Ballymena lost again in Div 1B and along with Ballynahinch need one more win from their remaining fixtures to secure their future in this Division.
The story in Section 2 of the All Ireland league is much more encouraging with Banbridge, Malone and Queens Uni in contention for automatic promotion and the playoffs in Div 2A. Sadly Belfast Harlequins will have their relegation confirmed if they lose at home to Blackrock College.
Armagh are locked in a race with Greystones for the Division 2B title. For Dungannon and City of Derry it is all about consolidating their league position in this Division.
Rainey have lost their last two games against Sligo and Navan to drop down to 3rd place with Bangor looking to maintain their mid table position.
In the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship the three Divisions are reaching their conclusion.
In Division 1 Ballyclare upset favourites and league leaders Omagh by winning 21 - 17 at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields to reduce the County Tyrone sides lead to two points with two games remaining. Both 2nd place Ballyclare and 3rd place Instonians meet at the Cloughan this weekend. If the top two teams finish on the same points the league will be decided by the results between the two teams. We have a situation where Ballyclare have defeated Omagh home and away. If both these two teams finish level on points the Div 1 title will go to Ballyclare. If Omagh and Instonians finish level on points Omagh will win the league with Omagh winning the two league games between these two teams. The title is Omagh's to lose. Win their final two games against Cooke and Carrickergus they will win the league.
We have an intriguing match for 4th place involving Portadown and Enniskillen who meet at Chambers Park this weekend.
There is also the contest involving Dromore, Clogher Valley and Cooke to avoid finishing in 9th place and the playoffs with five points separating these teams.
In Div 2 Coleraine will win the league if they win at Grosvenor on Sat with two games remaining. A win for Grosvenor will ensure the race for 2nd place and the playoffs will continue between them and CIYMS. If UUC lose at Academy this week they will finish in 9thplace.
In Div 3 Ballymoney returned the top of the league four points ahead of 2ndplace PSNI with a game in hand.
The outstanding SONI Ulster Premiership match between City of Derry and Dungannon will be played on Saturday the 29th April. The winner will remain in Div 1 and the loser will be relegated to Div 2.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIV 1B: ROUND 15/18
Ballynahinch (5) v Old Wesley (4)
Dolphin (10) v Ballymena (5)
Naas (7) v Shannon (8)
UCC (7) v Buccaneers (1)
UL Bohemians (20 v Galwegians (9)
Ballynahinch v Old Wesley
Talking to Ballynahich Director of Rugby Ronnie Duncan, his team need one win from their remaining five games to secure their place in Division 1B next season. With games coming up against Old Wesley, Shannon, Naas, UL Bohemians and Buccaneers there are no easy fixtures against inform teams with four of them in the top four and Shannon moving up into 8th place. Ballynahinch's match at Naas last Saturday was postponed due to the weather.
Good news on the injury front is that David McGuigan and Richard Reaney are making progress with McGuigan expected to be available in the coming weeks.
Ballynahinch squad 1 - 20. Chris Stevenson, Andrew Harper, Craig Trenier, James Simpson, Stuart Evans, Aaron Hall, Callum Irvine, Mike Graham (Captain), Blane McIIroy, James McBriar, Davy Nicholson, Jordan Gratton, Ryan Wilson, Chris Quinn/Callum McLaughlin, Paddy Wright. Replacements Stuart Orr, Ben Pentland, Brian Howard, Justin Rea, Chris Quinn/Callum McLaughlin.
With both second xv players Ryan Wilson and Paddy Wright being given a further run on the 1st XV, Hinch D o R Ronnie Duncan was pleased by the performance of the 2nd xv in winning 24 - 7 at Carrickfergus in the quarter finals of the River Rock Towns Cup last week with their young front row players including Andrew Weir, Ben Pentland , Ben Cullen and Jonny Blair impressing. These four young front row players are an indication of the playing talent coming through at the club with Cullen in particular one to watch.
When these two teams met in their first meeting on the 8.10.16 at Donnybrook Old Wesley won 35 - 32. Ballynahinch playing form in 2017 is won 2 and lost 2.
