Congratulations to Rory Best and his Ulster team mates Iain Henderson, Jared Payne and Paddy Jackson on the part they played in the Irish win over England at the Avivia stadium last Saturday evening. It certainly raised the spirits of Irish rugby followers.
The eyes of many rugby supporters were following the conclusion of the Six Nations but at Domestic level in Ulster we had Omagh and Instonians battling it out on the final day of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship for the Div 1 title. One point separated the two teams on Saturday evening with Omagh scoring three late tries to defeat a resilient Carrickfergus side 18 – 6 to secure the title from their main pursuers Instonians who picked up all five points in their 50 – 0 win over struggling Ards. We send our congratulations to Omagh coaches Phil Marshall and Ashley Blair on their success. What would we do without Twitter to follow closely the action as it unfolded last weekend.
The excitement was not only confined to the top of the table with Enniskillen picking up the bonus point in their 36 – 7 win over neighbours Clogher Valley to move into 4th place and potentially qualify for the All Ireland Junior Cup next season. 5th place Portadown will require a bonus point win at Carrickfergus on Saturday to deny Enniskillen 4th place. If both teams finish level on points. Enniskillen will claim 4th place by virtue of winning the two games played between the two teams this season.
Equally there was plenty of excitement at the bottom of Div 1 with Dromore, Cooke and Clogher Valley fighting it out to avoid finishing in 9th place and the playoff. With Dromore losing 25 – 17 at home to Portadown and Cooke picking up a valuable losing bonus point in their 21 – 15 loss at Ballyclare it meant both Cooke and CV finished one point ahead of Dromore.
In Div 2 the interest is all on who will finish in second place and play Dromore in the play off match. CIYMS have a six point advantage on 3rd place Grosvenor who have a game in hand. If CIYMS pick up a bonus point win from their final league match at home to Lisburn on the 1st April there is nothing Grosvenor can do to overtake the Belmont side. Grosvenor’s two remaining matches are away to Larne and Limavady.
It is back to action in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League this weekend. Last Friday night in Cork we had the Ireland Club xv team selected from the All Ireland league clubs playing the English Counties side at Temple Hill. Ulster representation was limited to the involvement of former Ballynahinch and Ballymena player Paul Pritchard who is playing his club rugby for Dublin side Old Belvedere in Division 1A this season. He came off the bench to score a try for the Irish side in their 34 – 26 defeat.
One interesting footnote from this match was that the English Counties team were captained by former Regent House and Ards player Keith Laughlin who plays his club rugby for Blaydon in National League One.
Locally can Ulster clubs Banbridge and Armagh maintain their challenge for the automatic promotion place in Div 2A and B with Malone, Queens and Rainey in pursuit of a top four finish and the playoffs in Div 2A and 2C. City of Derry and Bangor need wins this weekend to avoid finishing in the bottom two places. Wins for Derry at Thomond and Bangor at Boyne would see their opponents relegated. Defeat for Belfast Harlequins would also see them relegated.
In Div 1B both Ballymena and Ballynahinch need league points to consolidate their mid league placings. 6th place Dungannon look safe in Div 2B as they have a 12 point advantage on 7th place Skerries with three matches remaining.
In Ulster we have the semi finals of two of our Domestic Cup competitions the River Rock Towns Cup and the McCrea Cup. Junior Cup holders Ballynahinch seconds and Armagh seconds are favourites to make the Easter Monday final of the River Rock Towns Cup at the Kingspan stadium on the 17th April with wins over their Div 1 opponents Clogher Valley and Enniskillen.
In the McCrea Cup, holders Cooke will be looking to make it to their third final in a row when they take on neighbours CIYMS at Shaws bridge with Malone seconds and Queens Uni seconds contesting the other semi final at Gibson Park.
In previous rounds the Ulster Bank All Ireland league clubs have not been impacted by fixtures falling on the same date as UBL matches. This weekend all four Ulster UBL clubs 1st xv sides are involved in playing matches.
Gibson Park on Saturday will host Malone playing Queens University in the UBL and the two clubs second xv teams battling it out for a place in the final of the McCrea Cup at the Kingspan stadium on Wednesday the 19th April.
