rd place. Carrick have home games with Portadown and Clogher Valley to complete their league programme. Dromore lost 16 – 7 at Coleraine to extend their losing run to three games. They have games coming up against Clogher Valley and Cooke to secure 4th place. If the Ulster league winners are promoted the 5th place team will qualify for the AIL Junior Cup in 2018/19.
Cooke are another team in contention for a place in the AIL Junior Cup. Their 10 – 7 win over CIYMS on Sat was crucial. They have a game in hand on Dromore and Carrick with games to play against Coleraine (A), Instonians (A), Dromore (A).
Portadown look to have secured their place in Div 1 next season after picking up another valuable league point in their 19 – 12 defeat at home to Instonians. They are seven points ahead of 9th place Enniskillen with games to play against Ballyclare (H) and Carrickfergus (A). Coleraine with two games in hand need to win 2/3 of their remaining games Cooke (H), Clogher Valley (A) and Enniskillen (A) to avoid the play off. They have a two point advantage over 9th place Enniskillen who lost 10 – 3 at Clogher Valley on Sat. Enniskillens remaining games are Ballyclare (A) and Coleraine (H). Clogher Valley spurred on by the win over neighbours Enniskillen may be 11 points behind Enniskillen but have two games in hand. They will not give up the fight for a playoff place with games remaining against Ballyclare(H), Dromore (A), Coleraine(H) and Carrickfergus (A).
Carrickfergus 20 Ballyclare 8
Carrick team: 1. Derek McKeen, 2. Alan Whitley, 3. Paul Greenaway, 4. Chris Taylor, 5. Chris Rodgers, 6. Bradley Luney, 7.Ryan McGonigle, 8. Andy McKeen (Captain), 9. Conor Cambridge, 10. David Carse, 11. David Moore, 12. Adam White, 13. Pete Simpson, 14. Fionn McCormick, 15. Michael Black, 16. J Graham, 17. Bob O’Callaghan.
Points scorers: Chris Rodgers and Conor Cambridge 1 x try each. Adam White 2 x con and 2 x pens.
Clogher Valley 8 Enniskillen 3
Clogher team: 1. Philip Hopper, 2. Kyle Cobane, 3. Neil Henderson, 4. Michael Treanor (Captain),5. David Sharkey, 6. Ross Finlay, 7. Jonathan Porter, 8. Ryan Wilson, 9. Mark Ellis, 10. Neil Trotter, 11. Clive Donaldson, 12. Andrew Breen, 13. Allister Trenier, 14. Joshua Coulter, 15. Dillon Crawford, 16. Ronan McAleer, 17. Alexander McKeown.
Points scorers: David Sharkey 1 x try. Neil Totter 1 x con 1 x pen.
Enniskillen team: 1. Steven Fox, 2. Ryan Cathcart (Captain), 3. Richard Beatty, 4. Grayson Donnelly, 5. David Buchanan, 6. Jamie Johnston, 7. Gareth McCoy, 8. Kaine Holden, 9. Matthew Dane, 10. Adam Lendrum, 11. Matthew Balmer, 12. Gavin Parke, 13. Connor Keys, 14. Patrick McCleery. 15. Ashley Finlay, 16. Alan Ferguson, 17. Jamie Kelly.
Points scorers: Adam Lendrum 1 x pen.
Coleraine 16 Dromore 7
Coleraine team: 1. Cillian Butler, 2. David Greatorex, 3. Chris Breadon, 4. Josh Christie, 5. Michael Ferguson, 6. Ally Corbett, 7. Peter Wisener, 8. Steven Dickey, 9. Cameron Fulton, 10. Bokkie Carstens, 11. Stephen Callaghan, 12. Adam Parke, 13. Kyle McAuley, 14. Brian Cochrane, 15.Mikey Poskitt, 16. James Millsopp, 17. Richard McGregor.
Points s corers: James Millsopp 1 x try. Mikey Poskitt 1 x con and 3 x pens.
Cooke 10 CIYMS 7
Cooke team: 1. Jonathan McClune, 2. Deaglan McErlean, 3. Russell Hunter, 4. Andrew Quigley, 5. Matthew Crothers, 6. Jonathan Walsh, 7. Adrian Dodd, 8. Jason Lyons, 9. Ryan Flavelle, 10. Andrew Hanna, 11. Colm Cregan, 12. Ian Anderson, 13. Jonathan Backus, 14. Alan Gourley, 15. Alex Gourley (Captain), 16. Owen Kelly, 17. Andrew Nelson.
