HOW SAFE IS THE GAME OF RUGBY
Like everybody else in Rugby we are all alarmed to learn that four players have now died in France this season from injuries sustained playing Rugby union. Readers of this preview will be aware of the mounting injury toll that the game sustains each week. We keep our fingers crossed that the deaths in France are not replicated here. What steps are the Governing Body of the Sport taking to reduce such incidents. The players are bigger, stronger and fitter with the resulting collisions in the Sport exacting an increase in more serious injuries that can be potentially life changing for the individual player. It appears to have become a 'Gladiatorial' contest in an 'arena' between players and replacements to see who is left standing at the end of 80 mins. Why are we allowing this to happen. What role are the Strength and Conditioning programmes playing in increasing injuries. Do the players think because they are bigger and stronger they will be immune to injury. If anything such conditioning is increasing the likelihood of injuries because of the nature of the increased physical contact in collisions. The tackle area and the breakdown remain the most contentious areas. We have all witnessed the inconsistencies in penalising foul play in these areas by match officials at all levels.
Last weekend in an underage match I learned that one team picked up five injuries. Two players suffered fractured arms that required plates installed. Another fractured fingers with another player requiring multiple stitches in a head wound with a fifth player treated for concussion. Would I be wrong to say most teams don't pick up 3/4 injuries each week.
It is the increasing severity of the injuries that is causing concern. Dungannon back row forward Jonah Mau'u injured his arm in his final appearance for the 1st xv at Bangor in the Ulster Premiership league on the 22nd December before returning to New Zealand on the 23rd December. He then discovered that the arm was fractured and required a plate to be installed that will prevent him playing rugby for 12 months.
So who has the responsibility to make the game safer. Is it the Governing Body of the Sport. Does it come down to the Coaches and Players along with the match officials to ensure the games 'culture' changes to provide a safer environment on the pitch. We cannot continue to bury our head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. Action is required to address the areas that increase the likelihood of injuries occurring. We all know that rugby is a physical game by its very nature. It is the future generations and their parents that we have to convince that the game is safe for them to play and take part in.
Is it the case that in Ulster we play too much rugby. Should we play games in blocks with rest periods built in to allow tired and fatigued bodies time to recover. Again this applies right across all levels of rugby in the Province. Should we have shorter seasons with longer rest periods to allow players to recharge their bodies. Such changes would facilitate a longer pre season programme to prepare players for the new season. I would go as far to describe the current season template as attritional for players and coaches. In Ulster we are not prepared to review the 'Status Quo' that I am told has serviced the Grassroots game for decades in the province. Social media means there is no hiding place to conceal the challenges and changes that are impacting on the future sustainability of the game we all dearly love.
NUTTY KRUST 40TH ANNIVERSAY TOURNAMENT
The draw was made on Wednesday at Portadown RFC by Ulster President Stephen Elliott and Brian Irwin from the sponsors Nutty Krust
Malone v Banbridge. Played Wednesday 20th February
City of Derry v City of Armagh. Played Wednesday 27th February
Enniskillen v Randalstown. Played Wednesday 27th February
Omagh/Dungannon v Rainey OB. Played Wednesday 13th March
Semi Finals will be played on the 26th and 27th March with the Final on the 10th April.
All matches will be played at Chambers Park the home of Portadown RFC.
ALL IRELAND BATEMAN CUP
Congratulations to City of Armagh 1st xv on reaching the Final of the All Ireland Senior Cup where they will play Limericjk side Garryowen.
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE
After a four week break it is back to league action in Round 10 of the All Ireland league. For the twelve Ulster teams there is so much at stake for the teams as they fight for promotion and to avoid relegation. In Div 1B remarkedly only four points separate the top eight teams after nine rounds with any one of the five Ulster teams capable of finishing in the top four. A losing run of games can quickly have them battling to avoid relegation. In Div 2A Queens University can finish in the top four. They have to be mindful a poor run of results could have fighting to avoid relegation. In Div 2B Rainey OB have turned around their season after a slow start to move up into 3rd place as they target the playoffs once again this season. The story is not so promising for Belfast Harlequins and Dungannon both former Section One clubs who find themselves propping up the Division. In Div 2C Omagh would appear to be favourites to be in the promotion mix and the playoffs. Bangor need a strong start to 2019 to put themselves amongst the promotion contenders. Paul O'Kane and his City of Derry players have much work to do to keep their place in the All Ireland league.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Any one who was present at Shawsbridge last Friday night could only praise both Instonians and Dromore for the monumental effort they both put into this game in front of a very large crowd. It was a delighted Instonians President David Croft who saw his side hold on for a 13 - 5 win. With Ballyclare, Instonians and Dromore all in contention for the league title it could all come down to the games at the Cloughan in March involving Instonians and Dromore to decide the winners. The drama is equally riveting at the bottom end of the table with CIYMS, Coleraine and Enniskillen fighting to keep their place in Div 1. Carrickfergus, Portadown, Cooke and Grosvenor will be targeting 4th and 5th place finish to secure a place in the All Ireland Junior Cup if the league winners are promoted to the All Ireland League. The danger is if City of Derry come down and no Ulster team is promoted we will see two teams relegated from Div one and two. If City of Derry retain their place and the Ulster winners are promoted two teams will be promoted from Div 2. Who says there is no drama in club rugby. So many scenarios with several outcomes. This is why every league point is vital in this league.
In Div two the excitement is just the same with Limavady, Academy, Clogher Valley and Randalstown battling it out for promotion to Div 1. There is plenty of concern for the teams at the bottom end of the table with the potential to see two teams relegated. It will certainly keep the minds of the players and coaches at UUC, Lisburn, Larne and Lurgan focused for the remaining games.
In Div 3 Donaghadee remain undefeated as league leaders as they held on to defeat the PSNI 12 - 10 at Newforge .
RESULTS/TEAMS SATURDAY 12TH JANUARY 2019
ALL IRELAND SENIOR BATEMAN CUP SEMI FINALS
Garryowne 14 Lansdowne 12
City of Armagh 29 Buccaneers 13
City of Armagh team: 1. Paul Mullan, 2. Andrew Smyth, 3. Philip Fletcher, 4. Peter Starrett, 5. Josh McKinley, 6. James Hanna, 7. Robert Whitten (Capt), 8. Neil Faloon, 9. Harry Doyle, 10. Cormac Fox, 11. Ryan Purvis, 12. Johnny Pollock, 13. Evin Crummie, 14. Andrew Willis, 15. Shea O'Brien, 16. Oisin Kiernan, 17. Jonathan Morton, 18. James Morton, 19. Gerard Treanor, 20. Gareth McNeice, 21. Chris Cousens, 22. Matthew Reaney.
Points scorers: Andrew Willis, Evin Crummie, Jonny Morton, Neil Faloon 1 x try each, Cormac Fox 3 x cons and 1 x pen.
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE
MU Barnhall 55 Wanderers 3
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Instonians 13 Dromore 5
Instonians team: 1. John Andress, 2. Conor Gallagher, 3. Alan Whitten, 4. Tom Matthews, 5. Sean Shuttleworth, 6. Massimo Kiri Kiri, 7. Cameron Barr, 8. James Martin, 9. Paul Marshall, 10. Richard McCarthy, 11. Colm Cregan, 12. David Scott (Capt), 13. Matthew Kilpatrick, 14. Donal Maloney, 15. Paddy Bell, 16. Johnny Mooney, 17. Wayne Kelly.
Points scorers: Massimo Kiri Kiri 1 x try, Richard McCarthy 2 x pens.
Dromore team: 1. Justy Savage, 2.Fraser Mulholland, 3. Tom Lyttle, 4. Matthew McMaster, 5. Ross Bingham, 6. Jonny Maguire, 7. Peter Elliott, 8. Ben Heath, 9. TJ Morris, 10. David Lyttle, 11. Andrew Rutledge, 12. Graeme McCandless, 13. Aaron Stewart, 14. Brian McClearn, 15. Adam McDonald, 16. Andrew Black, 17. Adam McGregor.
