Preview of this weekend’s club rugby action…
Last weekend the finalists in the First Trust Senior Cup were confirmed with City of Armagh making it through to their first Senior Cup final after defeating Malone 26 – 19. They will be joined by Ballymena who defeated Cup holders Ballynahinch 13 – 6. The Final will take place at Kingspan stadium on Tuesday the 19th December with a 7.30pm kick-off. Congratulations to both City of Armagh and Ballymena.
This week the 12 Ulster teams will return to league action in round 8 of the Ulster Bank All Ireland League. This block contains three fixtures with Rounds 9 and 10 including back to back games before the Christmas break on the 9th December. There is one Ulster derby involving City of Armagh and Queens University at the Palace Grounds. Six teams including Banbridge, Ballymena, Ballynahinch, Malone, City of Derry and Omagh travel to Leinster and Munster this weekend. City of Armagh, Belfast Harlequins, Dungannon, Rainey OB and Bangor all have home fixtures.
We have the semi finals of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup on Saturday involving three Ulster UBL second xv teams Ballynahinch, City of Armagh and Malone along with Ballymoney from Div 2 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship.
In the Kukri Rugby Championship Div 1 we had wins for CIYMS, Coleraine, Ballyclare and Carrickfergus. The win for Ballyclare allowed them to open up a six point lead on second place Carrickfergus after their win at Portadown. Both newly promoted Coleraine and CIYMS picked up much needed wins to separate themselves from the bottom three teams Portadown, Enniskillen and Clogher Valley. Both Ballyclare and Carrick are due to meet at the Cloughan on the 30th December. Can Instonians maintain their challenge with Belfast derbies coming up against CIYMS and Cooke during December. There is also a crucial relegation game taking place between Enniskillen and Clogher Valley at Mullaghmeen on the 16th December. We will learn a lot about teams like Carrick, Dromore, CIYMS and Coleraine, can they challenge for a top four placing.
CIYMS team v Clogher Valley 1. Elliott Boyd, 2. Simon Baillie, 3. Timothy Acheson, 4. Cory tipping, 5. David Cobain, 6. Scott Dowle, 7. Jason Gilliland, 8. Mark McConkey, 9. Cameron Stewart, 10. Matthew Kilgore, 11. Matty Butler, 12. Callum Irvine (Captain), 13. Natahn Burns, 14. Josh Newell, 15. Chris Devlin, 16. Scott McNarry, 17. Paddy Beverland. Points scorers: Callum Irvine 2 x tries. Josh Newell, Nathan Burns 1 x try each. Matthew Kilgore 2 x cons 1 x pen.
In Kukri Conference League One Dromore inflicted the first defeat of the season on Ballynahinch seconds winning 10 – 8 at Barban Hill. With the defeat of Ballynahinch seconds Armagh seconds opened up a five point lead on their rivals with both teams due to meet at Ballymacarn Park on the 2nd December.
Dromore team: 1. Clark McCleod, 2. Stuart Sloan, 3. Mark Hylands, 4. Ross Bingham, 5. Rory pepper, 6. Blair McDonald, 7. Jonny Maguire, 8. Adam McGregor, 9. Josh Brame, 10. Aaron Stuart, 11. Mike Allen, 12. Sam Russell, 13. Graham McCandless, 14. Brian McClearn, 15. Adam McDonald, 16. Frazer Mulholland, 17. Matt McMaster. Poits scrers: Adam McGregor and Brian McClearn 1 x try each.
In Kukri Rugby Championship Div 2 Grosvenor defeated 3rd place Ballymoney 23 – 0 at Kilraughts Road to maintain their lead of three points over 2nd place Randalstown who won 36 – 0 at UUC. Both these teams are due to meet at Nelisbrook on Sat 16thDecember. Larne moved up into 4th place with a 8 – 3 win at the Glynn. Four points separate the bottom four teams Lisburn, Limavady, PSNI and UUC.
In Kukri Conference league Two Malone seconds maintained their four point lead over second place Grosvenor with a 38 – 17 win at Academy.
In Kukri Rugby Championship Div 3 Lurgan are top four points ahead of second place Donaghadee. Both these teams are due to meet at Pollack Park on the 2nd December.