Omagh will go forward as Ulster’s representatives in the All Ireland Round Robin tournament to secure a place in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League next season. They will be joined by Leinster winners Malahide, Munster winners Clonmel and Connacht winners Ballina. The winners of the round robin are automatically promoted and will replace the 10th place team in Div 2C who are relegated.
Fixture dates as follows:
1st April. Omagh v Malahide, Clonmel v Ballina.
8th April. Ballina v Omagh, Malahide v Clonmel
22nd April, Ballina v Malahide, Omagh v Clonmel
29th April. Play off game between 2nd place team in the round robin and the team that finishes in 9th place in Div 2C.
Dates have been set for the playoff matches in Div 1, 2 and 3 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship.
Div 1/2 playoff will take place on the 15th April. Dromore will have home advantage against either CIYMS or Grosvenor.
Div 2/3 playoff will take place on the 22nd April. UUC will have home advantage most likely against PSNI who are in 2nd place in Div 3.
Coleraine will play their final fixture in Div 2 at home to Randalstown this weekend. They are 11 points ahead of 2nd place CIYMS with one game remaining.
Several Div 1 players I listed last week all played key roles for their clubs last week. Enniskillen winger Robert Balacoune score three tries against Clogher Valley to bring his tally to eight in five matches. Ballyclare hooker Matthew Coulter scored the winning try for his team in their 21 – 15 win over Cooke. Omagh number 8 James Catterson and centre Scott Barr scored crucial tries for their team in their 18 – 6 win over Carrick with Instonians pair Andrew McCregor and Conor Gallagher amongst the try scorers in their 50 – 0 win over Ards. We also send our congratulations to Instonians centre Mark Keane who has been selected to play for the Ireland under 19 team against Japan on Saturday at Donnybrook.
One issue that concerns the rugby community in Ulster is the poor Ulster representation on the national squads. Starting from the 1st xv, through the under 20’s, Ireland Club xv and the Ladies squad. As I said last week in my preview there is a need for all parties involved in promoting rugby in the province to come together to see where the improvements need to be made. This starts at grassroots level right through to the professional game not to mention the struggles of the Ulster club sides to compete in Section 1 of the Ulster Bank All league.
Was surprised to learn that UBL 1st xv players cannot play for their 2nd xv in the second xv league if they have played a certain number of matches for the 1st xv. It means that club coaches cannot drop a player if they fall outside this criteria. I can understand challenges being made where matches involve Kukri Ulster rugby Championship teams and UBL second xv teams. I have been surprised by the number of players at UBL rugby clubs who have been denied the opportunity to play for their second xv after they have been dropped. Is it not a case you pick your strongest 1st xv followed by your 2nd xv and so on. Maybe the rules need to be revisited by the CMC. There needs to be some common ground found between the Ulster Championship clubs and the Ulster UBL clubs to resolve this issue.
In the Nutty Krust Tournament tonight at Chambers Park Portadown. Ballynahinch defeated the host club Portadown 55 – 12.
The next match is on Wednesday the 29th March when Omagh play Armagh with a 7.45 PM kick off on Wednesday the 29th March.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE
Clontarf (2) v Young Munster (4)
Cork Constitution (3) v Garryowen (8)
Dublun Uni (6) v St Mary’s College (7)
Old Belvedere (10) v Lansdowne (1)
UCD (5) v Terenure College (9)
Ballymena (6) v UCC (5)
Buccaneers (1) v Naas (3)
Galwegians (9) v Dolphin (10)
Old Wesley (4) v UL Bohemians (2)
Shannon (8) v Ballynahinch (7)
Ballymena v UCC
This is not an easy fixture for Ballymena Head coach Andy Graham and his players at Eaton Park this week . UCC defeated league leaders Buccaneers 13 – 12 at the Mardyke two weeks ago. In 2017 UCC have won four and lost two games . Those defeats were against UL Bohs and an ever improving Shannon team. Ballymena have lost their last three league games going down 18 – 16 two weeks ago in Cork against 10th place Dolphin. The coach had to dig deep in assembling a squad for this match with former Youth player Chris Smyth making his debut for the 1st xv at scrum half. Seconds backs Daryl Montgomery and Jonny Nicholl along with back row forward Matthew Dick had to step up with the coach left with no alternative but to put five forwards out as his bench replacements with Dominic Gallagher and Joe Thompson coming in as late replacements.