Ballymena v Dolphin
Like their County Down neighbours Ballynahinch the same issues are effecting Ballymena with four games remaining. They need one win to be safe in Division 1B next season. Again their form in 2017 has been mixed with the team losing 3, winning 1 and drawing 1. Not the form we expected from Ballymena in the second half of the season. Again their cause was not helped by a 30 - 23 defeat at home to 2nd place UL Bohemians last Saturday.
Injuries and unavailabilities rule out forwards Tony McGuinness, David Whann, James Carson, Willie McKay, Dean Reynolds and Adrian Kirkpatrick with 17 backs unavailable including James Beattie, Jonny Rossborough, Captain Marty Irwin, John Creighton, Jordan Foster, Josh McIIroy, Paddy James and Paul Campbell for this week.
Ballymena squad 1 - 20 Bryan Young, Adam McBurney, Chris Cundell, Mark Foster, Connor Smyth, Adrian Hamilton, Stephen Mulholland, James Gallagher, Glen Baillie, Richie McMaster, Alan Smyth, Daryl Montgomery, Matthew Norris, John Nicholl, Rodger McBurney. Replacements James Taggart, Andrew Ferguson, Russell Blair, Matthew Dick, Chris Smyth.
Work, Injuries and players unavailable to travel for away matches are continuing to impact on the clubs ambition this season with so many trips away to Cork, Limerick and Galway.
The defeat last Saturday against UL Bohemians was down to errors, mistakes and players dropping off tackles. Ballymena had been in the ascendency in the 1st half but failed to close out the game.
The team are aiming for a win in Cork this week. They are aware of the presence of Dolphin Head coach David Corkery and the need for his team to pick up league points. Andy Graham knows it is going to be difficult with the players having to roll their sleeves up and scrap for every point. He is hoping for the win. It ain't going to be easy but the intention of the team is to win.
When these two teams met at Eaton Park on the 8.10.16 Ballymena won 24 - 16.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIV 2A
Banbridge (10 v Malone (4)
Belfast Harlequins (10) v Blackrock College (6)
Cashel RFC (7) v Sunday's Well (8)
Highfield (2) v Galway Corinthians (9)
Queens Uni (5) v Nenagh Ormond (3)
Banbridge v Malone
On paper you would have to say Banbridge are the favourites having won all their matches against Malone over the last two seasons in the UBL. In fact Banbridge have already defeated Malone twice this season. Winning 19 - 13 at Gibson Park on the 8.10.16 in the UBL and 24 - 17 at Rifle Park in the First Trust Senior Cup on the 15.10.16. Banbridge returned to the top of Div 2A last week after lifting a maximum five points from their 27 - 0 win at Belfast Harlequins last Sat. The form of both teams in 2017 is Banbridge won 3 lost 2 after losing their opening two matches. Malone are on an 8 match unbeaten run in the UBL and had their game at Nenagh Ormond postponed last week due to the weather.
Banbridge Head coach Daniel Soper is aware of the importance of the next few weeks with many teams in with a shout of winning the league. Malone are in great form and present a very difficult challenge with a powerful pack and a pacy and exciting backline. However if his team have aspirations to finish at the top of the league they have to win this week.
Selection wise Robin Sinton is ruled out with concussion and Kallan Martin with a hip injury. The coach is awaiting fitness tests on Ian Porter, John Porter, Colin Bickerstaff and Mike Bentley before finalising his squad with Adam Doherty returning from injury.
Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong is aware his players face another tough game at Banbridge on Saturday. They are a good side who are well drilled. It will be a good game with both teams looking forward to the match. Michael Shiels remains on the injured list with squad being finalised on Thursday night.
Again training has been good with pleasing numbers regularly turning up from the 1st and 2nd xv. A lot of the credit has to go to the likes of Davy Heron who puts a huge amount of work into the club for helping to ensure this.
