The Kukri Ulster Rugby Championships continue over the festive period giving many of us a family day out at our local club and a chance to catch up with friends and family who have returned for the holidays.
Previous years would’ve seen local derbies taking over the fixture list, but the ever changing face of rugby has seen the Saturday between Christmas and New Year turn into just another Saturday in the fixture calendar.
Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division One
Ballyclare opened up a six point lead at the top of Division One of the Kukri Rugby Championship following a fifteenth point win over Carrick on St Stephen’s Day. An early Gary Clotworthy try was followed by some excellent goal kicking from Robert Smith as the league leaders accounted for Carrick in front of a large crowd at The Cloughan on an 18-3 scoreline.
It’s up to Instonians now to keep the pressure on the league leaders. They take on fellow Shaws Bridge tenants Cooke on Saturday afternoon. Cooke have struggled for consistency this season and it will be the Inst Old Boys who will start this one as strong favourites.
Just when it looked like Clogher Valley had turned their season with a win over Carrick, their battle to survive in Division One nose dived in their next fixture. A whopping 31-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Enniskillen means every point they pick up is precious and every game is a must win one. Dromore will be looking to consolidate their current third place standing and an All-Ireland cup spot as well as preparing for a serious tilt at the Towns Cup, and an away day success in South Tyrone should be the outcome in this tie.
Last season in Division Two Coleraine and CIYMS went head to head and it was the Bannsiders who won the battle to claim top spot in the league. At Mount Sandal this Saturday they go head to head again. Both sides will be happy with their current standings at the halfway point of the season and a home win for Coleraine will see them join CI on 20 points in mid-table and clear of any relegation fears.
Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division Two
Ards got out of jail last week at Limavady. A last minute try robbing the Roesiders of a much needed and deserved victory. They welcome bottom of the table UUC to North Down. The students are struggling for form and normally at this festive time of the year struggle to have their full squad available. This could well be a long fruitless journey for the students.
The Coleraine University club will also have one eye on the game at Newforge. Three points separate ninth placed PSNI and Limavady who occupy eight spot. The PSNI have struggled for form all year as they have tried to adapt to life in division Two after some many years in Division Three. Limavady have had a few close games this season where the result could’ve gone in their favour rather than against them. Looking back at their games against UUC, Ards and Lisburn causes much frustration as a lack of killer instinct saw three possible wins become three defeats. Last weeks win over Malone 2nds should provide the confidence boost to get a much needed win against their fellow strugglers as they look to pull away from the relegation zone.
Randalstown almost staged the fight back of the season so far two weeks ago against leaders Grosvenor. They host Larne at Neillsbrook giving them the chance to get back level with second placed Ballymoney. Larne are coming back off a disappointing home performance against Academy and will not relish coming up against promotion chasing Town. A home bonus point win will see them move one clear of inactive Ballymoney, and that just might happen.
Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division Three
Forty five points separate Letterkenny and Lurgan and these two clash at Dave Gallacher Park in County Donegal on Saturday. A few weeks ago second placed Donaghadee just about left the North-West with a win after a bruising encounter and the unbeaten league leaders can expect to face a similar battle. After many years of threatening a promotion challenge Lurgan have now brought consistency to their game and are picking up points where in the past they would’ve failed. Letterkenny on the other hand are battling with Civil Service to avoid the relegation play-off spot. As always, the Letterkenny side that takes to the field at home always seems to be completely different from the one that travels. If the ‘real’ home team turns up, then this could be an interesting tussle.
It’s South Down v North Down at Telford Park where Newry host Donaghadee. The Dee with just that one setback this season trail Lurgan by two points, so it’s important that they don’t take their eye off the ball until they clash again. They should be too strong for their hosts in this one.
Despite a mini injury crisis Strabane should account for Civil Service while home advantage might see a rare win for Holywood over Virginia.
BHSFP face a long trip to play Donegal Town. Their poor away record meaning that this one may be closer than everyone might think it will be.
Sparks always fly when teams from Cavan and Monaghan clash and it’s likely to be no different this Saturday when Cavan host Monaghan at Swellan Park. The Cavan lads will be disappointed that they haven’t kicked on following their Gordon West Cup success last season, while Monaghan sit fourth just three points behind Strabane. As ever in a derby clash, the form book goes out the window as back in November Cavan travelled to Monaghan and won a tight affair by 10-8. A large holiday crowd should expect a similarly close contest.