Points scorers: Graeme McCandless 1 x try
CIYMS 13 Ballyclare 43
CIYMS team: 1. John Kavanagh, 2. Scott McNarry, 3. Timothy Acheson, 4. Cory Tipping, 5. Paddy Aiken (Capt), 6. Scott Dowle, 7. Harry Jenkins, 8. Shane Moffatt, 9. Ruari Meharg, 10. Paddy Beverland, 11. Michael fry, 12. Matthew Kilgore, 13. Nathan Burns, 14. Gareth Peden, 15. Jonny Haldane, 16. Cameron Stewart, 17. Michael Lilly.
Points scorers: Nathan Burns 1 x try, Matthew Kilgore 1 x con and 2 x pens
Ballyclare team: 1. Dean Jones, 2. Jack Black, 3. Al Boyd, 4. Ryan Tweed, 5. Grant Bartley (Capt), 6. Aaron Playfair, 7. Gary Weatherup, 8. Dave Clarke, 9. Andy Eastop, 10. Robbie Reid, 11. Stuart Cusick, 12. Willie Stewart, 13. Gary Clotworthy, 14. Owen Kirk, 15. Niall Lawther, 16. Rory Henderson, 17. Joel McBride.
Points scorers: Gary Clotworthy 2 x tries, Stewart Cusick, Willie Stewart, Gary Weatherup, Owen Kirk 1 x try each, 1 x penalty try + con, Robbie Reid 3 x cons.
Coleraine 12 Cooke 12
Coleraine team: 1. Chris Breadon, 2. Andy McKee, 3. Aidy Nevin, 4. Fergal Wiseman, 5. Simon McLean, 6. Bernard Mullan, 7. R Simpson, 8. David Greatorex, 9. Matty Kennedy, 10. Bruce Kirkpatrick, 11. Stevie Callaghan, 12. Martin Senk, 13. Josh Wiseman, 14. Robin Sidla, 15. Brian Cochrane, 16. Adam Parke, 17. Marek Juzl .
Points scorers: Marek Juzl, Josh Wiseman 1 x try each, Matty Kennedy 1 x con.
Cooke team: 1. Jonathan McClune, 2. Ian Moxen, 3. Russell Hunter, 4. Andrew Quigley, 5. Jonathan Walsh, 6. Josh Harper, 7. Matthew Elliott, 8. Jason Lyons, 9. Ryan Flavelle, 10. Alan Gourley, 11. Andrew Pollock, 12. Kyle Mitchell, 13. Jonathan Backus, 14. Phil wood, 15. Alex Gourley, 16. Declan McClements, 17. Andrew Nelson.
Points scorers: Andy Pollock, Jonathan McClune 1 x try each, Alan Gourley 1 x con.
Enniskillen 8 Carrickfergus 17
Enniskillen team: 1. Gavin Warrington, 2. Ryan Cathcart (Capt), 3. Alan Ferguson, 4. Gavin Parke, 5. James Carleton, 6. Jamie Kelly, 7. Jack Rutledge, 8. Ricky Lee, 9. Matthew Dane, 10. Adam Lendrum, 11. Angus Keys, 12. Nick Finlay, 13. Conor Keys, 14. James Ferguson, 15. Ashley Finlay, 16. Gareth Beatty, 17. Gareth McCoy.
Points scorers: Gavin Parke 1 x try, Nick Finlay 1 x pen.
Carrickfergus team: 1. Gareth McKeown, 2. Alan Whitley, 3. Paul Greenaway, 4. Chris Rodgers, 5. Ian McMenamin, 6. Curtis Rea, 7. Ross Marsden, 8. Ryan McGonigle (Capt), 9. Conor Cambridge, 10. Jack Burton, 11. Ross Crymble, 12. Jonny Sheriff, 13. Fionn McCormick, 14. David Moore, 15. David Carse, 16. Brian Alexander, 17. Adam Gibney.
Points scorers: Jack Burton 1 x try, Fionn McCormick 1 x try, 2 x cons and 1 x pen.
Grosvenor 34 Portadown 26
Grosvenor team: 1. Mark Rainey, 2. Stuart Smyth, 3. Pearce Jamison, 4. Andrew Kelly (Capt), 5. Peter Dawson, 6. Sam Purdon, 7. Conor McKee, 8. Ben Davies, 9. Neil Adams, 10. Adam Skelton, 11. David Egner, 12. Cameron Knell, 13. Peter Davison, 14. Dean Swift, 15. Matty Fitzsimons, 16. Matthew Allen, 17. Taylor Pollock.
Points scorers: Matty Fitzsimons 2 x tries, David Egner, Dean Swift 1 x try each, 1 x penalty try + con, Peter Davison 1 x try and 2 x cons.
Portadown team: 1. Mark Henderson, 2. Robbie Reid, 3. Matthew Davison, 4. Danny Alexander, 5. Matt Stevens, 6. LIoyd Gravitt, 7. Jordan Taylor, 8. Gary Hall, 9. Josh Matchett, 10. Brett Fleck, 11. Jack Orr, 12. Jonny Holden, 13. Mark Adamson, 14. William Holden, 15. Tom Caesar, 16. Aaron McMaster, 17. James Wright.
Points scorers: Matt Stevens, Josh Matchett, Danny Alexander 1 x try each, Mark Adamson 1 x try and 3 x cons.
ULSTER RUGBY PREMIERSHIP 2ND XV LEAGUE
Ballynahinch seconds 36 Ballymena seconds 22
Ballynahinch team: 1. Ben Cullen, 2. Conor Piper, 3. Kelvin Hamilton, 4. Sean Sweeney, 5. Daniel Dawson, 6. Graeme McKitterick, 7. Stuart Elwood, 8. Brian Howard, 9. Lewis Finlay, 10. Matthew Norton (Capt), 11. Jonathan McCoubrey, 12. Ralph Mealiff, 13. George Pringle, 14. Eamon McAnulty, 15. James McBriar, 16. Ricky Gill, 17. Harry McCormick.
Points scorers: Jonny McCoubrey and Graeme McKitterick 2 x tries each, Eamon McAnulty 1 x try, Matthew Norton 4 x cons and 1 x pen
Ballymena team: 1. Andrew Ferguson, 2. James Taggart, 3. Houston Bonnar, 4. Mark Foster, 5. Jonny Browne, 6. Connor White, 7. Matthew Dick (Capt), 8. Inoke Knox, 9. Jack Fleming, 10. Steven Shaw, 11. Jonny Rossborough, 12. Alan Smyth, 13. Sam Millar, 14. Connor Cosgrove, 15. Jack Lewis, 16. Jack Francis, 17. James McClean.
Points scorers: Connor Cosgrove, Jonny Browne, Alan Smyth, Inoke Knox 1 x try each, Sam Millar 1 x con.
Banbridge seconds 5 Omagh seconds 47
Banbridge team: 1. Ross Haughey, 2. Andrew Jackson, 3. James McCrum, 4. Keith Adams, 5. Alex Megaw, 6, John Wilson, 7. Joe McQuade, 8. Ryan Hughes, 9. Aaron Kennedy, 10. Ben Thompson, 11. Chris Patterson, 12. Hugo Harbinson, 13. Ross Cartmill, 14. Ben Cross, 15. Josh Agnew, 16. Matthew Shirlow, 17. Robin Thompson.
Points scorers: Josh Agnew 1 x try.
Omagh team: 1. Nathan Kilfedder, 2. Peter Todd, 3. Ethan McKeown, 4. Jonny Sproule, 5. Richard Harpur, 6. Dean Porter, 7. Jack Mitchell, 8. Matthew Clyde, 9. Eoin Murnaghan, 10. Peter Scott, 11. Ben Scott, 12. Alan Heaney, 13. Dean Kane, 14. Oscar nelson, 15. Ali Beckitt, 16. Glenn McKinley, 17. Matthew Eccles.
Points scorers: Matty Eccles 2 x tries, Jack Mitchell, Matthew Clyde, Dean Kane 1 x try each, Eoin Murnaghan 2 x tries and 6 x cons ( 22 x points).