Points scorers: Jonathan Backus 1 x try. Alan Gourley 1x con and 1 x pen.
CIYMS team: 1. Aaron Kilpatrick, 2. Scott McNarry, 3. Alan Walmsley, 4. David Cobain, 5. Cory Tipping, 6. Scott Dowle, 7. Jason Gilliland, 8. Mark McConkey, 9. Cameron Stewart, 10. Nathan Burns, 11. Craig Devlin, 12. Matthew Kilgore, 13. Callum Irvine (Captain), 14. Eunan Nelson, 15. Pete Raine, 16. Simon Baillie, 17. Paddy Aiken.
Points scorers: Aaron Kilpatrick 1 x try and Matthew Kilgore 1 x con.
Portadown 12 Instonians 19
Portadown team: 1. Mark Henderson, 2. Robbie Reid, 3. Jonny Reid, 4. James Wright, 5. Danny Alexander, 6. RJ Greenaway, 7. Jordan Taylor, 8. Gary Hall, 9. Josh Matchett, 10. Michael Orr, 11. Nicky Holt, 12. Jonny Holden, 13. Ollie Montels, 14. C Megarity, 15. Luke Ashton, 16. E McClean, 17. A Hollywood.
Points scorers: 1. Gary Hall and Nick Holt 1 x try each. Michael Orr 1 x con.
Instonians team : 1. John Andress, 2. Conor Gallagher, 3. Alan Whitten, 4. Sean Shuttleworth, 5. Rory McCurry, 6. Aaron Davis, 7. Josh Atkinson (Captain), 8. Roger Wilson, 9. Matthew Keane, 10. Fraser Wright, 11. Michael Melville, 12. David Scott, 13. Ben Scott, 14. Mark Mairs, 15. Gareth Burns – Delaney. 16. Neil Saulters, 17. Joe Fryers.
Points scorers: Michael Melville, Matthew Keane and Neil Saulters 1 x try each. Fraser Wright 1 x con.
Portadown 10 Ballyclare 39. Played Tuesday 13th March.
Ballyclare points scorers: David Clarke 2 x tries, Owen Kirk, Michael Kirk, Gary Weatherup, Gary Clotworthy, Joel McBride 1 x try each. Robert Smith 2 x cons. Ballyclare chairman Peter Kirk was delighted to see his two sons Owen and Michael play for the first time together on the 1st xv with both players scoring the opening tries at Portadown last night.
Leaders Grosvenor retained their 13 point lead over 2nd place Randalstown with a 27 – 0 win at Lisburn. With four games remaining they need one more win to clinch the league title. 2nd place Randalstown opened up a 10 point lead on 3rd place Ballymoney with 29 – 3 bonus point win over their closest challengers at Kilraught Road. Larne have moved into 4th place after their 15 – 7 win at Ards. With two games in hand on 3rd place Ballymoney the East Antrim side have the opportunity to secure their highest league finish in recent seasons. Limavady continued their impressive league run with a 20 - 15 win over 5th place Academy at the John Hunter Memorial Grounds. Seven points now separate Larne, Academy, Ards and Limavady in the contest to finish in 4th place. The contest at the bottom of this division is building up with UUC picking up a bonus point in their 34 – 10 win at the PSNI on Saturday. The PSNI are now nine points behind 9th place UUC with the students closing the gap on 8th place Lisburn to three points with a game in hand. It is now looking like a contest between UUC and Lisburn to avoid the playoff place. UUC have five league games remaining – all at home. Lisburn have four games left with one at home and three away.
Ards 7 Larne 15
Larne team: 1. Luke Burfoot, 2. Craig Gibson, 3. Jack Hill, 4. Jonny Cole, 5. Mark Grampsey, 6. Ryan McAllister, 7. Gareth Jamison, 8. Eddie Hunter (captain), 9. Ryan Garrett, 10. Aaron McBride, 11. Anton White, 12. Matthew Agnew, 13. Ian McILheron, 14. Barry John McFaul, 15. Philip Andrews, 16. Stevie McReynolds,17. Campbell.
Points scorers: Ryan McAllister and Philip Andrews 1 x try each. Philip Andrews 1 x con and 1 x pen.
Ballymoney 3 Randalstown 29
Randalstown points scorers: Peter Knowles, David Millar, Chris Donnelly and Marty O’Neill 1 x try each. Martin Connolly 1 x con and 1 x pen.