The coach was full of praise for the squad who travelled to Cork with the players absolutely gutted over not winning the match. Debutant scrum half Chris Smyth turned out to be a focus for the rest of the team with his attitude and leadership qualities that shone through. Matthew Dick was another example of a player who had to step in late for the injured Stephen Mulholland in the back row. As the coach said he has used 47/48 players so far this season. He believes this is the reason why the team have not pushed on. Injuries unavailabilities and work commitments have certainly impacted on the team throughout the season.
For this weekend Ulster have released six players including Mark Best, Conall Boomer, Stephen Mulholland, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan and Adam McBurney. Injuries and unavailability have ruled out Brett Herron, Clive Ross, Ross Kane, Michael Lagan, Callum Patterson, John Andrews, Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell.
Connor Smyth, Bryan Young and James Beattie are ruled out through injury with Jordan Foster and Tony McGuinness unavailable due to work commitments along with Captain Martin Irwin.
Ballymena squad 1 – 20 Andrew Ferguson, Adam McBurney, Chris Cundell, David Whann, Matthew Rea, Stephen Mulholland, Conal Boomer, Adrian Hamilton, John Creighton, Richie McMaster, Matthew Norris, Glenn Baillie, Mark Best, Jonny Rossborough, Rodger McBurney, Adrian Kirkpatrick, Andrew Cundell, Mark Foster, David Shanahan and Josh McIIroy.
UCC are renowned for their strong defence that frustrates opposing teams. This is the reason teams find it very difficult to beat them.
When these two sides met at the Mardyke on the 1.10.16 UCC won a tight game 18 – 17.
Ballynahinch v Shannon
Like UCC, Shannon have won four and lost two games in 2017. Their defeats coming at Naas and Dolphin. They have also recorded some impressive wins over UL Bohs, Old Wesley and UCC. Ballynahinch on the other hand have lost their last three UBL games. Looking at Ballynahinch’s remaining block of four fixtures three of them are away to Shannon, Naas and Buccaneers with 2nd place UL Bohs at home. There are no easy games with Derek Suffern and his players having to dig deep to pick up crucial league points in the next four weeks.
Ulster players John Donnan, Aaron Cairns, David Busby and Craig Trenier have been released this week.
When these two sides met at Ballymacarn Park on the 1.10.16 Ballynahinch won 18 – 12.
Blackrock College (7) v Banbridge (1)
Galway Corinthians (9) v Cashel RFC (6)
Malone (4) v Queens Uni (5)
Nenagh Ormond (3) v Highfield (2)
Sunday’s Well (8) v Belfast Harlequins (10)
Banbridge V Blackrock College
Head coach Daniel Soper is aware his team have a two point advantage over their rivals going into their remaining three games against Blackrock, Queens Uni and Sunday’s Well. Three wins and Banbridge will be well positioned to secure promotion to Div 1B after going so close in recent years. They have a real opportunity with the chasing pack of Highfield, Nenagh Ormond, Malone and Queens Uni all having to play games against each other.
Banbridge emphasised their promotion credentials when they crushed Ulster neighbours Malone by 51 – 15 at Rifle Park two weeks ago. After losing their opening two games in 2017 they have went on to win their last four UBL matches.
The view of Bann coach Daniel Soper is that his team need to keep winning to give themselves a chance should Highfield slip up. For the match on Saturday the coach welcomes back half backs Ian Porter and Andrew McGrath along with flanker Robin Sinton with the rest of the team along similar lines. The focus for Banbridge this weekend is to keep the pressure on those around them at the top of the table.
When these two teams met at Rifle Park on the 1.10.16 Banbridge won 38 – 15.