Clubs are reminded that the closing date to return all ‘Your Club, Your Country’ ticket stubs is Wednesday November 29th at 5PM.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE
Lansdowne (10 v Terenure College (2). Played Friday 24.11.17. Kick off 7.30PM
Dublin Uni (8) v Garryowen (4)
Buccaneers (10) v UCD (6)
Cork Constitution (3) V St Mary’s College (9)
Young Munster (7) v Clontarf (5)
Old Belvedere (5) v Naas (6)
Old Wesley (7) v Banbridge (3)
Dolphin (10) v UL Bohemians (9)
Shannon (1) v Ballymena (8)
UCC (4) v Ballynahinch (2)
Banbridge v Old Wesley
Donnybrook is the venue this weekend for Banbridge Head coach Daniel Soper and his players as they look to consolidate their top four position with back to back games coming up against Cork side Dolphin before the Christmas break. Old Wesley struggled early season but have bounced back to win their last two games against UL Bohs and Dolphin. They drew with 5th place Old Belvedere and suffered 31 -27 and 34 – 17 defeats against UCC and leaders Shannon. They will be no pushovers on their artificial pitch. Banbridge lost 23 – 14 at Shannon before winning their last UBL game at home against Old Belvedere 15 – 14. This win was built on the performance of their local club players with only Eric O’Sullivan, Greg Jones and Rob Lyttle released by Ulster.
Captain Ian Porter has been a vital player contributing many valuable points. One player returning to form is winger Conor Field who has scored two tries in his last three UBL matches.
Last season after the round 7 matches Banbridge were level with Nenagh Ormond on 25 points in Div 2A with 5 wins, 1 draw and 1 lost. This season after round 7 they are in 3rd place in Div 1B on 24 points with 5 wins 1 draw and 1 lost.
Daniel Soper is pleased with the current position of the team with the players and the team focusing hard on continuing to improve their performances. This block of three games is very important with the back to back fixtures against Dolphin.
The coach is delighted to see Ulster Academy prospect Greg Jones getting an opportunity with Ulster on Friday night. He has played very well for Banbridge with the coach hoping he can carry that form with him for Ulster.
Ulster Academy back rower Caleb Montgomery returns from injury after picking up an injury in round 3 of the UBL. If he can get back his early season form the opportunity will be there for him also.
Robin Sinton returns to the team after missing the Old Belvedere match. With final selection being dependent on game time of some players involved with Ulster, selection with not be finalised until Friday night.
The coach is very aware that his local players have stepped up to Div 1B which has been very satisfying. The Club place great importance on the players not forgetting they are playing an amateur game as a past time. It is all about them enjoying themselves and each other’s company which is paramount. With that in mind 35 players and management from the senior squad are heading to the Aviva stadium after their game to support Rory Best and his team.
Ballymena v Shannon
When you point out to Ballymena Head coach Andy Graham that his team have won 2/3 away games and lost four games at home in the UBL there is obvious frustration on his part. His team have come through two Senior Cup matches against Omagh and holders Ballynahinch to make the final of the First Trust Senior Cup Final where they will play City of Armagh in the final at the Kingspan stadium on Tuesday the 19th December. First up is a journey to Limerick this weekend to play league leaders Shannon at Thomond Park followed by back to back games against Old Belvedere. He feels that his team should have won three of the four UBL games at home with Ballynahinch deserving winners two weeks ago. The difference on that night was Ballynahinch had 8 Ulster players released whereas Ballymena had 2. It is the strength and conditioning of these players along with their skill that makes an impact.
The return of Callum Patterson, Chris Cundell and Bryan Young added that experience to the team for the Senior Cup match against Ballynahinch with his Ballymena team improving week by week. It is cutting out the mistakes that have cost his team wins with the players focusing on attitude and effort on the pitch. His team go out every week with the intention of winning. The young players are doing well with several injured players making themselves available. With British & Irish Cup commitments on the 9th and 16thDecember the coach is hoping to have Stephen Mulholland, David Whann and Aidy Hamilton for the games on the 9th and 19th December.
James Gallagher picked up an injury and is ruled out this week along with the unavailable prop Nacho Crespo. One player who has started rehab is winger James Beattie with no date set for his return.
Ulster releases this week include David Shanahan, Callum Patterson, Adam McBurney, Marcus Rea and Brett Herron. Matty Agnew is a doubt and will face a late fitness test.