Belfast Harlequins v Blackrock College
Another loss this week will confirm the relegation of Belfast Harlequins to the 4th tier of the UBL next season. In the Ulster derby at home to Banbridge last week Quins conceded five tries in their 27 - 0 defeat. When these two sides met at Stradbrook on the 8.10.16 Blackrock ran out comfortable 34 - 3 winners.
Queens Uni v Nenagh Ormond
Queens Head coach Bob Young welcomes back Jack Milligan and Rory Bell with Connor Young remaining on the injured list.
Unavailabilities will impact on the coaches selection for this crucial game with Nenagh on Saturday. It will be a difficult run in which will at least give the players the opportunity to challenge for a playoff place.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIV 2B
Bective (9) v Wanderers (3)
City of Derry (8) v Greystones (2)
Dungannon (6) v Thomond (10)
MU Barnhall (5) v Armagh (1)
Old Crescent (4) v Skerries (7)
City of Derry v Greystones
When these two sides met at Dr Hickey Park on the 8.10.16 the home side were comfortable 71 - 3 winners. Last Saturday Derry suffered their first defeat in six UBL matches when they lost 20 - 11 at Wanderers. Richard McCarter and his players know they need to pick up further league points with three points separating Bective, Derry and Skerries with four games remaining.
Dungannon v Thomond
Head coach Andrew Hughes felt it was one of the most surreal games his players had been involved last week at Greystones when his Dungannon side lost 39 - 5. His team were totally dominant in all facets of the game in the first 20 minutes only to be 24 points down by the 35th minute. He described it as unfathomable. Three intercept tries and a long range penalty pretty much killed the game as a contest.
His team went on to create chances but you knew it was not going to be your day when you are failing to put away scores that were walk ins.
To top matters Dungannon lost their Captain James McMahon to a bad ankle injury.
Looking forward to this week its about taking the positives from the Greystones game and combining that with the frustration of how his team lost the game and use that as a motivation.
Thomond are fighting for their lives so this is probably the worst time to play them as I am sure they will be coming up highly motivated. The challenge for his Dungannon team is to not get dragged into a dog fight. His players want to enjoy their last few games of the season with no pressure on them.
Armagh v MU Barnhall
Head coach Alex McCloy has a few niggling injuries from their 36 - 10 win at home to Skerries last week. Once again Captain Ali Birch was the star performer as his side went on to score five tries. The coach is expecting his team to be along similar lines to last week. When these two sides met at the Palace grounds on the 8.10.16 Armagh won 52 - 17. Barnhall still harbour ambitions of making the playoffs and will be looking to continue their recent good form. After losing their opening two UBL games in 2017 Armagh have went on to win their last three games.
ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIV 2C
Bangor (6) v Tullamore (4)
Midleton (7) v Boyne (10)
Navan RFC (1) v Kanturk (9)
Seapoint (8) v Rainey OB (30
Sligo (2) v Bruff (5)
Bangor v Tullamore
The North Down side have a six point advantage over 9th place Kanturk with five games remaining. Their match in Cork against Midleton last week was postponed due to the adverse weather. Bangor were due to play Tullamore on the 8.10.16 only for the game to be postponed. When the two sides met again on the 22.10.16 Tullamore ran out convincing 44 - 17 winners. In their last UBL match Bangor gained a creditable 7 - 7 draw with Kanturk at Upritchard Park after losing their opening three games in 2017. Tullamore are in 4th place and chasing a playoff place.
Rainey OB v Seapoint
The Magherfelt side won their opening three UBL games in 2017 only to lose their last two games against the top two sides Navan 12 - 6 and Sligo 17 -13. They are in 3rd place, three points behind 2nd place Sligo and are eight points ahead of 4th place Tullamore who have a game in hand. When these two teams met at Hatrick Park on the 8.10.16 Rainey were comfortable 31 - 0 winners. Seapoint have put a good run together as they move away from the bottom two. Will not be an easy game for Rainey.
ULSTER RUGBY 2ND XV LEAGUE
Banbridge seconds (5) v Belfast Harlequins seconds (6) . Played Friday 10.3.17. kick off 7.30PM. Match conceded by Belfast Harlequins seconds.