Malone v Queens Uni
The unbeaten six match run of Malone came to an abrupt end at Banbridge two weeks ago when the home side scored seven tries in an emphatic 51 – 15 win. For Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong and his players they have an opportunity to bounce back from this defeat when they welcome neighbours Queens Uni to Gibson Park in a crucial UBL match for both teams. Malone had not beaten Queens since 2011 until they defeated the students 12 - 10 in a SONI Ulster Premiership match at Gibson Park on the 7.1.17.
Queens have suffered from Ireland under 20 and Ulster A commitments in 2017. The result is they have won two and lost three of their UBL matches to date. Like Malone they face a block of four matches in four weeks. 12 points separate Queen in 5th place and Banbridge in 1st place with both Malone and Queens having a game in hand. If both teams have ambitions to challenge Banbridge they can’t afford to lose this match on Saturday.
Malone have to play Queens (H), Nenagh (A), Highfield (A), Cashel (H)
Queens have Malone (A), Corinthians (A), Banbridge (A), Highfield (H).
Malone coach Paddy Armstrong is quick to point out that every fixture is tough at this time of the season. He is full of praise for the attitude of the players as they approach these remaining games. He acknowledges that Queens have a lot of talent with a large number of representative players throughout their team. He is aware of the challenge his players face this weekend. There are several players in the Malone squad who face a late fitness test before selection is finalised on Thursday night.
Jack Owens has been released by Ulster with Philip Eadie and Andy Bryans coming into the squad.
Queens Head coach Bob Young agrees it is a big weekend for both clubs and their ambitions this season. He is having to deal with an ever lengthening injury list to key players along with Irish Sevens camp and Irish player management that will impact on his team this week.
Ulster have released Zac McCall, Alex Thompson, Marcus Rea and Nick Timoney with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
When these two teams met at the Dub Arena on the 30.9.16 Queens won comfortably by 40 – 10.
Belfast Harlequins v Sunday’s Well
After a difficult season Quins surprised Blackrock College two weeks ago at Deramore Park winning 9 – 7 with out half Adam White converting three penalties. They face a long journey to Cork to play a Sunday’s Well team needing the points to move away from 8th place. Sunday’s Well are 9 points behind 7th place Blackrock College with a game in hand. They are looking over their shoulder at 9th place Galway Corinthians who are two points behind Sunday’s Well with a game in hand.
Head coach Andrew Gillespie is hoping to try and maintain the team that beat Blackrock. Ollie McCollum and Jaz Andress are ruled out due to injury. It is always difficult when your team is on the road. If the players play with the same positive intent as they did against Blackrock he is expecting his Quins side to give it a good effort.
When these two sides met on the 1.10.16 Sunday’s Well won 8 – 0 at Deramore Park.
Skerries (7) v MU Barnhall (5). Played Friday 24.3.17. Kick off 7.30PM
Armagh (2) v Dungannon (6)
Greystones (1) v Bective Rangers (9)
Thomond (10) v City of Derry (8)
Wanderers (3) v Old Crescent (4)
Armagh v Dungannon.
This will be the fourth meeting between these two sides this season with Armagh winning all three games to date. In their first meeting at Stevenson Park in the Ulster Rugby premiership on the 10.9.16 Armagh won 35 – 20. When Armagh returned to the same venue on the 1.10.16 in the UBL Armagh won a keenly contested game 18 – 9. Fourteen days later on the 15.10.16 both teams met in the First Trust Senior Cup at the Palace Grounds with the home side winning 29 – 17. Armagh were to later concede the match for playing an ineligible player with Dungannon progressing to the semi finals where they defeated Belfast Harlequins before losing to Ballynahinch in the final. Armagh are in good form after losing their opening two UBL games in 2017. They have won their last four UBL matches to sit level with leaders Greystones on 60 points with three games to play.
Armagh Head coach Alex McCloy has no injury worries with Tim McNeice returning to the squad after a wrist injury.
As Dungannon Head coach Andy Hughes put it, the two teams should be sick of the sight of each other this season but to be honest, even though results have not gone their way, the Dungannon players always enjoy playing Armagh. It is an old school derby buzz which is missing from a lot of games these days. This week will be no different. With things so tight at the top of the league the pressure is on Armagh to keep pace with Greystones. For Dungannon it is about just finishing ‘what could have been’ season strong with some positive results to continue the clubs rebuilding.