Malone seconds 18 City of Armagh seconds 28
Malone team: 1. Gary Crawford, 2. Scott Finlay, 3. Seif El Deen, 4. Lee Barlow (Capt), 5. Josh Davidson, 6. Dave Cave, 7. Stuart Doddington, 8. Tom Dullage, 9. Callum Jeffrey, 10. Connor Spence, 11. Mark O'Connor, 12. Ricky McCullough, 13. Andy McConnell, 14. Andy Bryans, 15. Jack Owens, 16. Philip Eadie, 17. Jack Knox.
Points scorers: Andy McConnell, Jack Owens 1 x try each, Mark O'Connor 1 x con and 2 x pens.
City of Armagh team: 1. Eoin O'Hagan, 2. Jack Treanor, 3. Kurtis Sherry, 4. Stephen Morton, 5. Willy Martin, 6. Stuart Hooks, 7. Ryan Morton, 8. Ollie Millar, 9. Trevor Girvan, 10. Andrew Magowan, 11. Stuart Lester, 12. Stewart Megaw, 13. Luke Crozier, 14. Misi Bogitni, 15. Kyle Faloon, 16. Matty Clarke, 17. Simon Carlisle.
Points scorers: Misi Bogitini 2 x tries, Ryan Morton, Ollie Millar, Stuart Lester 1 x try each, Kyle Faloon 1 x pen.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Academy 14 Randalstown 6
Academy team: Chris Nash, 2. Lee Moody, 3. Troy Wilson, 4. Keith Dobbin, 5. Brian Cahill, 6. Jamie Watts, 7. Stewart Martin, 8. Richard Henderson (Capt), 9. David Kenny, 10. Jordan Buchanan, 11. Simon Beattie, 12. Stevie Stewart, 13. Mark Wylie, 14. Jamie Wilson, 15. Chris Cooper, 16. Peter Jackson, 17. Jonny Torrens.
Points scorers: Richard Henderson 1 x try, Chris Cooper 1 x try and 2 x cons.
Randalstown team: 1. Matty McBrien, 2. Scott Stevenson, 3. Gary Hume. 4. Dean McCroary, 5. Scott McClenaghan, 6. Kyle Hetherington, 7. Peter Knowles, 8. David Smith (Capt), 9. Tommy Holland, 10. Martin Connolly, 11. Niall McGlade, 12. Ryan O'Dea, 13. Dan McGlade, 14. Coby Mason, 15. Eoin Letters, 16. Marty O'Neill, 17. Jonny Fullerton.
Points scorers: Martin Connolly 2 x pens.
Ards 9 Limavady 5
Ards team: 1. Andrew Foster (Capt), 2. Paddy Bond, 3. Tom Arthur Donnan, 4. Ross Torney, 5. Gareth McBurney, 6. Danny Patton, 7. Onisi Burekama, 8. Graeme Taylor, 9. Alex Hendrickse, 10. Paul Cox, 11. Mark Banford, 12. Trevor Devlin, 13. Jamie Cardwell, 14. Michael taylor, 15. Aaron May, 16. Matty Kane, 17. Adam McKee.
Points scorers: Paul Cox 3 x pens.
Limavady team: 1. Clive Scott, 2. Luke Montgomery, 3. John McCollum, 4. Daniel Irvine, 5. Michael Rice, 6. Stuart Simpson, 7. Ben Riley, 8. Jonny Lees, 9. Peter Wilson, 10. Gavin Martin, 11. Stewart Roddy, 12. Jody McMurray, 13. Jim McCartney, 14. Robert Lamberton, 15. Matthew Haslett, 16. Jamie Millar, 17. Perry Semple.
Points scorers: Jim McCartney 1 x try
Larne 13 Ballymoney 17
Larne team: 1. Luke Burford, 2. Craig Gibson, 3. Micah Stevenson, 4. Matt Crampsey, 5. Jonny McKinty, 6. Ryan McAllister, 7. Alistair black, 8. Eddie hunter, 9. Ryan Garrett, 10. BJ McFaul, 11. Scott Montgomery, 12. Matthew Agnew, 13. Jonny Ogilby, 14. Anton White, 15. Aaron McBride.
Points scorers: Ryan Garrett 1 x try, 1 x con and 2 x pens.
Ballymoney team: 1. Matthew Blair, 2.Kenny McAneaney, 3. Andrew Browne, 4. Danny Platt, 5. John McFetridge, 6. Timmy Woods, 7. David McKeeman (Capt), 8. Jordan Munnis, 9. Matthew Pollock, 10. John Hyndman, 11. Matthew Bell, 12. Martin Irwin, 13. Connor Creith, 14. Michael Armstrong, 15. James Cleland, 16. Jack Anderson, 17. Lewis Wray.
Points scorers: Martin Irwin, Connor Creith, Matthew Pollock 1 x try each, john Hyndman 1 x con
Lurgan 30 Clogher Valley 36
Lurgan team: 1. Graham Currie, 2. Patrick McVey, 3. Ryan Emerson, 4. Richard Shilliday, 5. Neil Adamson, 6. Sam Longstaff, 7. Ryan Osbourne, 8. Dean Wilson (Capt), 9. Chris Jenks, 10. Dylan Gill, 11. Richard Hull, 12. Jack Wilson, 13. Ben McIIwaine, 14. Ryan Mooney, 15. Stephen Nolan, 16. Lewis Lawson, 17. Chris Clague.
Points scorers: Richard Hull, Ryan Mooney, Ben McIIwaine 1 x try each, Stephen Nolan 3 x cons and 3 x pens (15 x points)
Clogher Valley team: 1. Philip Hopper, 2. Kyle Cobane, 3. Neil Henderson, 4. Eugene McKenna, 5. Michael Treanor, 6. David sharkey, 7. Aaron Dunwoody, 8. Ryan Wilson, 9. Neil Trotter, 10. Paul Armstrong, 11. Dylan Crawford, 12. Reece Smyton, 13. Fleming Agnew, 14. Josh Coulter, 15. Ewan Haire, 16. Josh Fegan, 17. Mark McKenna.
Points scorers: Ryan Wilson, Ewan Haire 2 x tries each, Paul Armstrong 1 x try, 4 x cons and 1 x pen ( 16 x points)
UUC 39 Lisburn 38
UUC team: 1. Linsey McGlaughan, 2. Peter Hugh, 3. Daniel Morgan (Capt), 4. Jake Stevenson, 5. Ryan McKay, 6. Sam McComb, 7. Neil Stewart, 8. Ben Davison, 9. John Allen, 10. David McCluggage, 11. Stephen Logan, 12. Adam Johnston, 13. David Gilkinson, 14. Chris Allen, 15. Hayden Maxwell, 16. Samuel Hetherington, 17. Jack Kilgore.
Points scorers: Stephen Logan 2 x tries, Hayden Maxwell 1 x try, 1 x penalty try + con, 1 x try, 1 x try ( scorers n/k), David McCluggage 3 x cons and 1 x pen
Lisburn team: 1. Jamie Dickson (Capt), 2. Pete Graham, 3. Uate Caquea, 4. Cameron Brough, 5. Andy Barron, 6. Andy Hamilton, 7. Adam Jameson, 8. Noel Hooke, 9. Dinis Manso, 10. Richard McGregor, 11. Conor Gascoigne, 12. Ryan Hill, 13. Craig Walsh, 14. Kitione Doniniqbau, 15. Epi Ratu, 16. Matt Edgar, 17. Craig Lewis.