Armagh seconds (2) v Ballynahinch seconds (1)
Malone seconds (3) v Ballymena seconds (4)
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 1: ROUND 17/18
Ballyclare (2) v Instonians (3)
Clogher Valley (8) v Carrickfergus (6)
Cooke (7) v Omagh (1)
Portadown (4) v Enniskillen (5)
Dromore (9) v Ards (10)
Ballyclare v Instonians
The league was thrown wide open with Ballyclare winning 21 - 17 at Omagh last week. This weekend we have the two teams in 2nd and 3rd place meeting at the Cloughan. As Ballyclare Head coach Mike McKeever described the match this weekend, it is like a Cup semi final with one game remaining on the 18th March. He is also aware that there is the potential that there is no final for both of these teams. But regardless of the result the league will go down to the final game of the season.
He feels that his Ballyclare squad are peaking at the right time of the season in terms of performances, league form, results and fitness. His team did extremely well to come back from being points down against an Omagh that had shown some serious flare when attempting to run several times from their own 22 area. The coach struggled to pick out any one player as man of the match, but thought his back row collectively had been excellent. The Omagh half backs proved to be the strongest part of their team. It will be good to reflect on the league in a few weeks knowing that we beat Omagh home and away.
Team selection will be finalised on Thursday night with the coach close to playing the same team as previous minus a few players that will be rotated through injury and unavailability.
His players are looking forward to finishing the league season at home with two fixtures against Instonians and Cooke with his team having their fair share of away games this season (6 cup away fixtures) and on that note a well done to the grounds staff and committee for managing the clubs pitches so well, to ensure that Ballyclare had to miss/postpone a fixture, especially for this time of the year.
When these two teams met at Shaws bridge on the 27.8.16 Instonians won 17 - 5.
Clogher Valley v Carrickfergus
Carrick have a ten point advantage on 9th place Dromore and a seven point lead over 8th place Clogher Valley with three games to play. Their league game at home to Portadown last Sat was postponed as they had a rearranged Towns Cup game to play against Ballynahinch seconds, they lost 24 - 7. One win is expected to secure Carrick's place in Div 1 after securing promotion last season. Carrick rested several players last Sat and are expected to travel with a strong team to the Cran.
Clogher Valley have lost their last four league games and find themselves only three points ahead of 9th place Dromore. With three games remaining two certainly /one win should guarantee their place in Div 1 next season.
It has been very much a season of change at the Cran for Clogher Valley with the team reaching the semi finals of the Towns Cup where they will travel to Ballymacarn Park to play Junior Cup holders Ballynahinch seconds. Interesting to note that several new faces including Philip Wilson, Toby McAlpine, Neil Cullen and Tom Mills have come through this season to play on the 1st xv. The Clogher pack will face formidable opponents in the visiting Carrick pack with the home supporters looking to club stalwarts Ryan Wilson and David Sharkey to steer them through on Saturday. Anxious few weeks coming up for the faithful in Fivemiletown. Andy Breen is unavailable with Mark Ellis and PC Falconer taking their place on the bench.
Carrick are expected to include Jake Porter, Jason Wady, Ryan McGonigle, Andy Kinkaid and David McKeen who were rested last week.
When these two sides met at the Tom Simms Memorial park on the 3.9.16 carrick won 17 - 15.
Cooke v Omagh
Head coach Colin Atkinson knows his Cooke team need to pick up one more win as they look to avoid finishing in 9th place and the playoffs. The Shaws bridge team have lost their last two league games and face an Omagh team hurting form their 21 - 17 defeat at home to Ballyclare last week. The defeat reduces their lead to two points with two games remaining. Nothing less than a win will suit the County Tyrone team. Win their last two games against Cooke and Carrick and they will become league champions.
Omagh Head coach Phil Marshall felt his side should have won their game at home to Ballyclare. Some poor decision making in the second half by his players and a controversial yellow card were turning points in the game. He is aware the league is his teams to lose. He agrees they face a difficult away game at Cooke this week. The fact that his team must win will help to focus his players.