Ballymena squad 1. Bryan Young/Josh Bill, 2. Adam McBurney, 3. Chris Cundell, 4. Mark Foster, 5. Connor Smyth, 6 – 8 from Marcus Rea, Joe Thompson, Dominic Gallagher and Matty Agnew. 9 David Shanahan, 10. Brett Herron, 11. Glenn Baillie, 12. Callum Patterson, 13. Angus Kernohan, 14. Dean Reynolds, 15. Rodger McBurney, 16. James Taggart, 17. Josh Bill/ Bryan Young, 18. Russell Blair/Ben O’Ryan, 19. Matthew Norris. 20. Michael Stronge.
The Ballymena coach is expecting a difficult and physical game against a big Shannon pack well coached by Tom Hayes. They have strong centres and will really test the Ballymena defence. If his team get things right they can match Shannon. It is all about being mentally right and going into the match with the right mind set to get something from the game. Shannon surprisingly lost their last UBL game away to Naas 21 – 18 two weeks ago. Ballymena have travelled to Naas and won this season. They have lost to three of the top five teams so far and will not want to make it four.
Foot note: The bottom two teams Dolphin and UL Bohs meet this weekend. If Bohs win and Ballymena lose they could finish up in 9th place on Saturday evening.
After round 7 of the UBL last season Ballymena were 4th on 20 points with 4 wins and 3 losses. This season they are 8th on 12 points with 2 wins and 5 losses.
Ballynahinch v UCC
Rugby Consultant Brian McLaughlin knows his Ballynahinch squad face a real test of their credentials this weekend in Cork against the students of UCC. Their five wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the table with their two defeats against top five teams Old Belvedere and Banbridge. After this weekend they face back to back games with league leaders Shannon.
Ulster releases include Peter Browne, Aaron Cairns, David Busby, Jonny McPhillips, Jack Regan, Rory Butler and Zac McCall. Injury rules out Jonny ‘Mo’ Simpson.
UCC have won 4 drawn 1 and lost 2. Their two defeats were at home against Old Belvedere 24 – 23 and Shannon 20 – 16.
After round 7 last season Ballynahinch were 6th on 18 points with 3 wins and 4 losses. This season after round 7 they are on 25 points with 5 wins and 2 losses.
Greystones (10) v Malone (1)
City of Armagh (6) v Queens Uni (3)
Galway Corinthians (7) v Blackrock College (9)
Highfield (2) v Cashel RFC (5)
Nenagh Ormond (4) v Galwegians (8)
Malone v Greystones
The East Belfast side suffered their first defeat when they lost their last UBL match at home to Queens Uni 20 – 11 two weeks ago. They remain top one point ahead of second place Highfield. The team suffered their second consecutive defeat when they lost their Senior Cup semi final 26 – 19 away to City of Armagh last Saturday. Greystones will not be an easy match for Malone when you look closely at their performances. They lost away to City of Armagh, Nenagh Ormond, Cashel and Blackrock College by small margins. Their home defeats were 28 -23 to Galway Corinthians, 22 – 9 to second place Highfield with their only win coming at home against Galwegians 17 – 13. These are the ‘banana skin’ matches that teams can lose if their attitude is not right. You can be sure Malone Head Coach Paddy Armstrong will remove any complacency in preparation for the match. This crucial block of three games is followed up by back to back games with Galway Corinthians.
Paddy Armstrong is well aware that Greystones have been more than competitive in every game this season. Their coach Kevin Lewis will always have his teams well drilled, organised and difficult to beat.
A lot of rugby still to be played in this league with the coach not looking too far ahead as his focus is purely on this game at Greystones. There is a lot of competition for places with a number of difficult calls to be made with the team to be finalised on Thursday night. One player who impressed the coach in the defeat at Armagh was young back row forward Stuart Doddington.
Ulster releases include Jack Owens, Joe Dunleavy and Peter Cooper.
Looking at the league table in Div 2A after round 7 last season. Malone were in 6thplace on 14 points with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats from 7 matches. Fast forward this season Malone are in 1st place on 27 points with 6 wins and I loss from 7. Highfield were in 4th place on 19 points. This season they are in 2nd place on 26 points. Queens Uni were 3rd place last season on 22 points. This season they are 3rd on 24 points, two points better than last season. Nenagh Ormond were leading last season on 25 points alongside Banbridge. This season they are in 4th place on 21 points.