Points scorers: Conor Gascoigne, Craig Walsh 2 x tries each, Pete Graham 1 x try, Richard McGregor 1 x try and 4 x cons.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
BHSFP 18 Virginia 6
Civil Service 7 Letterkenny 44
Holywood 39 Cavan 17
Monaghan 48 Ophir 0
Newry 39 Strabane 0
PSNI 10 Donaghadee 12
FIXTURES SATURDAY 19TH JANUARY 2019
ALL IRELAND LEAGUE : ROUND 10
Clontarf (3) v Young Munster (8)
Cork Constitution (1) v Terenure College (10)
Garryowen (4) v UCC (9)
Lansdowne(2) v Dublin University (5)
UCD (6) v Shannon (7)
Ballymena (9) v Buccaneers(10)
City of Armagh (20 v Banbridge (7)
Malone (3) v Ballynahinch (4)
Old Belvedere (8) v Naas (5)
St Mary's College (1) v Old Wesley (6)
Ballymena v Buccaneers
Head coach Andy Graham and his players welcome Athlone side Buccaneers to Eaton Park this weekend for the reverse meeting between the two teams in the All Ireland league. Ballymena won the first meeting 27 - 22 at Dubarry Park in Round 9 and will be hoping to maintain their three match unbeaten run that has moved them into 9th place as the team target a top four finish. Four points separate the top eight teams with Ballymena a further three points behind. The Xmas break has allowed the Ballymena coaches to continue developing strength in depth in their squad with the 1st xv retaining their place in Div 1 of the Ulster Premiership league. The squad followed this up by defeating Ballynahinch to secure a place in the First Trust Senior Cup Final. The clubs second xv had a strong finish to their Conference league programme with the team progressing to the second Rd of the River Rock Towns Cup. Coach Andy Graham was disappointed to see the second xv lose their opening second xv league match at Ballynahinch last Sat after drawing 22 - 22 with 10 mins to go. Two handling errors allowed Ballynahinch to score two late tries to win 36 - 22. This Xmas break was all about giving players the opportunity to play on the 1st xv and improve their game against stronger opposition. He was immensely proud of the effort put in by the players in the Senior Cup semi final against Ballynahinch. Again he felt the winning margin should have been greater as the team squandered 2/3 scoring try opportunities. The coach has the attitude of seeing the best in all the players. This is the key to getting the best out of them. It is all about the players adapting to the changes in team selection and being able to play to different game plans depending on the opposition. Examples are when the team play against St Mary's College and Ballynahinch. The game plan is different with players having to adopt a different mindset. Teams change and you have to be aware of these changes with the players able to identify and make the right calls on the pitch.
For the game with Buccaneers winger Johnny McMullan is ruled out with an ankle injury. Hopefully he will be able to train and be available for the Round 11 game with Ballynahinch next week. James Taggart has been sick with a hip injury ruling out Bruce Houston. Ulster releases include Marcus Rea with Clive Ross to be confirmed on Thursday. Both Sub Academy players JJ McKee and Michael Stronge are available with injury ruling out Azur Allison. Glenn Baillie came through the Senior Cup with Ballynahinch and will start from the bench. Winger Jonny Rossborough is unavailable this weekend due to work commitments. Promising young out half Eoin Ritson remains out with a groin strain. Competition for starting places is reflected by the large numbers attending training each week. Others returning from injury include Scott Willoughby and Jack Bolger.
Team this weekend: 1. Nacho Clandero Crespo/Josh Bill, 2. Jonny Spence, 3. Chris Cundell, 4. David Whann, 5. JJ McKee, 6. Conor Smyth, 7. Marcus Rea (Capt), 8. Clive Ross/Stephen Mulholland, 9. Michael Stronge, 10. Timothy Small, 11. Dean Reynolds, 12. Darrell Montgomery, 13. Matthew Norris, 14. Jordan Foster, 15 Rodger McBurney, 16. Nacho Clandero Crespo/Josh Bill, 17. Andrew Ferguson, 18. Clive Ross./ Stephen Mulholland/ Connor White, 19. Glenn Baillie, 20. Alan Smyth/James Wheeler/Jack Lewis.
The Ballymena coach has been delighted by the centre pairing developed over the season by Darrell Montgomery and Matthew Norris that has proved very effective. Darrell has stepped up this season with Matthew showing a lot of potential with both players working hard in training. Rodger McBurney provides leadership from full back along with his attacking threat that opposition teams fear. Timothy Small at out half continues to score crucial tries and kick the points each week for the team.
Andy Graham: The key for the Ballymena players is to be accurate with their game plan against Buccaneers to get a win. It is all about putting distance between themselves and Buccaneers in the bottom half of the table. Buccaneers move the ball well and play a nice brand of rugby . His players need to be physical and accurate with the ball in hand. Lineout and discipline are two areas the coach is looking to see an improvement in. In the last meeting the team suffered two yellow cards and put themselves under pressure. The team need to take confidence from the fact that they are at home this weekend.
City of Armagh v Banbridge
It has been a roller coaster eight weeks without a break for Willy Faloon and his playing squad with Rounds 10 and 11 in the AIL to be played before the team get a break on the 2nd February. Fixtures have involved the squad competing in the AIL, Ulster Premiership league, First Trust Senior Cup and the All Ireland Bateman Cup. On the back of their efforts the team remain the highest placed Ulster team in the All Ireland league. They have qualified for two Cup Finals with the 1st xv hoping to retain the First Trust Senior Cup when they play Ballymena at the Kingspan stadium on Friday the 8th February. The team defeated Buccaneers last Saturday to secure their place in the All Ireland Senior Cup Final against Limerick side Garryowen.
The stats show the team won six from eight games in this period. This weekend they welcome neighbours Banbridge for the return fixture in the AIL. In the Round 9 fixture Armagh staged a dramatic late surge at Rifle Park to win 15 - 14. The team find themselves level on points with St Mary's College at the top of the table.
The focus for coaches Willy Faloon and Chris Parker is building depth in strength to maintain competition for starting places. The second xv retained their Conference league title and have progressed to the second round of the Towns Cup with the second xv starting their second xv league campaign with an impressive 28 - 18 win at Malone.
The success of this playing squad has been built on the commitment of the players to training each week. As Chris Parker put it to me it is that commitment that allows the players to have 3/4 options available to each play on the pitch. Even after their win over Buccaneers on Sat. The players were left in no doubt about the standards required to cut out errors during the match. It is all about the players improving individually as the team continue to move forward. The target for this Armagh team is to come away from every AIL game with league points in this tight league. Saturday was an example where young front row props Paul Mullan and Oisin Kiernan made a big impact on the pitch. Paul Mullan has the ability to play on both sides with Oisin Kiernan getting better with every game he plays in at this level. The bench on Saturday again had a big impact in the second half adding energy to the Armagh play. The coaches are aware of the impact of being able to use 12 rolling substitutions during a match and making full use of it. These two games coming up against Banbridge and Naas can put City of Armagh in a good place in the league. Several players are carrying knocks from the weekend with centre Johnny Pollock requiring a late fitness test to confirm his availability. The coaches are hoping Nigel Simpson will get 80 mins with the seconds in his comeback this week. Prop Daryl Morton continues his return to play protocols after picking up a Head injury. Captain Chris Colvin missed the win over Buccaneers and will return to the team this week. Out half Harry Boyd continues his recovery from injury and is targeting a return to play against Strabane in the Towns Cup on the 2nd February. Hooker Peter Lamb remains unavailable with a hamstring injury. With the club fielding four teams last Saturday the seconds were able to call upon the services of Stuart Hooks, Matty Clarke and Simon Carlisle.
Robert Whitten continues to catch the eye in the back row alongside number 8 Neil Faloon and the hard working James Hanna.
Chris Parker: The players are looking forward to the game with Banbridge at the Palace grounds on Saturday. Once again it is expected to be a physical contest up front. Despite the wet conditions at Rifle Park both teams attempted to play open running rugby with an expected improved forecast this week.
Banbridge Head coach Simon McKinstry was disappointed to see his team let slip a lead against City of Armagh in the Round 9 match to lose 15 - 14 after dominating the game for the opening 65/70 minutes despite having seven Ulster players in their starting team. The difference was the Armagh team played for 80 mins .The block of five games in December was attritional on the players with the players needing a rest. He has welcomed the three week break for the players to recover from knocks for the game this weekend. The team have only won one from their last five AIL games with four points separating the top eight sides with Banbridge only three points ahead of 9th place Ballymena.