For this week out half Lee Murphy and hooker Richard Hemphill are unavailable with the coach welcoming back Neil MacLaine and Adam Stephenson with Adam Pollock taking his place on the bench.
As he put it there are no excuses, its a must win game against a team fighting for the points to ensure safety. He is expecting a hard day at the office.
Portadown v Enniskillen
A couple of weeks ago you would have thought Portadown had 4th place and secured qualification for the All Ireland Junior Cup next season. Suddenly with a couple of wins under their belt Enniskillen have closed the gap on Portadown to two points. A win for Portadown will secure that all important placing. A win for Enniskillen will mean that the rearranged game between Carrick and Portadown on the 25th March could decide that 4th place. Chambers Park on Saturday will ensure we have two teams fighting for the prize that is at stake.
Portadown Head coach Richard Hedley keeps a similar team to the one that defeated Cooke 32 - 18 three weeks ago.. Ryan Muldrew is unavailable and is replaced by Robert McClean. Willie Graham and James Wright return to the second row with Jonny Holden hoping to play his first game since getting injured in October.
The coach acknowledges that the game on Saturday at home to Enniskillen is difficult. He knows a win will give his team 4th place but there won't be much in it.
Enniskillen Head coach William Gibson was happy with the performance of his team in their 22 - 6 win at Ards last Saturday with the players showing control at key times considering the ground conditions. As a team the players are looking to improve the final pass and reading the opposition defence.
He agrees his team have a good chance on Saturday at Portadown if they show the same composure. Portadown have pushed all the top six teams close this year so his players won't be taking them lightly. His team will be focused on concentrating on their own game to get the win.
The coach makes two change swith David Montgomery coming into the centre and Chris Fox taking his place on the bench.
When these two teams met at Mullaghmeen on the 3.9.16 Enniskillen won 25 - 13.
Dromore v Ards
Head coach Jonny Cullen knows his Dromore side have to step up on Saturday against an Ards team that continues to impress. In their 22 - 6 defeat at home to Enniskillen last week they were competitive throughout the eighty minutes. Like many coaches Jonny Cullen is aware that Ards league position does not reflect their performances. He knows they are a hard working team and physical up front. He is looking a performance from his players similar to the wins at home to Omagh and Enniskillen to get the points and move them away from 9th place.
There are no changes to the team that was selected to play Instonians last Friday night with the match falling victim to the weather.
When these two teams met at Hamilton Park on the 17.9.16 Dromore won 15 - 3.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 2: ROUND 16/18
Academy (6) v UUC (9)
Grosvenor (3) v Coleraine (1)
Larne (4) v CIYMS (2)
Limavady (7) v Donaghadee (10)
Randalstown (5) v Lisburn (8)
Academy v UUC
As Academy Head coach Gareth Lynn described it his team need a win after losing their last three league games. They face difficult opponents in a student side who narrowly lost 11 - 5 at CIYMS. When these two sides met in Coleraine , Academy won 35 - 17 on the 17.9.16.
The students have lost their last three games against CIYMS, Coleraine and Randalstown. With seven points separating UUC and 8th Place Lisburn the students have to win on Saturday to avoid finishing in 9th place and the playoffs.
Academy squad for Saturday. 1 - 17 Peter Jackson, Lee Moody, Adam Martin, Keith Dobbin, Graeme Dobbin, Richard Henderson, Clark Cooper, Stewart Martin, David Kenny, Simon Beattie, Norman Carson, Jordan Buchanan, David McCullough, Jamie Wilson, Gavin Braiden, Jonny Allen, and Steven Biggar.
Grosvenor v Coleraine
Head coach Robert Ford is aware this is a game his Grosvenor team must win to remain in pursuit of CIYMS for 2nd place and the playoffs. A win for Coleraine will secure the league title with two games remaining. A lot at stake for both teams at Gibson Park on Sat. For the Grosvenor players it is tough challenge. Coleraine are the best team in the league and it will be a difficult game. Robert Ford and his players are looking to test themselves on Saturday and see if they can cause an upset.