Selection will be tough this week with a number of players unavailable due to injury. Long term injuries have ruled out Ross McCaughey, JJ Kane, Peter Gilkinson, Tim Smith, Josh Kennedy and Bryan Davidson for the remainder of the season along with Mark Riddell, Peter Cashel, Jonny Toal, Andrew Mills and James McMahon who are all unavailable this week. It is a case of gathering up bodies to fill a few positions.
As a club Dungannon are still going in the right direction even though its early days, but it is weekends like this which show how much work is still needed before we can really compete at all levels.
Tullamore (4) v Navan RFC (1). Played Friday 24.3.17. Kick off 7.30PM
Boyne (10) v Bangor (8)
Bruff (5) v Seapoint (7)
Kanturk (9) v Sligo (2)
Rainey OB (3) v Midleton (6)
Bangor v Boyne
This is one of these matches with four games remaining against Boyne (A), Midleton (A), Navan (H), Rainey OB (A) that Bangor need to win. They are six points ahead of 9th place Kanturk and cannot afford any slip ups. They have yet to win a UBL game in 2017 having drawn one and lost four.
Bangor 1st xv Manager Ricky Armstrong is aware of the challenges the Bangor 1st xv have over the next four weeks to secure their future in the UBL. He views this weekend as the biggest game coming up for the players. The players feel if they win this weekend they will be safe. They would be six points ahead of Kanturk with three games remaining. Kanturk have to play 2nd place Sligo this weekend followed by matches against inform Tullamore and Seapoint.
On the face of it Bangor have struggled this season after being promoted to the UBL. Within the club and squad their is a feeling that the players are quite happy where they are and just want to consolidate their UBL status for next season and build from there. The club has been in the AIL before , but it was a long time ago, so it has been a learning curve for the new guys running the club. There is an acceptance they haven’t got everything right but are quick learners and will know for next season.
Changes to the playing squad have had a massive impact, losing key players such as Jason Guthrie, Darren Kelly and Michael Ferguson along with long term injuries to key players Mike Weir, Jamie Clegg and Dave Caughey which has meant a young group of players having to step up.
The attitude of the players and their work ethic has been great this season. On top of this the squad has had to deal with 15 concussions which has disrupted the team throughout the season.
It has been a season of massive change for Bangor and it has been good for the club as a whole, lots of guys getting chances to compete in the All Ireland League. It can only help the clubs teams moving forward.
Bangor squad for this week is 1 – 20. Phil Whyte (captain), James Leary, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Shaw, Evan Wellard McMillen, Darren Kelly, Craig Burton, Matty Agnew, Mike Apsley, David Bradford, Ali Lockhart, Gareth Millar, Phil Broderick, Jason Morgan, Lewis Sampson, Mark Widdowson, Gareth Wright, Glenn Burton, Desi Fusco and Rob Gamble.
When these two teams met at Upritchard Park on the 1.10.16 Bangor won 33 – 19.
Rainey OB v Midleton
The Magherfelt side have slipped down to 3rd place on the back of three defeats in the UBL. They are now 12 points behind leaders Navan and 8 points behind 2nd place Sligo with three matches remaining. Only 4 points separate Rainey and 4th place Tullamore who have a game in hand. 10 points separate Rainey and 5th place Bruff .
With matches remaining against Midleton(H), Boyne (A), Bangor (H) you would expect Rainey to finish in the top four. 4th place finish would mean Rainey travelling to play the team finishing 9th in Div 2B in the playoffs.
Ulster Academy prop Tommy O’Hagan has been released to play for Rainey this week. John McCusker has been selected for the Ireland under 19 squad to play against Japan under 19 on Saturday in Dublin.
The loss of South African hooker George Fritz was untimely for Rainey along with prop Stephen Rutledge ruled out through injury. The non release of Ulster Academy prop Tommy O’Hagan had a big impact along with further injuries picked up by replacement props Aidan McSwiggan and Kieran Donaghy. Young front row forwards Michael Nevin and Ulster under 18 prop Jack McIntosh have had to take their places.
