Last weekend was another dramatic weekend for Ulster clubs in the UBL. Malone came up just short after trailing 13 – 8 at Dolphin with a late intercept try denying the Gibson Park side a place in the Div 1B/2A playoff final. If they had won this match they would have faced a fourth trip to Munster in five weekends to play Tipperary side Nenagh Ormond. Armagh required extra time to defeat Dublin side Wanderers 20 -15 to claim a home playoff final against Limerick side Old Crescent. Rainey OB built on a strong first half performance at Sligo to come through 30 – 21. They will now host County Offaly side Tullamore at Hatrick Park on Saturday. Omagh required a strong defensive effort in the second half to see off Munster side Clonmel 25 – 13 to progress through to play Boyne in the playoff match in Drogheda this week.
In Ulster there will be three teams in the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship watching the outcome of the Omagh match this weekend. A win for the County Tyrone side will see 5th place Enniskillen in Div 1 progress through to take their place in the Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup next season. CIYMS in Div 2 would move up into Div 1 after losing their playoff match at Dromore with UUC retaining their place in Div 2 after losing their playoff match against the PSNI.
We have the Junior Inter Pros kicking off this weekend with Ulster hosting Munster in their first match at Randalstown RFC. The coaching team of Richard Boyd, Robert Ford and Michael Ferguson will be hoping to start with a win as they look to reclaim the Inter Pro title last won by Ulster in 2015.
There has been much discussion on the values of the playoffs both in the UBL and the Ulster Rugby Championship. My own view is that in the UBL we should continue to have the semi final and final playoffs involving the top four teams in Div 1A. Consideration should be given to introducing promotion for the top two teams in each league and relegation for the bottom two sides.
There is also merit in applying the same criteria to the Ulster Rugby Championship.
Players look at the fixture template and in their own minds the season should end once their league programme has been completed without the need for playoffs.
Another area that concerns me is the placing of teams in leagues within Ulster. Take the Ulster Rugby Premiership Div 1. My view is that Ballynahinch, Ballymena, Malone, Armagh and Banbridge should play in this league. Looking at performances this season Banbridge RFC don’t have the strength in depth of the other four teams to rotate and rest players to be competitive in this league. With Banbridge playing in DIV 1B next season their players will find quite a difference between playing in Section 2 and Section 1. Have Queens Uni the playing squad to compete in Div 1 next season.
Should Div 2 consist of Dungannon, City of Derry, Belfast Harlequins, Rainey OB, Bangor and Queens Uni + Omagh if they are promoted. As one coach put it to me there is no point in one of the weaker Ulster clubs being put in the same league as Ballynahinch, Ballymena, Malone or Banbridge to be ‘canon fodder’ for teams containing Ulster Development and Academy players.
How will we structure the 2nd xv league in Ulster next season. Should we retain the teams in Div 1 and allow the teams in Div 2 to play in Div 1 of the Ulster Rugby Provincial league. Looking at performances this season only Ballynahinch, Armagh and Malone 2nd xv ‘s were competitive in the Junior Cup, Towns Cup and the McCrea Cup. Will we only have five UBL clubs second xv’s playing in the Conference Leagues next season.
For me it is all about finding playing levels for teams and players to be competitive at. There is no point in putting teams into leagues where they will struggle. Player welfare has to be a priority for the Clubs Committee and the Competition Management Committee at the Ulster Branch.
What the Under 20 competitions at Instonians and Coleraine on Easter Monday demonstrated is that there needs to be a greater commitment to putting in place competitions that facilitate the transition from Schools and Youth Rugby into the Adult game. Are we turning a blind eye to the unacceptable level of injuries experienced by young players who have not physically developed to play Adult rugby. Both the Administrators at the Ulster Branch and the Clubs have a duty of care to younger players. If we don’t look after these players we will lose them.
Can we look at the playing schedule and address the requirement to stage matches on the same day as Autumn International fixtures and the Six Nations. You sometimes get the feeling that club fixtures are just being squeezed in without any consideration for the players and clubs.
During October and November last season we had several teams who did not play any club matches for six weeks. If you were not involved in the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup or the Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup you were left idle with no fixtures. Why is that the case. Can no league fixtures or Conference league games be arranged for teams not involved in these competitions. Just seems a wasted opportunity to play games. We were lucky with the weather during this season with very few fixtures having to be postponed. This can change very quickly as we all know. We don’t want to see what had become the usual end of season backlog of fixtures having to be crammed into a limited window without any consideration being given to Player Welfare. This is not an acceptable situation for coaches and amateur players.
All clubs should be encouraged to put in place playing structures for both male and females from Mini to Youth in their clubs. Again the question is the recruitment of volunteers to take on these responsibilities. A task that is not getting any easier for club committees.
As was described to me this is the ‘silly season’ between now and the beginning of June when player movements take place and changes are made to coaching teams in clubs. What it has also hi- lighted is the shortage of young coaches coming through in the club game. Both clubs and the Ulster Branch need to review this situation. The pool is getting smaller.
Congratulations to Nicky Wells on his appointment as Head coach at Belfast Harlequins. He has the task of reversing the fortunes of this club that has suffered relegation from DIV 1B to 2B in successive seasons.
Both Clogher Valley and Donaghadee RFC have made new coaching appointments for next season. Several other clubs have yet to publicise changes they have made to their coaching teams for the new season.
It has been a pleasure travelling throughout Ulster to watch club rugby this season and talk to club officials and spectators. It is by inter mingling with supporters on the touchline you get an understanding of where clubs are and their individual needs. How can they be improved. What concerns me, could there be more financial assistance made available by Governing bodies to assist clubs in improving their spectator facilities with increasing numbers attending the Domestic matches.