It is Malone, Highfield, Queens and Nenagh Ormond battling it out again this season.
City of Armagh v Queens Uni
Another Ulster derby for City of Armagh this weekend with Queens Uni the visitors to the Palace Grounds after the 1st xv secured their first appearance in the First Trust Senior Cup Final after defeating Malone 26 – 19. Will we see the Orchard County side complete the domestic double in Ulster by adding the Senior Cup to the Stevenson Shield. The focus for Armagh Head coach Willy Faloon and his players is to reverse their four defeats in the UBL that has seen the team slip down to 6th place in Div 2A. Three of the defeats have come against top four teams Malone, Highfield and Nenagh Ormond. Armagh will not want to make it four and five defeats in total in the UBL. The Palace Grounds appeared to be a fortress this season until they lost 38 – 32 to Nenagh Ormond and 29 -17 to Highfield in their last two UBL games.
Queens Uni are unbeaten away from home in the league this season after winning away to Galway Corinthians, Highfield, Galwegians and Malone. Travelling to the Palace Grounds will present no fears for the students after winning their last UBL game at Malone 20 – 11. What has been particularly impressive in their run this season is the two away wins at Malone and Highfield.
After this weekend both teams have back to back games to play with City of Armagh at Cashel and Queens Uni at home to Greystones before the fixtures are reversed.
Armagh assistant coach Chris Parker: This weekend is another big game for City of Armagh 1st xv with the games coming thick and fast. Selection is more difficult this week with trying to juggle the teams with the seconds playing Ballymoney away in the semi final of the Junior Cup on Saturday.
Both Robbie Faloon and James Hanna both return to the 1st xv squad. John Faloon remains on the sidelines with Captain Ali Birch and Peter Starrett following the graduated return to play protocol. Stephen Morton drops down to Captain the seconds in the semi final with Evin Crummie earning his first start this weekend on the 1st xv after impressing off the bench against Malone.
Last season City of Armagh were top of Div 2B after round 7 on 32 points with 7 wins. This season in Div 2A they are in 6th place on 16 points with 3 wins and 4 losses.
Queens Uni suffered several injuries during their 20 – 11 win over Malone two weeks ago. Ruled out are out half Richie McMaster who is following return to play protocols. Second row Marc Campbell with a knee ligament injury and Ulster Academy back Angus Curtis who picked up an ankle injury that will rule him out for several weeks. They will welcome back number 8 Daniel Dass who missed the Malone match.
Ulster releases include Jonny Stewart and Alexander Clarke.
Queens team for Armagh: 1. Anton Lupari, 2. Alexander Clarke, 3. Andrew Clingan, 4. Dave Whitten, 5. Ali Burke, 6. Nigel Simpson (Captain), 7. Jonny Lees, 8. Daniel Dass, 9. Jonny Stewart, 10. John Creighton, 11. Jonny Milliken, 12. Rory Bell, 13. Conor Shiels, 14. Mark Keane, 15. Jack Milligan, 16. David Swann, 17. Jonny Black, 18. Gary Dillon, 19. Gerard Treanor, 20 AN Other.
Queens last season after round 7 were in 3rd place on 22 points with 3 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss. This season they are in 3rd place on 24 points with 5 wins and 2 losses.
MU Barnhall (6) v City of Derry (10)
Navan RFC (4) v Sunday’s Well (8)
Belfast Harlequins (10) v Old Crescent (1)
Dungannon (7) v Wanderers (3)
Rainey OB (2) v Skerries (5)
City of Derry v M U Barnhall
Out of 7 games played this season City of Derry have only won one against Belfast Harlequins 32 – 17. Five of their games so far this season have been against the top five sides. They travel to M U Barnhall who are undefeated after three home games.
Last season after round 7 City of Derry were in 10th place on 3 points with no wins from 7 games. This season after round 7 they are in 9th place on 5 points with one win, two points ahead of 10th place Belfast Harlequins.
Belfast Harlequins v Old Crescent
Quins welcome leaders Old Crescent to Deramore Park. The Limerick side have amassed 32/35 points in winning their opening 7 games. Belfast Harlequins suffered a heavy defeat at home to Dungannon 41 – 8 two weeks ago.