Ian Porter, Robin Sinton and Timmy S
avage remain long term injuries with Matthew Laird returning to do some running. There are injury doubts for this week with Josh Cromie and Ben Thompson both undergoing late fitness tests.
Ulster releases include Caleb Montgomery, Greg Jones, James Hume and David McCann with the release of Rob Lyttle to be confirmed on Thursday. No decision has been made on the availability of Connacht hooker Johnny Murphy.
Malone v Ballynahinch
For Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong and his players they will be looking to end a three match losing run in the All Ireland League when Ballynahinch are the visitors to Gibson Park for this return fixture with the two teams having already met twice in the AIL and the Ulster Premiership league on the 15th and 29th December 2018. Ballynahinch were victorious winning the two games 11 - 7 and 21 - 13. The match on the 29th December was a winner take all for the Stevenson Shield with Ballynahinch staging a strong second half performance to win the title. December was a disappointing month for Malone with the team winning only one game from five against Queens University in the Ulster Premiership league. The squad have had a three week break with Jack Owens and Andy Bryans making a welcome return from long term injury to play for the second xv last Saturday against City of Armagh seconds.
Ulster releases this week include Jack Owens, Adam McBurney, Graham Curtis and Joe Dunleavy with injury ruling out Matty Agnew, Matt Dalton and Stewart Moore.
The Malone coach is looking forward to the start of the back nine games in the AIL. Ballynahinch are always a difficult proposition with the coach expecting a tough game. He is delighted to see Jack Owens involved again as he awaits confirmation on Ulster releases and some squad injury updates.
Ballynahinch coach Tom Rock is looking forward to the second half of the AIL season. During the Xmas break the 1st xv returned the Stevenson Shield to the trophy cabinet at Ballymacarn Park after defeating Malone in a title decider. There was also disappointment for the coaches with the team losing their Senior Cup semi final away to Ballymena. The second xv were unable to retain the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup losing out to Dromore in the Final. They have now progressed to the second round of the Towns Cup where they will play Kukri Championship One leaders Ballyclare on the 2nd February. For Tom Rock and the playing squad they face two back to back Ulster derbies in Round 10 and 11 of the AIL. Injuries have accumulated at the club as the physios are kept busy rehabbing players. Second row James Simpson continues his rehab from a knee injury and is expected to be available in the coming weeks. Forwards Conall Boomer, Ollie Loughead and John Donnan are expected to be involved this week after being rested to recover from bumps and bruises. Full back Conor requires surgery on his knee and will not play this season. Rory Butler is recovering from a fractured finger and is expected to be available in the next few weeks. Stuart Morrow has had a reoccurrence of a foot injury and has underwent a scan. Callum McLaughlin has underwent a scan on a leg injury he picked up in the warm up before the Ballymena AIL match. Josh Jordan has returned to straight line running after undergoing surgery on his knee. Winger David Busby is continuing to be managed by Ulster as he continues his rehab from a knee injury. Scrum half Rhys O'Donnell is expected to come into contention this week after picking up a knock against Banbridge in the Ulster Premiership match.
In the absence of their front line centres Ballynahinch have found a new centre pairing in the returning Ross Adair and Robin Harte who have impressed the coaches. The Xmas break has allowed younger players including Paddy Wright and Ryan Wilson to push for regular starting places on the 1st xv with Ryan Wilson making the out half jersey his own in displacing New Zealand out half Hilton Gibbons. Tom Rock has been impressed by the attitude of the young players at the Club with Ryan Wilson having a great skill set and attitude. He works hard and is a tough competitor with no defensive frailties with Hilton Gibbons having to start from the bench in recent matches. He is aware that he has come into a competitive squad and has to fight for a starting place. Hilton is well respected and popular within the club and helps out with the coaching of the Youth teams.
Bradley Luney has been another player to impress spectators at Ballymacarn Park. The Ulster prospect was a standout player in the Ulster Premiership win over Malone along with scrum half Aaron Cairns and bench replacements Clayton Milligan and Campbell Classon to turn the match against Malone. The coaches are hoping to have Bradley involved this week.
Tom Rock: Ballynahinch have a young squad that is quickly developing and maturing into a strong squad moving forward. The fact so few points are separating the teams in the league shows how competitive this league is. These are exciting times to be involved with the team with a lot of teams breathing down on them. The coach is expecting another tight fixture with Malone. His players will travel with respect for the Gibson Park side. It is all about Ballynahinch coming up and showing Malone what they are capable of. He is expecting the game to be competitive, physical and respectful. The challenge is for Ballynahinch to compete and come away with a win.
Ulster releases include Zac McCall with Peter Nelson, Jonny McPhillips and Tom O'Toole to be confirmed on Thursday. Injury rules out Aaron Hall and Jack Regan with Iwan Hughes involved with Ireland Sevens squad. Both Tommy O'Hagan and Kyle McCall are unavailable due to injury.
UL Bohemians (4) v Old Crescent (7). Played Friday 18.1.19. KO 8PM
Blackrock College (8) v Highfield (1)
Navan RFC (3) v Cashel RFC (2)
Nenagh Ormond (9) v Galwegians (10)
Queens University (5) v Dolphin (6)
Queens University v Dolphin
Big second half of the season for Queens coaches Derek Suffern and DJ Creighton as they look to stop their losing run that has seen the 1st xv lose their last five AIL games. Their last win came on the 16th November when they defeated UCD 29 - 24 in the Dudley Cup. Visitors Dolphin defeated the students 13 - 10 at Irish Independent Park in Round 9.
Belfast Harlequins (9) v Sligo (5)
Dungannon (10) v Rainey OB (3)
Galway Corinthians (6) v Wanderers (4)
MU Barnhall (1) v Greystones (2)
Sunday's Well (7) v Skerries (8)
Belfast Harlequins v Sligo
Head coach Nicky Wells will be hoping for a change of fortune in the second half of the season as his team look to move away from 9th place and the playoff position they occupied last season. They lost the corresponding match with Sligo in Round 9 24 - 14 and will be looking to reverse the result when the two teams meet at Deramore Park this week. Two big games coming up against Sligo and Skerries in the next two weeks.
Neal Wilson Belfast Harlequins: The playing squad are looking forward to the second half of the season. A promising start has been derailed by poor results before Xmas. The challenge is defeating Sligo at home on Saturday to build momentum. Injuries rule out Saul Herdman and Mark Glover with Morgan Ellis, Connor Young and Kyle Adams unavailable for selection. Head coach Nicky Wells will welcome back Mark Gribben in the centre alongside Mark Kettyle. In the forwards Captain Danny Annett returns, along with prop James Harrison and back rower Zac Jordan.
The squad had a team meeting at Xmas and are fully focused on moving this Quins team away from 9th place in the league. As Neale Wilson put it - this is a big few weeks coming up for the 1st xv.
Dungannon v Rainey OB
These two teams have already met twice during December in the AIL and the Ulster Premiership league. Rainey won the AIL Round 9 game 29 - 0 at Hatrick Park with Rainey winning 20 - 12 in their second meeting at Stevenson Park. The next four AIL games coming up for Dungannon are against the top four teams Rainey OB, The availability, Wanderers and MU Barnhall. Can Dungannon turn their season around after losing their last six AIL games . In fact this Dungannon team have only won one from eight games in the AIL and Ulster Premiership league. Despite league position head coach Andy Hughes and been pleased with the attitude showed by the players in training. Their attitude is that they will fight to the end to keep their place in Div 2B this season. He believes his squad are better than their results. It is all about turning performances into wins. Injuries rule out James McMahon with Lucca Avelli another 3/4 weeks away from being able to play. Both Sean O'Hagan and Guilhem Lopez are carrying knocks with both expected to be available this week. Two players who have come through to make an impact with the 1st xv are winger Caolan Mulgrew and Adam Evans. Both Peter Nelson and Jonny Patton have been working with Caolan Mulgrew and see a bright future for him at the club. Scrum half Adam Evans has a good skill set and has come through the Royal School Dungannon. The challenge for him is to get fit enough to play Senior Rugby.