Limavady 20 Academy 15.
Limavady team: 1. Rory Squires, 2. Luke Montgomery, 3. John McCollum, 4. Michael Rice, 5. Colin Henry, 6. Sam Mackey, 7.Perry Semple, 8. Daniel Irvine, 9. Jamie Millar, 10. Peter Wilson, 11. Stewart Roddy, 12. Jamie ‘Mo’ Millar, 13. Jack Elliott, 14. Tom McClelland, 15. Graham McAleese. 16. Thomas McAuley.
Points scorers: Stewart Roddy, Tom McClelland and John McCollum 1 x try each. Peter Wilson 1 x con and 1 x pen.
Lisburn 0 Grosvenor 27
Grosvenor team: 1. Mark Rainey, 2. Stuart Smyth, 3. James Cartilage, 4. Peter Dawson, 5. Andrew Kelly (captain), 6. Philip Stoops, 7. Jeff Mealiff, 8. Sam Purdon, 9. Adam Skelton, 10. Peter Davison, 11. David Egner, 12. Josh McConkey, 13. Matthew Johnston, 14. James Greer, 15. Mark Johnston, 16. Mark Cartmill, 17. Ben Coard.
Points scorers: Mark Johnston 3 x tries, Adam Skelton 2 x tries and 1 x con.
PSNI 10 UUC 34
Grosvenor: UUC (A), Academy (H), Limavady (H), Larne (H).
Randalstown: Limavady (H), Academy (H), Larne(A)
Ballymoney: Larne(A), Ards (A), Lisburn (H)
Larne: Ballymoney (H), UUC (A), Randalstown (H), Academy (A), Grosvenor (A).
Academy: PSNI (H), Grosvenor (A), Randalstown (A) Larne(H).
Ards: Lisburn (A), Ballymoney (H), UUC (A), PSNI (H).
Limavady: Randalstown (A), Grosvenor (A), PSNI (H), UUC (A).
Lisburn: Ards(H), Ballymoney(A), UUC (A), PSNI (A)
UUC: Grosvenor(H), Larne (H), Ards(H), Limavady (H), Lisburn (H).
PSNI: Academy (A), Limavady (A), Ards (A), Lisburn (H)
Lurgan maintained their three point lead over 2nd place Donaghadee scoring seven tries in their 47 – 3 win at Civil Service. Donaghadee kept up their pursuit of the league leaders scoring six tries in their 38 – 5 win at Holywood. Donaghadee can overtake Lurgan this weekend when they travel to play 4th place Strabane. All building up nicely for the head to head between these two teams at Donaldson Park on Saturday the 14th April.
Who will Instonians or Ballyclare play in the Round Robin tournament with the first matches commencing on the 7th April. Here is an update from the Leinster/Munster/Connacht leagues.
Leinster league Div 1A: Ashbourne are three points ahead of second place Enniscorthy with one match to play. Final league games are on Sunday 18.3.18. Ashbourne are away to Monkstown and Enniscorthy travel to DLSP. Former All Ireland league clubs Dundalk and Boyne will finish in 3rd and 4th place. Two former UBL clubs DLSP and Monkstown look as if they will be relegated to Div 1B. Ashbourne defeated Ballyclare 24 – 13 in the AIL Junior Cup this season.
Munster league Div 1: Richmond have a five point advantage on 2nd place Bandon who have a game in hand. Richmond final game away to Skibberen on the 25th March with Bandon playing Abbeyfeale on the 18th and Newcastle West on the 25th March.
Connacht league Div 1A: Ballina lead 2nd place Connemara by two points with a game in hand. Due to the inclement weather and postponements they have five league games to play between now and the 31st March to complete their league programme. Ballina showed they will be no pushovers come the playoffs having defeated both Portadown and Instonians in the AIL Junior Cup this season.
Reigning Junior Inter pro champions Ulster Juniors will open their defence of the title away to Munster juniors on the 28th April 2018. Their two other games will be played in Ulster.
Ards RFC who celebrate their 90th Anniversary this year will host the Ulster v Connacht game at Hamilton park on Saturday 5th May 2018.