Last season after round 7 Quins were in 10th place in Div 2A on 4 points with 1 win from 7. This season they are in 10th place in Div 2B on 3 points with no wins from 7 games.
Dungannon v Wanderers
In three of their away games Dungannon have won 41 – 8 at Belfast Harlequins, 19 – 10 at Sunday’s Well and drawn 15 – 15 at Navan. It is their home form that is causing concern. They have lost against three of the top five teams: Skerries 29 – 27, Old Crescent 36 – 5 and Rainey OB 27 – 10. Coach Andy Hughes knows they have to improve their home form if they are going to make the top four and the play offs.
For the coach the win at Belfast Harlequins was the first time this season in the UBL that the team managed to go through multiple phases. The big focus over the past few weeks was limiting the teams unforced errors to allow the team to play to their patterns. The team’s completion percentage was greatly improved and the error count was a fraction of what it had been recently.
Hopefully the performance at Quins will give the players the confidence ahead of what are extremely difficult opponents in Wanderers. They play a good brand of rugby and a very dangerous team out wide. His players cannot afford to be giving the ball away cheaply or it will be a long afternoon for the team.
Selection wise Mark Riddell is unavailable along with Andrew McPhillips and long term injury John Russell. Captain James McMahon may make his first appearance of the season after being out with a long term injury.
Last season after round 7 Dungannon were in 4th place on 20 points with 4 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats. This season after round 7 they are in 7th place on 14 points with 2 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats.
Rainey OB v Skerries
After a good opening start Skerries have lost their last two UBL games going down to Navan 27 – 0 at home and leaders Old Crescent away 45 – 0. They face inform opponents in Rainey at Hatrick Park as the Magherfelt side look to close the three point gap on 1st place Old Crescent. Rainey remain undefeated since losing their opening UBL game at home to Old Crescent 22 – 21.
Rainey Head coach John Andrews is delighted with the progress of his team this season with the seconds moving to the top of Div 2 of the Ulster Rugby provincial league.
For this weekend Oisin Quinn and Robert Lamberton are struggling with minor injuries that look likely to rule them out otherwise all fit.
Stephen Rutledge along with Andrew Donaghy and Peter Stewart are likely to return to the squad. One of the Rainey Youth programme Kieran Devlin could make his senior debut at full back with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
Ulster releases include Tommy O’Hagan and John McCusker.
Last season after round 7 Rainey were in 1st place in Div 2C on 26 points with 5 wins and 2 defeats. This season they are 2nd in Div 2B on 29 points with 6 wins and I loss.
Malahide RFC (6) v Bruff (4)
Seapoint (9) v Sligo (1)
Bangor (3) v Bective Rangers (10)
Midleton (7) v Tullamore (8)
Thomond (2) v Omagh (5)
Bangor v Bective Rangers
This block of fixtures are crucial for Bangor with 10th place Bective Rangers the visitors to Upritchard Park this week followed by back to back games with league leaders Sligo. Despite their 10th place Bective are only 10 points behind 3rd place Bangor. Any dramatic slip up in form by Bangor will have them positioned in the bottom half of the league. Last season they were 3rd in the league after round 7 on 23 points with 5 wins and 2 losses. This season they are in 3rd place on 20 points with 4 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. A second half collapse to the season saw Bangor narrowly retain their place in Div 2C . The coaches and players will not want a repeat.
Last season Bective after round 7 were in 7th place on 16 points in Div 2B. They collapsed in the second half of the season and were relegated along with Thomond into Div 2C. Bective have won two of their last four matches winning 29 – 8 against Seapoint two weeks ago. Their two defeats were against Sligo 17 – 7 and and Tullamore 11 – 10. That is a demonstration of how tough opponents they will be this weekend.
In their last league outing Bangor drew 6 – 6 away to Omagh.
Ricky Armstrong Bangor 1st xv manager: They acknowledge that Bective may be close to the bottom of the league with them fighting to get away from there.
They have had a lot of close games with decent opposition which on other days they could have won. Ricky feels there is very little between any of the teams in Div 2C. No one team is better than any other, not even top of the table Sligo. If you look at some of their results they have been lucky to come away with wins. Last time out they were lucky against Tullamore. What Sligo are good at is grinding out results, which is huge in this league.