Full back Andrew McGregor is fit again with hooker Malcolm Allister returning to the squad this week. The break has helped players to recover from knocks and bruises including David Leyburn and John Buckley along with Mervyn Brown and Conor McGeough. Mark Faloon has returned to full training and will be involved with the 1st xv this week.
Andy Hughes: The challenge for this Dungannon team on Saturday is to get in amongst this Rainey team. He is looking a repeat of the performance his team put in against Rainey in the last 30 mins of their Ulster Premiership meeting. He is just looking the team to perform to their ability.
Rainey OB Head coach John Andrews will be pleased his team are on a six match unbeaten run in the AIL as they look to finish in the top four and make the playoffs . Over the Xmas period the team confirmed their promotion from Div 2 to Div 1 in the Ulster Rugby Premiership and lost a keenly contested Senior Cup semi final away to holders City of Armagh. Captain Paul Pritchard picked up a finger injury in the Armagh match that will rule him out for a couple of weeks. The experienced Timothy Barker will also be unavailable as he targets a return from injury next week. Prop Stephen Rutledge picked up an injury in the Ulster Premiership that will keep him out for a few weeks. Hooker Brad Roberts made his return from injury against Armagh and will start against Dungannon. Both Conor Fitzsimons who was Cup tied and Oisin Quinn who was unavailable for the Armagh game will return to the 1st xv this week for the unlucky Ciaran Devlin and Andrew Browne who will take a place on the bench. Andy Harbinson will come into the back row alongside Charlie Clarke with George Fritz continuing at number 8. Second row Ronan McCusker has returned to the USA.
Rainey OB team: 1. Aidan McSwiggan, 2. Brad Roberts, 3. Kieran Donaghy, 4. John McCusker, 5. Michael McCusker, 6. Andrew Harbinson, 7. Charlie Clarke, 8. George Fritz, 9. Jason Bloomfield, 10. Andrew Magrath, 11. Oisin Quinn, 12. Damien McMurray (Capt), 13 Conor Fitzsimons, 14. Andrew Donaghy, 15. Michael O'Neill, 16.Jack McIntosh, 17. Fintan Quinn, 18. Michael Caithness, 19. Andrew Browne, 20. Scott McLean.
John Andrews is delighted with the competition he has in the front row with Aidan McSwiggan, Kieran Donaghy, Jack McIntosh, Fintan Quinn and Stephen Rutledge all competing for starting places on the 1st xv. The return of Brad Roberts has been timely with George Fritz making a big impact from number 8. With Mattie Millar, Timmy Barker and Paul Pritchard to return there is a good balance in the squad.
The coach is not underestimating the challenge Dungannon will present for his team at Stevenson Park. They run both MU Barnhall and Greystones at home and should have won both games. He also believes this Dungannon squad have the ability to move up the table. They are fighting for points and are close to getting them.
Malahide (5) v Seapoint (10). Played Friday 18.1.19. KO 8PM
Thomond (9) v Bruff (3). Played Friday 18.1.19. KO 8PM
Ballina (1) v City of Derry (8)
Midleton (2) v Tullamore (7)
Omagh (4) v Bangor (6)
Ballina v City of Derry
Head coach Paul O'Kane takes his City of Derry team to face league leaders Ballina at Hefferan Park in the knowledge they need to pick up league points to move away from the lower reaches of this league. Their task will not be easy as they face the top two sides Ballina and Midleton in Round 10 and 11. When the two teams met at the Craig Thompson Stadium in Round 9 Ballina won 26 - 7. They have lost their last four AIL games to make it six defeats in a row in the AIL and Ulster Rugby Premiership.
Paul O'Kane City of Derry: The squad will be much the same although they will be without scrum half Simon Logue who will be a big loss to the team. The coach does welcome back Conor McMenamin and Adam Bratton in the forwards. On the bench they will add Ulster clubs under 18 scrum half Rory Maginty to their match day squad. The former Letterkenny player has signed for City of Derry after turning 18 years old.
City of Derry squad for Ballina: 1. James Hamilton, 2. David Ferguson, 3. Sam Duffy, 4. Adam Bratton, 5. Gerard Doherty, 6. Conor McMenamin, 7. Chris Lamberton, 8. Stephen Corr, 9. Philip Duffy, 10. Alex McDonnell, 11. Colin Campbell, 12. Thomas Cole, 13. David Lapsley, 14. David Graham, 15. James Perry, 16. Ross Harkin, 17. Paddy Owens, 18. Craig Huey, 19. Matthew Orr, 20.Rory Maginty.
Tough couple of weeks coming up for City of Derry with games against the top two teams Ballina and Midleton. The squad feel they can compete with the teams in this league having played the first nine games. The key for the team is learning
from their mistakes and punishing sides when they are on top. The players have to reverse what teams are doing to them.
Omagh v Bangor
Head coach Philip Marshall will be wary of the threat Bangor pose to the ambitions of this Omagh side to secure promotion this season. The two teams have already met twice in December in the AIL and the Ulster Premiership league with Omagh winning the Round 9 AIL match at Upritchard Park 19 - 13 and the league game at Thomas Mellon Playing Fields 49 - 22. Bangor Head coach Michael Ferguson will also be aware of the importance of this match to his side as they trail Omagh by seven points. Omagh are on a good run of form winning their last four games in the AIL and the Ulster Rugby Premiership. The Xmas break proved fruitful for Omagh with the coaches providing opportunities for players to experience 1st xv rugby.
The Omagh coach will be forced to make a number of changes with back row forward Stuart Allen ruled out with groin and hip issues. Second row Jonny Sproule is unavailable due to work commitments. Prop Richard Smyth pulled up in training last night with a hamstring problem and is doubtful. He is considering bringing in Richard Harpur, Jack Mitchell and Nathan Kilfedder to replace these players. The backline will be strengthened by the return of Ali Beckett for his first AIL game of the season.
The coach is expecting another physical game up front. Winning this game is very important to build momentum going forward in the second half of the season.
Bangor Head coach Michael Ferguson will welcome back Gareth Millar at out half this week after playing a couple of games for the seconds in his comeback. In preparation for this match the squad held a training match with Queens University last Thursday night. The coaches still have a few injury doubts with players fitness to be confirmed on Thursday night.
Bangor team: 1. Philip Whyte, 2. Andrew Shaw, 3. James Leary, 4. Lewis Stevenson, 5. David Caughey, 6. David Bradford (Capt), 7. Jamie Clegg, 8. Curtis Stewart, 9. Liam Preston, 10. Gareth Millar, 11. Mark Widdowson, 12. Adam Alexander, 13. Phil Broderick, 14. Nathan Graham, 15. Declan Maguire. Bench to be chosen from Andrew Jackson, Charlie Clegg, Craig Burton, Michael Ferguson, Desi Fusco and Adam McCusker.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
CIYMS (10) v Carrickfergus (7)
Cooke (5) v Grosvenor (4)
Dromore (3) v Coleraine (9)
Instonians (2) v Enniskillen (8)
Portadown (6) v Ballyclare (1)
CIYMS V Carrickfergus
Big game for both teams at Belmont on Saturday. Carrickfergus secured their second league win of the season at Enniskillen to move up to 17 points in 7th place. CIYMS are still searching for their first league win after a heavy defeat at home to league leaders Ballyclare. The Belmont club now find themselves five points adrift of 9th place Coleraine with seven games remaining. Five of these games are at home with two away. These are the games that coaches Gareth Fry and Darren Barbour will be targeting to keep their team in Div 1.
CIYMS Head coach Gareth Fry is still having to deal with a lot of injuries this week before he selects a team to play Carrickfergus. He felt his team were in the game for 65 minutes against league leaders Ballyclare before conceding 20 points to lose 43 - 13. He remembers how close the game between the two teams was at the Tom Simms Memorial Grounds at the beginning of the season that finished in a 15 - 15 draw. Carrickfergus had a great win at Enniskillen last week and will be difficult opponents for CIYMS this weekend. The coach is looking at this game as an eight pointer for the winners.