UUC RFC celebrate their 50th anniversary this year and will host the Ulster v Leinster game at the Sam Logan stadium on the 12th May 2018.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE
Dublin Uni v Young Munster. Played Monday 19.3.18. KO 2.30PM
St Mary’s College v UCD. Played Monday 19.3.18. KO 2.30PM
UL Bohemians v Ballynahinch. Played Monday 19.3.18. KO 2.30PM
Cashel v Queens Uni. KO 1PM
Dungannon v Navan RFC. Played Monday 19.3.18. KO 8PM
MU Barnhall v Rainey OB. KO 11AM
Rainey OB v MU Barnhall
Not the ideal arrangements for Rainey having to travel early on Sat morning for an 11AM kick off at Barnhall. Head coach John Andrew’s is having to deal with an ever lengthening injury list that includes Jodie McMurray, Tommy O’Hagan, Nicholas Stirling, Josh McIIroy, Michael Wilson, Gavin Martin. Darren Corrigan, Paul Pritchard and Brad Roberts for this weekend.
ULSTER PREMIERSHIP LEAGUE DIV 1
City of Armagh v Banbridge. Played Thursday 15.3.18. KO 7.30PM
Talking to City of Armagh coach Chris Parker. Armagh will be fielding their strongest team for this match against Banbridge as they look to retain the Stevenson Shield and prepare the squad for four back to back games in the UBL as the team push for a playoff place. Busy five weeks coming up for the club with the second xv playing Ballyclare in the semi final of the Towns Cup on Saturday. Both club coaches Willie Faloon and Chris Parker will be hoping to steer Armagh Royal School to victory in the Schools Cup Final against Campbell College on Monday the 19th March. Busy five days coming up for the two coaches.
The only injury concern in the 1st xv squad is prop Philip Fletcher who remains side lined with an ankle injury.
RIVER ROCK TOWNS CUP SEMI FINALS
City of Armagh seconds v Ballyclare. KO 2.30PM
Portadown v Carrickfergus. KO 2.30PM
City of Armagh seconds v Ballyclare
The home side will be the favourites to make their second Cup Final of the season at the Kingspan stadium. The Armagh side lost out 23 – 8 to Ballynahinch seconds in the final of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup on the 21.12.17. They are also in contention for the Conference league one title along with Ballynahinch seconds and Ballyclare.
City of Armagh seconds warmed up for this match scoring eight tries in their 48 – 0 win over Omagh seconds at the Palace Grounds last Saturday. The second xv squad is at full strength with long term injury William Holden making a comeback last Saturday. David Spratt is also included after following return to play protocols. Luke Crozier has taken his opportunity to impress on the seconds and will come into contention for a starting place this week.
Ballyclare have five games to play in 15 days as they challenge for the Div 1 league title and the Towns Cup. They have already played Carrickfergus and Portadown within four days before facing Armagh on Sat followed by a game at Clogher Valley on Tuesday night and their final league game with Enniskillen at the Cloughan on Saturday. A challenging period for any group of amateur players if we are taking player welfare into consideration. Head coach Mike McKeever has a full squad to select from. Can his players lift themselves for these three remaining games that will undoubtedly define their season.
Head coach Mike McKeever was very pleased with the teams performance in their 39 – 10 win at Portadown on Tuesday night. After the defeat at Carrickfergus the team played some great rugby and were solid in defence. It was ideal preparation for the Towns Cup semi final away to Armagh on Saturday. The coach is expecting a very strong match against Armagh.
The coach thanked the work of 1st Manager Stephen Crawford and Fixture Secretary David Campbell for doing a great but tedious job in organising all these fixtures and to the rest of the committee for keeping things in order for all to run so smoothly. The reward for the winners on Saturday is to get a run out at the Kingspan stadium on Easter Monday.
Ballyclare team: 1. Rory Henderson, 2. Matthew Coulter, 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Grant Bartley (captain), 5. Robert Boyd, 6. Paul Robinson, 7.Gary Weatherup,
8. David Clarke, 9. Andy Eastop, 10. Robert Smith, 11. Michael Kirk, 12. Joel McBride, 13. Robbie Reid, 14. Owen Kirk, 15. Gary Clotworthy, 16. Dean Jones, 17. Ross Scott,18. Aaron Playfair, 19. Niall Lawther, 20. Nathan Laughlin.
Portadown v Carrickfergus
The priority for Portadown coaches Richard Hedley and Mark Neilly has been securing the future of the 1st xv in Div 1 of the Ulster Rugby Championship. This they have appeared to have done with 9th place Enniskillen seven points behind with two games left to play. It has been a mixed season of results for the Mid Ulster team after qualifying for the AIL Junior Cup this season. Lack of consistency in performances and injuries to key players has impacted on the playing squad with the team struggling near the bottom of Div 1 in the first half of the season. It took the return of the experienced Stuart Lamb at the beginning of the year to end their losing run. Six wins and four losses have steered the team up to 7th place in the league and into the semi finals of the Towns Cup. Pivotal in their improvement has been the presence of experienced forwards Gary Hall and Dairmuid O’Kane along with backs Ollie Montels and Jonny Holden.