RIVER ROCK TOWNS CUP SEMI FINALS
Ballynahinch seconds v Clogher Valley
Enniskillen v Armagh seconds
Ballynahinch seconds v Clogher Valley
Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup holders Ballynahinch have only suffered one defeat this season against Ballyclare in the Conference league. They are firm favourites to complete the Cup double this season. They maintained their lead at the top of the 2nd xv league defeating neighbours Banbridge seconds 26 – 8 last Thursday night. Ballynahinch have defeated Coleraine, Dromore and Carrickfergus on their way to the semi finals.
Clogher Valley secured their future in Div 1 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship after Dromore lost at home to Portadown 25 – 17 last Saturday. Clogher Valley picked up several injuries in their 36 – 7 defeat against Enniskillen at Mullaghmeen with talisman back row forward David Sharkey fracturing his arm in the first few minutes of the match. It has been a difficult few weeks for CV with another key forward Michael Treanor picking up a fracture against Carrickfergus. This season has been about rebuilding at Clogher Valley with several new faces making an impact on the 1st xv. Clogher Valley have defeated Rainey seconds and Bangor seconds on their way to the semi finals.
Injuries rule out Neil Henderson and Philip Moore with Ronan McAleer doubtful. Both Captain Kyle Cobane and full back Philip Wilson have been cleared to play after picking up injuries at Enniskillen. Stephen McWilliams comes into the front row with Eugen McKenna partnering Tom Mills in the 2nd row. BJ Wilson was restored to the back row alongside Ryan Wilson last week with Ian Milligan expected to make up the back row combination. Mark Ellis comes in at scrum half to partner Neil Trotter in the half backs with Fleming Agnew moving out to the wing. Toby McAlpine returns to partner Allister Trenier in the centre. Clive Donaldson continues on the wing with Philip Wilson at full back.
Bench replacements are expected to be confirmed by Thursday.
This may be an unfamiliar Clogher team but they have a great tradition in the Towns Cup. Ballynahinch will be clear favourites to win but you can never underestimate any Clogher side when it comes to pursuing silverware.
Enniskillen v Armagh seconds
Can Enniskillen make it back to back appearances in the final of the Towns Cup at the Kingspan stadium on Easter Monday. They face a strong Armagh seconds side who finished 3rd in Conference league two and have defeated Limavady, Omagh and Ballyclare on route to the semi finals of the Towns Cup. Having won 6/8 games played in 2017 they continued their preparations for this semi final by defeating a strong Malone 2nd xv team last Thursday night at Gibson Park 13 – 9. Out half Cormac Fox once again impressed with 8 points from two penalties and one conversion to a Stuart Lester try. With the Armagh coaching team of Brian McLaughlin, Alex McCloy and Willy Faloon overseeing preparations at Gibson Park, this is one trophy Armagh are clearly targeting this season.
Enniskillen have recovered from a dip in form to win their last five league and Cup games. The team have scored 24 tries with winger Robert Balacoune adding to his reputation by scoring three tries against Clogher Valley to bring his total to eight in his last five matches. New Head coach William Elliott has been delighted with the progress his team have made after securing promotion last season.
This weekend Enniskillen are aware they face difficult opponents in Armagh seconds. At this stage of any Cup competition you will face no easy teams. This week at training the players have been working hard to improve on their performance from last week against Clogher Valley. They go into the game with confidence against Armagh knowing they need to move up another level in performance if they are to get a result on Saturday.
The coach keeps the same starting xv from last week with Jamie Johnston, Jack Harte, Richard Beatty, Stephen Fox and Mark O’Shea taking their place on the replacements bench.