CIYMS chairman Tom Andrews has informed me that Fijian prop Freddie Kaylo Joe will require further surgery after dislocating his hip against Grosvenor and fracturing his femur.
New Head coach at Carrickfergus Warren McClean was pleased with the win at Enniskillen with Mullaghmeen being a hard place to get a win. It was a great way to get 2019 off to a winning start. For the game at Enniskillen the coach made a few changes in the pack and shuffled a few backs around in their positions. Players didn't stick to game plan but showed a lot of heart and passion to get a result. Changes in the backs included moving Jack Burton into out half where he played at BRA and using the attacking skills of David Carse at full back. David was a former Carrick Grammar player and is known as a running 10. Both players were very comfortable with their positions at the weekend. The return of Jonny Sheriff in the backs offered that experience and leadership that was missing in this young back line. Both Adam White and Michael Black missed the game on Sat. Adam due to work commitments and Michael due to injury.
Warren McClean will be joined by former Rugby league player Matthew Hadden as his defence and S & C coach. Matthew Hadden will be unable to play for the 1st xv but will be available for the second xv. Johnny Sheriff will help with coaching the backline with Paul Greenaway looking after the scrummaging. The club are using people who will encourage the players to buy into training each week. Carrick were promoted to Div 1 three seasons ago and finished in the top four last season. Warren McClean is aware how tough this league is and the need to prepare the players to be competitive. There is now a belief developing in the playing squad after the coaching changes were made by the club.
The coach is very aware of having staff in place to look after the clubs 2nds, 3rds and 4ths. Former Head coach Neil Hanna is incharge of the 3rd xv that is being used to develop players coming through from the Youth and Schools age groups.
The club continues to have in place a successful Youth structure run by Richard Higgins with teams competing at Under 14, 16 and 18. The ladies Section continues to grow and develop.
The coach is expecting a very difficult game at Belmont on Saturday. As he put it to me CIYMS are not going to ly down . They have been bitten quite hard by recent events and will bounce back. They will weather the storm and put a winning run together. You only have to look at the CI results to see they only lose games by small margins. You will also see them scoring 2/3 tries per match.
Carrickfergus 1st xv are very much in transition whilst CIYMS have a settled side. Selection wise Curtis Rea will follow return to play protocols after picking up a knock at Enniskillen with Ryan Gibson likely to be his replacement. A few other players are carrying bumps and bruises from a very physical game against Enniskillen. The coach is expecting another physical game with CIYMS expected to come at them from the off. The key is for this Carrickfergus team to focus on themselves as they go in search of further league points. Saturday will be about two teams fighting for every league point.
Cooke v Grosvenor
Head coach Colin Atkinson is aware of the importance of these two league games coming up against Grosvenor in the next three weeks. Two wins for either team will support their ambitions to finish in the top four. As Colin described it the squad has a brutal injury list at the minute. Second row Matty Crothers has a torn ACL, Back rower Callum Robinson is out with ankle ligaments, Hooker Curtis Montgomery with a shoulder injury, Centre Phil Cartmill with a shattered Clavical and out half Andrew Hanna with quad issues along with players having work issues at the weekend. Thus making it a frustrating time for the club. On the bright side these absences offer opportunities to other players with selection to be finalised on Thursday night. There is no respite in this league with tough games to play week in week out.
Colin Atkinson also believes that the Ulster Branch need to look at the number of replacements that should be permitted in the league games. He is suggesting a minimum three and a maximum five. This would help no end.
Grosvenor Head coach Robert Ford is looking to build on the teams two opening league wins in 2019 over CIYMS and Portadown. He makes a few changes in the forwards with Willie Rea coming in for Pearce Jamison in the front row with Mark Cartmill replacing Matthew Allen on the bench. In the backs the coach is not expecting any changes with Jonny Farquhar coming in to replace Taylor Pollock on the bench. Grosvenor still have quite a few players unavailable due to injury and work commitments. The coach is expecting a very tough game against Cooke.
Dromore v Coleraine
Head coach Jonny Cullen is retaining the same team that lost out narrowly to Instonians at Shawsbridge last Friday night for the game at home to Coleraine. It is all about the team sticking together and picking up points to maintain their title challenge. Both the players and coaches are really looking forward to the match. No Coleraine team is ever easy to break down and the Dromore coach is expecting a tough game.
Coleraine Head coach Benjy Van Der Byl is still dealing with the aftermath of the early season issues that impacted on Coleraine RFC. It is proving quite a challenge on the playing side. For Benjy it is changing a culture where players did not train. He is having to change that perception. It is all about the players working harder and making improvements. He realises the team are in a dogfight to keep their place in Div 1. The players are doing their best to change their mentality. But again it is proving difficult to change that mindset. At present the coach has 17 first xv players unavailable due to injury. It was a very much weakened team he had to put out against Cooke on Sat to secure a 12 - 12 draw. Once again the team picked up four injuries from two concussions and two players who had to pull up with hamstring issues including Bruce Kirkpatrick and Robin Sidla. One thing Benjy has learned is that you need a squad of up to 50 players to compete at this level with the game having increased in its physicality and teams focusing on the set piece. You need 30 players for your 1st xv and 20/27 for your second xv. Benjy has been involved in a rugby programme with the Czech rugby union to bring players over to the club. This is a country who only started playing rugby three years ago.
The big focus for Benjy as a Community Development Officer is to help improve and build on the clubs Youth structure. They have 27 players in their under 18 squad. But come Saturday you may only have 13 players available due to work commitments at the weekend. He would like to see more Friday night games to keep players involved. His strategy is working with the current under 14s on a three year plan to bring them through to play Adult rugby at the club. Another goal is to improve the standard of coaching at Youth level in the club. Other clubs have former players involved with Benjy relying on the parents to help out.
The focus for his Coleraine squad is to target the home league games coming up against Enniskillen and CIYMS. This weekend it will all be about sending an experimental side to play Dromore. Injuries rule out Gavin Piennar for 6 x weeks with an ankle injury. Josh Christie injured his back in training and is 50/50 to play at Dromore. Keith McKnight is being treated for a blood clot condition. Back rower Brian Hughes has a dislocated shoulder. Cillian Butler is involved in Uni exams and maybe available this week. Centre Jonny Crowe has a fractured hand. Exciting centre/winger Brad Dempster is unavailable due to an ankle injury. Scrum half Matthew Leighton again is out with an ankle injury and is targeting the Enniskillen game for a return. Second row DD McAllister is unavailable due to work. Steven Dickey was sick over Xmas and is targeting the Enniskillen match for a return.
For the Dromore game the coach will put out the best team available . He is looking them to give a good account of themselves and build momentum for the important home games coming up. The key is targeting those matches with Enniskillen, CIYMS and Portadown.
Instonians v Enniskillen
Head coach John Andress is dealing with a few injuries from the hard earned win over Dromore last Friday night. Paddy Bell is another added to the injury list after dislocating his shoulder in the match. Number 8 James Martin remains a doubt with a knee injury otherwise the squad will be along similar lines to the Dromore match.
Enniskillen Head coach Stevie Welsh is again having to deal with a number of injuries from their bruising encounter with Carrickfergus last Saturday. Selection will be made with one eye on the crucial game at Coleraine on Saturday week.
Portadown v Ballyclare
Head coach Stuart Lamb and his players are looking forward to playing league leaders Ballyclare at Chambers Park after playing five league games away from home. They won three and lost two with the latest defeat involving a 34 - 26 loss away to Grosvenor last Saturday. Portadown were in the game until the dying minutes when Grosvenor scored a late try to deny the team a second league point for losing by less than seven after scoring four tries to pick up a valuable league point. The coach will make two changes to his starting xv with James Wright replacing Gary Hall in the back row who drops down to the bench. Brian Forristal starts in place of Josh Matchett at scrum half.
Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever: There will be a few changes in the pack with players returning from injury or unavailability due to work commitments with selection to be finalised on Thursday night. Hooker Matthew Coulter is fit again with Robert Boyd available to challenge Ryan Tweed for a starting place in the second row. The back row is expected to stay the same with Aaron Playfair, Gary Weatherup and Dave Clarke continuing. The coach has been impressed by the form of Dave Clarke on his return from injury. The player is carrying on the form he finished last season on. The backline will involve a similar shape to the last three weeks with nine players making up the starting seven plus one on the bench. Again this selection to be confirmed on Thursday night. Players in contention are Andrew Eastop, Niall Lawther, Robbie Reid, Joel McBride, Willie Stewart, Michael Kirk, Stuart Cusick, Owen Kirk and Gary Clotworthy.
Both the coaches and the players are looking forward to travelling to Portadown. Chambers Park is a nice place to play rugby with this Portadown side scoring a lot of points in recent games. He knows his team will have to be up for the challenge.
ULSTER RUGBY PREMIERSHIP 2ND XV LEAGUE
Ballynahinch seconds (2) v Malone seconds (5)
Banbridge seconds (6) v City of Armagh seconds (3)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Academy (2) v Larne (8)
Ballymoney (5) v Clogher Valley (3)
Lisburn (9) v Limavady (1)
Lurgan (7) v UUC (10)
Randalstown (4) v Ards (6)
Academy v Larne
Head coach Gareth Lynn makes a number of changes from the team that defeated Randalstown 14 - 6 in a tight game. Callum Lyle will be restored to the backline with Jonny Torrens starting in the second row. Stevie Stewart replaces Mark Wylie in the centre with Kyle Gregg returns to the squad after a long absence through injury. Adam Martin comes in for Lee moody who is unavailable.
Larne Head coach Graham Cloke is having to deal with a lengthy injury list. He has added Alistair Black, BJ McFaul, Luke Burford and Jonny Hall to the list from the home defeat to Ballymoney. He is struggling to field a competitive team that could give Academy a decent game. As Graham pointed out last week Academy are the best team they have played in the league. He knows whatever Larne team he selects the players will give it 100%. The game against Ballymoney was very close with the team losing out by four points. Larne were leading with five minutes to go only to concede a late score to lose 17 - 13.
Ballymoney v Clogher Valley
Coach Jonny Hanna is hoping to keep mainly the same team that won at Larne last Saturday. Captain David McKeeman is unavailable with the coaches welcoming back Garvin Bellingham and Daniel Ramage this week. Number 8 Jordan Munnis will undergo a late fitness test after going off at halftime against Larne with a shoulder injury. The coaches are expecting another physical game with Clogher Valley with both teams now familiar with each other after meeting in the league and Towns Cup. The team are at home so the players will be looking to put in a good performance in front of the home support.
David Sharkey: Clogher Valley Squad selection at minute with selection to be finalised on Thursday night. Forwards from Philip Hopper, Kyle Cobane, Neil Henderson, Michael Treanor (Capt), Eugene Mckenna, Aaron Dunwoody, Mark Mckenna, Josh Fegan, Ryan Wilson and David Sharkey. Backs from Mark Ellis, Paul Armstrong, Josh Coulter, Reece Smyton, Fleming, Agnew, Adam Boles and Ewan Haire.
Lisburn v Limavady
Lisburn Head coach Nathan Moore has the task of lifting his team who allowed their 25 point advantage after leading 38- 13 away to the students to slip and lose 39 - 38 in a twelve try thriller. With only two points separating the students and Lisburn every point will be crucial from the remaining games.
Limavady Head coach Graeme Eastwood was left frustrated by his teams defeat at Ards last week. He felt the team had plenty of chances to win the game. Unforced errors let the team down. It wasn't what Ards did , it's what his team didn't do that lost them the game. The squad is working hard with plenty of rugby to be played. The coach is keeping the same squad to travel to Lisburn this week.
Lurgan v UUC
Two teams who will meet at Pollack Park after being involved in two high scoring games last week. Lurgan who lost out to Clogher Valley 36 - 30 and UUC who defeated Lisburn 39 - 38.
Bruce Cornelius Head coach Lurgan RFC: The season has been very positive for the club after the 1st xv secured promotion to Div2. The challenge for the players has been adapting to the physicality in the league and the collisions at the breakdown. An example of that was former Div 1 team Clogher Valley who played Lurgan at Pollack Park last Saturday. They have an experienced pack and provided a real test for the players in the contact area. Every match in the league is physical with the players having to play for 80 mins. Last season you could play for 40/60 mins and have a game wrapped up in Div 3. This season has been totally different experience for the players. The players are enjoying the challenge and have enjoyed their games against Ballymena and Banbridge seconds with both teams containing players with All Ireland League experience. Bruce talked about how unlucky the team has been at home in not defeating teams like Ards, Limavady and Clogher Valley after losing matches by one score. The key has been picking up valuable league points from all these games. The coach knows that his team have much work to do in the second half of the season to keep their place in Div 2. Teams like Lisburn and UUC have always been able to turn around their season and keep their place in the league. For Bruce he has had to work with a smaller playing squad this season that is down 6/7 players on last season due to work commitments and injuries. It has taken a really big effort from the players so far this season and they have done really well.
What has pleased the coach is the quality of player coming out of Lurgan College to play rugby at the Club. Winger Richard Hull is one of those products who has shown his talent by scoring six tries for the team in their last three matches. Another player who excites the coach is prop Ryan Emerson who has turned into a formidable tight head. Despite coming up against an experienced Clogher Valley front row last Saturday the young prop more than held his own. Bruce can see a big future for this young player. Matthew McConaghy is another product from the College making the step up to Adult rugby this season. He has worked so hard in training and has earned the right for a starting place.
For the crucial match with UUC at Pollack Park the coaches make one change with Matthew McConaghy coming into the second row for the unavailable Neil Adamson. It is a big game for both teams with Lurgan rather fortuitous to win the first meeting in Coleraine by 8 - 5 on the 8th December. Normally the pressure is not on his team to win. They will be viewed as favourites for this week. Knowing that the students came back from losing 38 - 13 against Lisburn to win 39 - 38 will remove any complacency in the Lurgan squad.
Jonny Wright UUC: Unfortunately the coaches have been forced to make changes after recording their first league win over Lisburn last Saturday with selection to be finalised on Thursday night.
Randalstown v Ards
These two sides are familiar with each other after Randalstown defeated Ards 22 - 0 in the Towns Cup at Nelisbrook two weeks ago in a bruising encounter. Ards surprised league leaders Limavady at Hamilton Park winning 9 - 5 last Saturday.
Willie Allen Randalstown: He was not surprised by how well Ards did against Limavady last Saturday. They are a big physical side with his players expecting another difficult match this week against them. Like most teams Randalstown have a growing injury list with Ryan O'Dea leg, Coby Mason fractured jaw added from the 14 - 6 defeat at Academy. Two forwards Ian Hume and Scott Stevenson face late fitness tests after picking up knocks in the same match. Selection for Saturday has not been finalised with Jordan Foster replacing Ryan O'Dea with Michael Smith if he has recovered from the flu taking his place at full back. Niall McGlade will replace Coby Mason.
Ards Head coach John West has lost the services of the experienced centre Trevor Devlin with a serious knee injury that will rule him out for the remainder of the season with centre partner Jamie Cardwell facing a late fitness test. Selection to be finalised on Thursday night. The challenge for this Ards team is to back up their win over Limavady at Randalstown to maintain their three match league unbeaten run.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Cavan (1) v Civil Service (10)
Donaghadee (10 v Holywood (3)
Letterkenny (6) v BHSFP (9)
Ophir (12) v PSNI (4)
Strabane (7) v Monaghan (2)
Virginia (8) v Newry (5)
Sorry for the delay in publishing the preview. My battles like so many with the current flu virus have not helped. I would like to thank all the contributors this week to possibly the biggest and most detailed preview I have published to date. What pleases me is the interest being shown in the Domestic game and the crowds that are coming out to support their local community rugby clubs. I know I keep repeating this. Please continue to encourage your friends and families to support the club game. Having witnessed the large crowds at the Instonians v Dromore match and the City of Armagh v Buccaneers game we continue to make progress in promoting the appeal of our wonderful game.