It is now time for the 12 Ulster Bank AIL clubs to return to league action this weekend after a three week break. They have two blocks of three games to play between the 28th October and the 11th November and 25th November and the 9th December to complete their first ten games in the UBL before the Xmas break. We have seven teams contesting the top four places in Div 1B, Div 2A, Div 2B, Div 2C. They include Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Malone, City of Armagh, Rainey OB, Bangor and Omagh. Queens Uni find themselves in 6th place with 2 wins from four in Div 2A.
The four Ulster teams that will need to start picking up league points are Ballymena 8th in Div 1B with 1/4 wins. The most disappointing news is to see three Ulster teams Dungannon, City of Derry and Belfast Harlequins occupying the bottom three places in Div 2B. All four of these teams know they need to win games to avoid finishing in the bottom two places. Belfast Harlequins were unable to hold on to a 12 – 0 lead against Sunday’s Well in Cork last Sat before going down 17 – 12 in a match brought forward from the 4th November.DIV 2B
Belfast Harlequins (10) v MU Barnhall (6)
City of Derry (9) v Old Crescent (1)
Dungannon (8) v Rainey OB (4)
Skerries (2) v Sunday’s Well (5)
Wanderers (3) v Navan RFC (7)
Belfast Harlequins v MU Barnhall
Quins were disappointed to lose their UBL game in Cork last Sat 17 – 12 after leading 12 – 0 through two tries from winger Richie McKee. For this crucial game with Barnhall the coach is able to put out his strongest pack this season. He welcomes back Jaz Andress along with former Cooke and Ulster Juniors number 8 Toby Mannus starting his first game of the season. The Quins players are in good spirits and are just looking forward to getting that first win..
City of Derry v Old Crescent
Assistant coach Richard McCarter and Head coach Trevor Will had to deal with a lot of unavailabilities for the Cork trip to play Sunday’s Well three weeks ago. The team gave a good account of themselves in the circumstances before going down 36 – 19.
For the game with league leaders Old Crescent Richard is expecting the City of Derry squad to be close to full strength. Simon Logue returns to the squad with key forward Adam Bratton unavailable due to schools commitments. He is hoping for a good game and would gratefully take a 3 – 0 win at this stage..
Dungannon v Rainey OB
For Dungannon Head coach Andrew Hughes the challenge for his players is to reverse their disappointing start to their season. He feels with a little more accuracy they could be sitting with 3 wins from four.. The first 50 mins against Malone in the Senior Cup quarter final was positive so the players have taken a lot of confidence from that match.
He and his players aere expecting a tough and physical encounter against a confident Rainey side at Stevenson Park on Sat. Their forwards have a good mix of young and up and coming talent along with some experienced players.
Every week the Dungannon team are coming together that little bit more with the coach hoping it will not be long before the side are playing to their full potential.
Selection wise Mark Riddell, Andrew McPhillips, Ben Matchett, David Leyburn,, Mark Faloon and Rodney Bennett are unavailable along with Captain James McMahon. Second row Ross McCaughey makes a return this week.
For Rainey Head coach John Andrew’s it is dealing with the expectations amongst the club supporters after the opening four games that sees the team in 4th place. The addition of South African Hooker Brad Roberts has added to a front row that has struggled in the absence of Ulster prop Tommy O’Hagan. Both scrums and lineouts have been an added concern for the Rainey coaches as they strive for consistency with many good field positions being lost due to indiscipline. Former Ireland Club xv back rower Paul Pritchard has been outstanding for the team at this level after playing Section 1 rugby in the UBL. The new half back pairing of Jason Bloomfield and Andy Magrath have made a big impact while centre Josh McIIroy has been a revelation in the centre. Winger Robert Lamberton unfortunately picked up an injury against Belfast Harlequins after a promising start and along with the returning Nicholas Stirling add attacking options to the Rainey back line. One welcome piece of good news is that the talented Scott Mclean has been given the all clear to resume training. Good news indeed. Not only are we witnessing a strong push for promotion again this season by Rainey but with the increased player depth at the club their 2nd xv sit top of Ulster Rugby provincial league 2. Head coach John Andrews has put this down to the clubs brilliant Youth set up coupled with the work Peter Boyle and Damien Campbell are doing in the Senior set up to develop and progress these players. Closer links with local schools has improved the playing numbers coming into the club. Much of this work is again credited to Peter Boyle and Damien Campbell with Ulster centre Luke Marshall playing his part in helping the club coaches.
Rainey Head coach John Andrews has almost a full squad to select from this week against Dungannon with Tommy O’Hagan returning to the front row and Tim Barker taking his place in the front five for this match. The only back missing will be Josh McIIroy who is still recovering from injury, but should be available next week. Training has been brilliant in the three weeks without a game with the players having a good run out against Queens Uni last Thursday night that has sharpened up their match fitness for the Dungannon game.
The coach is looking forward to what should be a tough fixture.
Both Tommy O’Hagan and John McCusker have been released by Ulster this week to play.