We look at Thomond who are second in the league and they are by far the poorest team Bangor have played this season. Yet they have only lost two games all season. It is baffling. It meant Thomond had an off day when they lost at Bangor. Anyone is capable of beating anyone in this league.
It is why on reflection Bangor were happy with their draw at Omagh. It was two points gained. Ricky felt Bangor played poorly but yet came away with two points that could prove vital come the end of the season whether you are trying to finish in the top four or avoid the bottom two places.
The Bangor officials and players were full of praise for Omagh rugby club and the work Phil Marshall has done to build a competitive 1st xv. He deserves credit for their progress and the style of rugby they play with everybody looking forward to the return fixture at Upritchard Park. He also felt it was a testament to the Bangor players that they hung in to come away with a draw.
The home game with Bective is huge this weekend with the back to back games coming up against Sligo before the Christmas break.
Hooker Andrew Jackson is unavailable with illness likely to rule out back row forward Ryan Latimer. Ricky has been full of praise for the role Lewis Stevenson has played since arriving at the club. He is a great man to have about and has fitted well at Upritchard Park. It has been noticeable how he has worked at developing the young forwards in the squad. There are changes in the backline with Gareth Wright returning at scrum half with Lewis Bret moving to out half. Chris Jordan returns from injury to take his place on the wing with Ross McCloskey moving to full back.
Bangor team: 1. Philip Whyte (Captain), 2. Andrew Shaw, 3. James Leary, 4. Dave Caughey, 5. Lewis Stevenson, 6. James Henley, 7. Jamie Clegg, 8. David Bradford/Jack Cooke, 9. Gareth Wright, 10. Lewis Bret, 11. Chris Jordan, 12. Phil Broderick, 13. Mark Widdowson, 14. Nathan Graham, 15. Ross McCloskey. The Bench replacements will be finalised at training on Thursday night.
Omagh v Thomond
Limerick side Thomond may have been relegated last season. But their early season form has them well positioned to make a quick return to Div 2B. Thomond have only lost to leaders Sligo and 3rd place Bangor. Can Omagh replicate their win at Bruff on the opening day when they return to Limerick this weekend. As I said in the Bangor preview of their match only nine points separates Omagh and the bottom two teams in this league. That is how competitive this league is. Omagh have impressed on their return to the All Ireland league winning 3 drawing 2 and losing 2. Those two draws at home were viewed by Head coach Phil Marshall as points dropped. The Omagh coach will be aware that Bangor were well poisoned after round 7 to collapse in the second half of the season. Every game in this league is a Cup final for the teams involved.
Thomond won 34 – 17 at home to Malahide, 28 – 25 against Seapoint and lost narrowly 13 – 12 at home to leaders Sligo. It will not be easy for Omagh this week with back to back games coming up against Malahide before the Christmas break.
Phil Marshall is well aware of the physical challenge Omagh will face at Thomond and then the two games against Malahide. Felt his team should have taken all four points against Bangor in the 6 – 6 draw. The two home draws when the team should have won may come back to bite them at the end of the season.
For this weekend the coach has lost three of his key forwards and one back. Second row Jamie Sproule fractured his fibula against Bangor and will be out for 3 months. The other second row Jonny Sproule is out with a chest injury. Hooker Richard Hemphill is unavailable for the next three weeks with winger Neil Brown out with a calf tear. Young Philip Ewing comes on to the bench as replacement hooker. Mervyn Edgar and Andrew Ferguson are paired in the second row. Dean Porter comes on to the bench as front row cover. In the backs Yonga Taleni starts at 12 with Scott Elliott returning from injury with Stephen MacLaine coming in on the bench.
Both the coaches and players know it is going to be tough over the next three games but as the coach said ‘Who said it was going to be easy’.
MILLAR McCALL WYLIE JUNIOR CUP SEMI FINALS
Ballymoney v City of Armagh seconds
Ballynahinch seconds v Malone seconds
Ballymoney v City of Armagh seconds
This is a real David v Goliath Cup tie at Kilraughts Road on Saturday. Ballymoney were promoted to Div 2 this season and have impressed in both the league and Cup. The rewards for their efforts are 3rd place in the league and a semi final in the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup before Christmas.
City of Armagh are top of Conference league 2 and remain undefeated this season.