Talking to Richard Hedley it has been a season plagued by players picking up serious injuries. He would go as afar to say probably the worst in terms of the nature of the injuries in his time at Portadown. It is not only an issue affecting Portadown but all clubs this season. Examples have been the props at the club. Matthew Wilson, Ryan Muldrew and Matt Davison were joined by the experienced Lee McClure who was injured playing against Ballyclare last night. Jonny Reid who propped against Instonians last Saturday had to leave the pitch due to injury. Key backs Jack Orr and Craig Woods remain on the injured list. Regular second row James Wright is unavailable this weekend along with winger Nick Holt. Despite the front row crisis the coach is able to call upon John Purdy to partner Mark Henderson with Rab McClean covering the bench. Interesting situation at hooker. Last Saturday Robert Greenlee played in the back row against Instonians. Another of Portadowns injured players Peter Lamb returned to play at hooker last night against Ballyclare. It leaves the coach with three hookers Robbie Reid, Peter Lamb and Robert Greenlee to choose from for Sat. The coach will welcome back Mark Adamson at out half with Mark Muldrew coming in to replace James Wright in the second row.
The coach has talked about the teams turn around in performances since Xmas. The presence of Stuart Lamb offered leadership and lifted the players in the team along with the inclusion of Diarmuid O’Kane, Ollie Montels and Jonny Holden. Another player who has stepped up is young back row forward Jordan Taylor who has been excellent in the second half of the season.
Portadown team for Saturday: 1. Mark Henderson, 2. Robbie Reid/Peter Lamb/Robert Greenlee, 3. John Purdy, 4. Danny Alexander, 5. Mark Muldrew, 6. Jordan Taylor,7. Dairmuid O’Kane, 8. Gary Hall, 9. Michael Orr, 10. Mark Adamson, 11. Josh Matchett, 12. Ollie Montels, 13. Jonny Holden, 14. Conor Megarity. 15. Luke Ashton, 16. Rab McClean, 17. TBC.
Portadown coach Richard Hedley was disappointed his team had to play Ballyclare last night. The players had played well against Instonians on Saturday in losing 19 – 12. He just felt the Ballyclare team were too powerful up front with their Captain Grant Bartley along with Ricky Lutton and David Clarke very prominent.
Carrick made it five back to back wins in the league and Towns Cup with an impressive 20 – 8 win over title contenders Ballyclare at the Tom Simms Memorial Grounds last Saturday. Talking to forwards coach Davy Scott their impressive run after a dip in form has been driven by the playing squad under the leadership of their excellent Captain Andy McKeen. Several new faces this season have added depth and competition to the playing squad. Second row Chris Taylor has returned from a two year sabbatical travelling to establish himself in the second row along with Chris Rodgers and the experienced Stuart Currie. One young player who has been talked about widely in the league is former BRA 1st xv player Bradley Luney who has excelled in the back row in his first season at this level alongside the experienced Ryan McGonigle and Captain and number 8 Andy McKeen. When backs coach Michael Rainey was looking to stabilise the 10/12/13 axis in the team by moving the experienced Adam White to 12 from 10 the coaches were able to bring in former Carrick Grammar player David Carse at out half. Another Carrick Grammar player to impress in his first year out is winger Fionn McCormick. Further depth has been added with players including James Graham, Bob O’Callaghan and Simon White younger brother of Adam pushing for starting places.
The key for Carrick this season has been their strong set piece that has established a formidable reputation in Ulster club rugby. The inclusion of Ulster Juniors hooker Alan Whitley alongside the experienced Derek McKeen and Paul Greenaway in the front row backed up by Adam Gibney and James Graham has added a considerable presence to their ability to dominate their opponents. The backline has that that balance with their dynamic scrum half Conor Cambridge and David Carse able to control games. Pete Simpson has partnered up with Adam White backed up by three quarters David Moore, Fionn McCormick and Michael Black to provide that attacking threat.
Davy Scott is expecting a much tougher game this week after Carrick scored six tries in their 43 – 3 league win at Chambers Park on 18.11.17. He is expecting Portadown to put everything into this game. The coach is looking his players to repeat the performance they put in last Saturday to defeat Ballyclare.