McCREA CUP SEMI FINALS
Cooke v CIYMS
Malone seconds v Queens Uni seconds
Cooke v CIYMS
Current McCrea Cup holders Cooke will be confident going into their semi final with CIYMS at Shaws bridge on Saturday. Head coach Colin Atkinson was very relieved to hear his team were safe in Div 1 but also frustrated that they lost their 15 – 14 lead at Ballyclare to lose to a sloppy converted try in the last few minutes of the match. Conditions were difficult throughout at the Cloughan with the very heavy pitch stopping both teams getting any real flow into their game. Ballyclare are a very strong team and fully deserved to finish in the top four this season. Cooke points scorers against Ballyclare were Alex Gourley 1 x try, 1x con, 1 x pen. Jonathan Backus 1 x try.
Cooke are carrying a few knocks from their physical encounter at Ballyclare with a number of players undergoing late fitness tests. Curtis Montgomery, Kyle Mitchell and Alan Gourley return to the squad after being unavailable last week. The coach is also hoping influential back row forward Toby Mannus comes through a late fitness test.
The Cooke squad are very much looking forward to Saturdays Cup game and the opportunity for another big Belfast derby at home after defeating a very strong Grosvenor team 30 – 21 in the quarter finals.
CIYMS match against Belfast Harlequins seconds in the quarter finals was conceded by the Deramore Park side. The Belmont side are currently chasing 2nd place in Div 2 and the playoffs. They are unbeaten in their last five matches and will prove difficult opponents for Cooke to overcome. All the ingredients are there for a cracking Cup tie involving two evenly matched teams.
Malone seconds v Queens Uni seconds
Two teams who come into this match in good form. Malone lost an entertaining contest with Armagh seconds last Thursday night 13 – 9 with full back Rory Campbell kicking three penalties. Malone sit second in the 2nd xv league behind league leaders Ballynahinch seconds.
Queens Uni seconds are 3rd in Div 1 of the Ulster Rugby Provincial league behind league winners Omagh 2nds and second place Ballynahinch thirds. Queens seconds warmed up for their Cup semi final by defeating Bangor seconds 40 – 26 last Thursday night.
ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Carrickfergus (6) v Portadown (5)
Both Davy Scott and Michael Rainey will be hoping their Carrick squad can end their season with a league win against a Portadown side looking to win with a bonus point to finish in 4th place ahead of Enniskillen and qualify for the All Ireland Junior Cup next season. Carrick lost their last two league games against Clogher Valley 20 -13 after leading 13 – 10 and Omagh 18 – 6 after leading 6 – 3. What will have frustrated the coaches is that the team failed to close out these games in the final quarter. Carrick have a very strong forward unit and are a match for any team in Div 1.
Portadown bounced back from a heavy home defeat the previous week to Enniskillen to defeat Dromore 25 – 17 at Barben Hill last Saturday. Will their failure to pick up the bonus point come back to haunt them. They had built up a 25 – 3 lead to allow Dromore to come back and score two converted tries to narrow the Portadown win to 25 – 17.
Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley was pleased with his teams performance at Dromore on Saturday. What has pleased the Portadown coach is that the club 2nd xv have won their league and made the final of the Crawford Cup. This transformation in the club has been brought about by the number of players available to the first and seconds this season making the seconds very competitive. There has been quite a number of young players who have come through this season with a number impressing for the seconds who will hopefully make the step up next season.
This Saturday Willie Graham, Lee Bicker, Matthew Thorton, Andrew Chambers and Robert Greenlee return to the team after being unavailable for the Dromore game. The coach is aware it will be tough going to Carrick, not just needing to win but also to get a bonus point. Carrick have not conceded a try bonus at the Tom Simms Memorial Park this season.
Portadown squad 1 – 17 Mark Henderson, Robert Greenlee, Matthew Wilson, James Wright, Willie Graham, Gareth McCoy, Darmuid O’Kane, Gary Hall, Michael Orr, Chris Cousins, Andrew Chambers, Aaron Morton, Matthew Thorton, Jack Orr, Luke Ashton, Ryan Muldrew and Lee Bicker.
When these two teams met at Chambers Park on the 17.9.16. Portadown won 43 – 17.
Academy (7) v Limavady (4)
Coleraine (1) v Randalstown (6)
Letterkenny (6) v Ballymoney (1)
PSNI (2) v Virginia (8)
Updated 19:57 - 23 Mar 2017 by Stephen Barbour