Coleraine can claim the league title this weekend but the Grosvenor players don't really feel any pressure as they know they are the underdogs and just want to go out and play the way they are capable off. The team did not do themselves justice in the first match and are hoping to put that right.
For this weekend Pearce Jamison and Mitchell McComb come back into the team with Sam Purdon taking his place on the bench.
When these two sides met in Coleraine the home side were winners by 39 - 7.
Coleraine Head coach Richard Boyd was delighted with the performance and result against Lisburn last week. He thought his team were more patient with the ball and were really clinical when opportunities came their way.
His players are expecting a tough challenge against an in form Grosvenor side. The coach thought the score flattered his team when they won against Grosvenor earlier in the season. His players will have to be at their best to record another win.
The starting pack should be at full strength with key forward Dijon McCorkell returning to the starting xv following his rest week. James Blair is a doubt after twisting his ankle against Lisburn with the coach giving him every chance to be available for selection.
The backline remains the same as last week with both Bokkie Carstens and Niall Irwin ruled out due to injury. Rory Strang had an impressive game at out half and Mikey Poskitt looks like he is returning to his best form which is a big boost to the squad.
The team will be fully focused on getting another win on the road and securing the league title with two games to go. There is a great buzz about the club at the minute and training numbers have been excellent with both the first and seconds pushing for promotion.
Larne v CIYMS
Another important game for CI Head coach Gareth Fry and his players. Win their three remaining league games and they will finish in 2nd place and the playoffs.
For Larne Head coach Laurence Kelly he is faced with a selection dilemma. With several players unavailable and the seconds competing in a Cup semi final he will not be able to field as strong a team as last week when they lost 20 - 16 at Randalstown. The coach is expecting a very physical game with his players needing to step up.
In the match at Randalstown his team made two poor decisions in the first half to give Randalstown the lead. Despite opportunities in the second half the team could not convert these kickable opportunities into points.
CIYMS Head coach Gareth Fry was not surprised by the performance UUC put up last week at Belmont. They were strong in both attack and defence. He found it hard to believe they are in the relegation zone.
His players are looking forward to the game at Larne. It is a difficult venue to play at. He has a few niggling injuries with selection being finalised on Thursday. The objective for his players is to keep winning.
When these two teams met at Belmont on the 8.10.16 CIYMS won 67 - 14.
Limavady v Donaghadee
Head coach Mark Nicholl and his players will not be under estimating Donaghadee on Saturday. Despite the North Down club having a difficult season, Limavady RFC appreciate the hard work Paul Blewitt has put into his team and the club this season.
Limavady are a young team who have learned that talent alone will not win matches unless hard work comes with it on the training park. Davy Houston and Sam Mackey are available for selection this week with Stuart Houston unavailable for the rest of the season with an injury. Matthew Haslett also misses out as he is away skiing.
When these two teams met at Donaldson Park on the 24.9.16 Limavady won 39 - 12.
Randalstown v Lisburn
Head coach Gary Longwell will be pleased his Randalstown team have shown some form in recent weeks on the back of wins over UUC and Larne. They have moved into 5th place where three points separate Larne, Randalstown, Academy and Limavady in the mid table contest to finish in 4th place. Lisburn all but look safe in Div 2 for next season. If UUC win at Academy and Lisburn don't pick up points this week the gap between Lisburn and UUC could be reduced to 2/3 points with the students at home to Limavady in their final league match. Lisburn have lost their last two league games.
When these two teams met at Blaris on the 24.9.16 Randalstown won 28 - 0.
KUKRI ULSTER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV 3: ROUND 20/22
BHSFP (9) v Lurgan (3)
Holywood (7) v PSNI (2)
Monaghan (11) v Ballymoney (1)
Ophir (12) v Cavan (10)
Strabane (4) v Newry (5)
Virginia (8) v Letterkenny (6)