McCREA CUP SEMI FINALS
Malone seconds v Grosvenor. KO 2.30PM
Cooke v PSNI. Played Thursday 15.3.18. KO 7.30PM
Malone seconds v Grosvenor
Current holders Malone seconds had a strong first half to the season reaching the semi finals of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup and finishing runners up to Grosvenor in Conference league two. They have struggled in the second xv league winning one, drawing one and losing three games in 2018. Their latest defeat was a 21 – 12 loss at home to Ballymena seconds at Gibson Park last night after losing 38 – 7 at Ballynahinch last Thursday night. In their quarter final tie Malone seconds defeated Academy 46 – 10. Both Malone and Grosvenor have already met twice this season. In their first meeting Malone defeated Grosvenor 22 – 18 in the Conference league followed by Malone defeating Grosvenor 24 – 19 in the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup a week later on the 30.9.17.
Talking to Grosvenor forwards coach Michael Smyth it has all been about the 1st xv securing promotion to Div 1 of the Ulster Rugby Championship this season. With one win required from their four remaining games the team are on the verge of achieving this. Having already bagged the Conference league 2 title the 1st xv want to emulate their 2nd xv who have reached the final of the Crawford Cup where they will play Ballynahinch 4ths at the Kingspan stadium on the 2nd April. By defeating Malone this weekend the 1st xv would appear one day ahead of the second xv at the Kingspan stadium in the McCrea Cup Final. What an achievement this would be for the club who made the decision to leave Belmont and relocate to the home of the Red Sox at Gibson Park. Recent results have put the second xv in contention to challenge for the Provincial League 2 title along with Malone 3rds and Rainey OB seconds. Coincidentally both Malone 3rds and Grosvenor seconds meet this weekend in the league to add further spice to the meeting of the ‘Landlords’ and the ‘Tenants’ that will surely pack ‘Daddy Winkers Bar’ at Gibson Park despite the distraction of the Six Nations. No doubt the larger than life ‘Stuart Duncan’ will hold court whatever the result.
It is worth mentioning the achievements of Grosvenor second xv coached by Marty McCullough and player/coach James Bowman this season. The team that defeated Bangor seconds last Sat 10 – 7 in the Crawford Cup was as follows; 1. Mark Foster, 2. Conor McCormick, 3. Mark McCartney, 4. Ben Davison, 5. Scott Adams, 6. James Bowman, 7. John Lutton (Captain), 8. Daniel Bowden, 9. Timmy McMillan, 10. Neil Adams, 11. Dean Swift, 12. Cameron Neill, 13. Stepehen McArthur, 14. Joel Harrison, 15. Shane Johnston. 16. Henry ferris, 17. Jonny Elliott.
Points s corers: Joel Harrison 1 x try. Timmy McMillan 1 x con and 1 x pen.
Cooke v PSNI
Last seasons finalists Cooke will be looking to return to the Kingspan stadium on Easter Monday. They will be favourites to win this tie against the PSNI. Buoyed by recent results coaches Colin Atkinson and Philip Cartmill will be looking to their Cooke players to finish the season by winning the McCrea Cup and securing a top four finish in the league and qualification for the AIL Junior Cup in 2018/19.
Cooke coach Colin Atkinson is looking forward to the remaining games. Several players including Liam Bennett, Callum Robinson, and Andrew Pollock remain on the injured list this week. The coach welcomes back Curtis Montgomery, Matthew Elliott, Philip Cartmill and Kyle Mitchell for the semi final with the PSNI.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 1
Clogher Valley v Ballyclare. Played Tuesday 20.3.18. KO 7.45Pm
Coleraine v Cooke. Played Tuesday 20.3.18. KO 7.45PM
Instonians v CIYMS. Played Tuesday 20.3.18. KO 7.30PM
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3
Strabane v Donaghadee
NUTTY KRUST TOURNAMENT
In the Nutty Krust Tournament Lisburn defeated hosts Portadown 17 – 7 in the opening match on the 7.3.18. The game involving Dungannon and Ballynahinch tonight has been postponed due to the weather. This game has been rearranged for Tuesday the 20.3.18 with a 7.45PM Kick off. On Wednesday the 21.3.18 Randalstown will play City of Armagh with a 7.45PM kick off. All games are played at Chambers Park the home of Portadown RFC.
Enjoy your rugby this weekend.
Updated 14:43 - 15 Mar 2018 by Stephen Barbour