ALL IRELAND BATEMAN CUP FINAL
Old Belvedere v Cork Constitution. Kick Off 12.45PM. Played at Anglesea Road. Match being shown live on RTE 2
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE PLAYOFF FINALS
Garryowen V UL Bohemians
Dolphin v Nenagh Ormond
Armagh v Old Crescent
It was a tense and nervous finish for the followers of Armagh as the 1st xv squad had to dig deep to win 20 – 15 at home to Wanderers AET. They are now one match away from securing promotion to Div 2A next season if they can overcome visitors Old Crescent. The Limerick side showed how dangerous they will be as they scored six tries to defeat Sunday Wells 46 – 21 at Irish Independent Park.
Armagh Head coach Alex McCloy retains the same squad that defeated Wanderers with John Faloon and Matthew Hooks continuing in their centre partnership in place of the unavailable Chris Colvin and Stuart Lester. The Armagh replacements David Swann, Daryl Morton, Ollie Morton, Peter Elliott, Cormac Fox, Kyle Faloon and TC Campbell all had a big impact on the outcome of the match with Cormac Fox influencing the game in the second half and winger Kyle Faloon scoring the all important try in the first period of extra time to seal the win. Winger Andrew Willis looked dangerous with ball in hand and scored a fine individual try. Once again Captain Ali Birch will have a crucial role in guiding his players through this match.
Armagh have won both fixtures involving these two teams in the UBL. In the first meeting at the Palace Grounds on the 5.11.16 Armagh won 21 – 9. In the return game at Rosbrien in Limerick on the 18.2.17 Armagh won 30 – 19.
Old Crescent secured promotion to Div 2B this season after winning Div 2C last season. Like Armagh they are one match away from securing promotion.
Rainey OB v Tullamore
It was a case of Rainey indiscipline unnerving the Rainey supporters as the team was reduced to 13 players in their 30 – 21 at Hamilton Park last Saturday against Sligo. With Tullamore travelling to Donny brook the County Offaly side overcame Bective Rangers 22 – 15 to set up a playoff final at Hatrick Park in Magherfelt this weekend.
Rainey Head coach John Andrew’s adds Oisin Quinn to the squad that won at Sligo. The coach is delighted with the form being shown by his players as they look forward to this home final after the struggles of the last two years. This is a great opportunity for the players to bounce back stronger after the struggles over the last two years.
In form Rainey full back Scott McLean has been in prolific goal kicking form scoring 54 points in his last four matches.
Rainey have defeated Tullamore in their two UBL matches this season. In the first game at Spollanstown on the 12.11.16 Rainey won 25 – 21. In the return match Rainey won another close encounter 25 – 22 at Hatrick Park.
Rainey lost out in the playoffs last season after finishing 9th in Div 2B to avoid relegation to Div 2C. Under the guidance of Head coach John Andrew’s they are one match away from making a quick return to Div 2B.
Tullamore made the Div 2B/2C Playoff final last season at home to Wanderers only to lose 24 – 13. Can they go one better this season.
DIV 2C/Round Robin Runner Up
Boyne v Omagh
Head coach Philip Marshall and his team play their 33rd match of the season when they travel to Shamrock Park in Drogheda to play Boyne for a place in Div 2C next season. Nine months on from their first friendly game with Limavady on the 6th August the County Tyrone side are one match away from returning to the UBL. The Omagh players had to dig deep on Saturday after building up an early 19 – 3 lead against Munster Junior 1 league winners Clonmel to win 25 – 13. Three early tries from back row forwards James Catterson (2) and Mervyn Edgar (1) established an early lead that the County Tyrone side had to defend as Clonmel fought back to narrow the Omagh lead. Two late penalties from Lee Murphy and Scott Elliott were enough to earn Omagh a playoff match at Boyne.
Coach Phil Marshall makes one change to his squad with Stephen MacLaine replacing Matty Eccles. Omagh back row forward Mervyn Edgar has scored crucial tries against Malahide, Ballina and Clonmel. Can he make it four against Boyne. Scrum half Stewart McCain and number 8 James Catterson have led from the front throughout the season. Can they complete this marathon season with a win at Boyne and secure promotion to the UBL.
Boyne along with relegated Kanturk finished 8th and 7th in Div 2C last season. This season it went to the wire with Kanturk relegated after finishing 10th and Boyne 9th to secure a playoff after a strong finish to their UBL programme.
SONI ULSTER PREMIERSHIP DIVISION 1
City of Derry v Dungannon
This match at Judges Road on Saturday will decide who plays in Div 1 of the Ulster Premiership league next season. Both teams have played four games with no wins and no points.
The two teams have met in the UBL this season with City of Derry winning the first match on the 31.12.16 at Judges Road 16 – 15 with the North West side again winning another close match 18 – 17 at Stevenson Park.
Dungannon have conceded this match and will be relegated to Div 2 of the Ulster Rugby premiership next season.
2ND XV LEAGUE PLAYOFF MATCH
Belfast Harlequins seconds v Queens Uni seconds. Played Thursday 27.4.17. Kick off 7.45PM
This match is being played as a playoff to decide which team will play in the 2nd xv league next season.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY/CONFERENCE DIV 2
Larne v Banbridge seconds
JUNIOR INTER PROS
Leinster Juniors v Connacht Juniors. Played Newbridge RFC
Ulster Juniors v Munster Juniors. Played Randalstown RFC
Thank you all for your support throughout the season. It is now time to take a break and recharge the batteries. Your e mails and phone calls have been appreciated. Please continue to keep me updated with any developments in your club during the off season. I know the hard work that is required by clubs and officials to put in place the playing base to sustain club rugby in Ulster between now and August, ready for the new season. Enjoy your well earned rest.
Updated 12:05 - 28 Apr 2017 by Stephen Barbour