Ballymoney have defeated Academy, Limavady and Banbridge seconds to make it to the semi finals.
City of Armagh have recorded wins over PSNI, Ballyclare and Coleraine on route to the semi finals.
On paper you would have to say Armagh seconds are favourites to win this Cup match. Both teams had contrasting fortunes last Saturday. Armagh defeating Insonians 54 – 29 at the Palace Grounds in the Conference league with Ballymoney losing out to Div 2 leaders Grosvenor 23 – 0 at Kilraughts Road.
Ballymoney coach Jonny Hanna admitted he and the rest of the coaching team never expected Ballymoney to make the semi finals of the Junior Cup. But he firmly believes they are there on merit.
He acknowledges that Ballymoney are massive underdogs and this time last year they got beat in the last minute of the Gordon West Cup by Lurgan. The players thought their chances of appearing in a final had gone and that they would have to wait a number of years. Some of the senior players thought they wouldn’t get the chance again. Great credit to the players as they have improved and learned from every game to end up 12 months later one game away from a major Cup Final at the Kingspan Stadium.
The Ballymoney players will be up for the match and hopefully with home advantage, the support and a good bit of luck the players can get a result. He is confident that all 20 players in the squad will give it 100 % and leave nothing behind.
Like every squad at this stage of the season they have a number of injuries but the club have developed strength in depth which has seen the second xv perform well in their league.
Ballymoney squad for Saturday: Forwards: Peter Irvine, Ian Moxen, Matthew Blair, Andrew Brown, Kenny McAneanay, Neale Mulholland, Michael Allan, Chris Hughes, James Blakely, Daniel Ramage, David mcKeeman, John McFetridge (captain). Backs: Matthew Steele, Jonny Linton, Rory Strang, James Cleland, Thomas Hunter, Martin Irwin, Matthew Bell and Michael Armstrong. The starting xv will be finalised at training on Thursday night.
City of Armagh second xv will have Captain Stephen Morton returning to the second row with Chris Cousins taking his place in the centre. Otherwise the Armagh team will be similar to the side that defeated Instonians last Saturday.
Ballynahinch seconds v Malone seconds
Again holders Ballynahinch seconds will be clear favourites to win this Cup tie and progress to the final on Thursday the 21st December. With 7/8 Ulster releases to the 1stxv, Manager Ian Dornan will be able to select a strong team. Several players played for the 1st xv in their 13 – 6 defeat at Ballymena. They would include Conor Phillips, Will Stewart, Aaron Ferris, Justin Rea, Gareth Gill, Graham McKitterick, Kenny Morton, Keith Dickson, Conor Piper, Andy Simpson and Rhys O’Donnell. Keith Dickson Captained the team in their 30 – 7 win over Enniskillen in the last round.
Ballynahinch seconds suffered their first defeat of the season when they lost 10 – 8 to neighbours Dromore in the Conference league last Saturday as they pursue City of Armagh seconds for the Conference league 1 title. Winger Aaron Ferris has scored five tries for his team as they progressed to the semi finals including three tries against Enniskillen.
Malone the current McCrea Cup holders are the surprise team in the Junior Cup this season. They are also top of Conference league 2.
Ballynahinch seconds have defeated Larne, Instonians and Enniskillen on route to the semi finals.
Malone seconds have defeated Grosvenor and Portadown on route to the semi finals.
The success of Malone second xv has been down to the efforts of Davy Heron, Sam McBurney and Harry McMurtry in building on the success achieved by the second xv in winning the McCrea Cup. Can they defeat Ballynahinch seconds. It will require a monumental effort and a bit of luck.
It has been the unsung heroes of the team Connor Kelly, Aaron Mckechnie, Tiarnan Dillon, Tom Dullage, Callum Jeffrey, Bruce Duff, Ryan Spence and Jack Knox who turn out weekly for the seconds who have deserved this success. Well done guys.
Both teams will not be able to complete their selections until Friday when 1st xv team lists are confirmed.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3
Civil Service (11) v Letterkenny (10)
Donaghadee (2) v BHSFP (6)
Holywood (8) v Cavan (9)
Monaghan (40 v Lurgan (1)
Strabane (3) v Newry (7)
Virginia (5) v Donegal Town (12)
Preview compiled by George Millar