Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship

Division 1

Despite being pushed all the way by Coleraine and CIYMS, Instonians and Ballyclare continue to keep on winning and their clash on 17th February looks like it will be bigger and bigger as the weeks go on. This week will give each one the chance to have an eye on the other as both play their respective games at Shaws Bridge. At the other end Clogher Valley’s defeat at Cooke is seeing them being cast further ashore at the foot at the table.

Cooke v Ballyclare

Cooke hit Clogher Valley for 50 last week but Ballyclare are a totally different animal altogether. The joint leaders have come through some tough battles in the last few weeks and these are the credentials that league champions must possess. It will be another battle on Saturday, but it will also be another Ballyclare win.

Instonians v Enniskillen

Like Ballyclare last week, Instonians were made to work for the victory points last week at Coleraine. No bonus point was gained there but they will be strongly fancied to claim the full five here against ‘Skins’. The Fermanagh side have picked up a few important wins recently and last weeks victory against Carrick will see them travel with confidence, but it’s hard to see past a home win in this one.

CIYMS v Portadown

After beating Enniskillen in a huge bottom of the table clash two weeks ago, Portadown backed this up with a terrific win against Dromore. A last minute Stuart Lamb try giving them a huge win over their rivals. CI have hit form and with other teams lacking consistency, the East Belfast side have taken advantage to climb into third spot. Home advantage should see them edge past a resurgent Portadown.

Carrick v Dromore

A few weeks ago it looked like these two were a shoe in to finish in third and fourth spots to claim All-Ireland cup places, but how times have changed. Carrick have slipped to fifth and are four points off Dromore who have now lost more than they have won. This could well be a fascinating battle at Tom Simm’s Memorial Park that could be decided by a mistake or a moment of brilliance.

Clogher Valley v Coleraine

A huge clash here as the bottom two go head to head. Coleraine have already accounted for the South Tyrone side twice this season, and emphatically too. Clogher did show signs of a possible return to winning ways but the last few weeks have been sore on them. Coleraine pushed Instonians all the way last week and should leave Fivemiletown victorious on Saturday for the second time this season and leave Clogher even more stranded at the bottom.

Division 2

Randalstown remain eight points adrift of leaders Grosvenor and the top two will square off against each other at Gibson Park on Saturday. A win for Gary Longwell’s side will breathe some life into the promotion race while defeat would almost certainly hand the Division 2 title to Grosvenor. Ballymoney’s promotion surge was dented by Academy at Mallusk. Limavady will be glad to see the back of Ards as for the second time in a month the North Down side claimed a last minute win against the Roesiders. At the bottom all eyes will be on the fixture at Coleraine as U.U.C welcome Lisburn in another season defining fixture taking place in Division 2.

Grosvenor v Randalstown

The stakes will be high at Gibson Park as the top two in the division square up to one another for the second time this season. A few weeks back at Neilsbrook Grosvenor shot out of the traps and built up a commanding half time lead. Randalstown did make a fist of it with a rousing second half display but a late try kept the Stags 100% record intact. Randalstown have the firepower to compete up front but it’s out wide where Grosvenor can hurt teams. Both sides have won all games since that mid-December fixture and there shouldn’t be much between them again on Saturday, but with the home team having that bit more fire power to work with, it should be they who take a big step towards automatic promotion.

Limavady v Ballymoney

If Randalstown do slip up Ballymoney will be hot on their heels. Five points separates third from second after Ballymoney’s disappointing showing at Academy last week. They have accounted for Limavady twice this season already, and very convincingly too. The Roesiders seem to have issues closing out tight games as illustrated in their two recent games with Ards. A month ago at Kilraughts, Mark Nicholl’s charges raced into a 12-0 lead in the first quarter and then just stopped and allowed Ballymoney back into the game before recording an easy win. If they can repeat that first quarter showing and the concentration levels stay high, then this has all the makings of a cracking fixture, but with the better pack, this should be an away win for the lads from ‘The Toon’.

Academy v Larne

After last week’s 11-0 home win over Ballymoney, Academy find themselves on the periphery of the promotion race. They entertain a Larne side who find themselves in mid-table and not involved in either the race for promotion or relegation battle. The North East Antrim side are also out of the River Rock Towns Cup so it all points to another home win at Mallusk.

PSNI v Ards

It took Ards some time to adjust in Division 2 after being in free-fall for a number of seasons. They have now steadied the boat and sit comfortably in fifth spot. Another late win shows that there is great fighting spirit in the camp and this should also see them record another win against the hapless PSNI who have struggled for form this year as they have found the step up in league a step too far.

UUC v Lisburn

The PSNI may be hosting Ards at Newfordge, but they will be keen to hear the result of this one come 4pm on Saturday. Lisburn are third from bottom and five clear of their hosts. The students have also played a game less. It’s a difficult one to call as both sides have only won one game this season. Lisburn did show great resolve two weeks against Lurgan when they came from 19-0 down to almost snatch a cup win only for their concentration to let them down in the final minutes. Their pack was instrumental to that second half comeback and if they can get their game going from the first minute and not the fortieth, then maybe we could see the Blaris Blues move away from the relegation zone.

Division 3

With it being a two horse race at the top of the table, there are two big games at the other end of the table as Holywood and Letterkenny look to pull away from the relegation play-off zone.

Donegal Town v Letterkenny

This is one of the rare occasions when Letterkenny will be favourites for an away win. Donegal derby matches are often bruising encounters and this one promises to be no different. Donegal Town may be as good as relegated, but that won’t stop them from giving their all against their local rivals. Coming off the back of two wins Letterkenny know that a positive result here could all but seal their place in Division three for next season.

Holywood v Civil Service

Holywood sit only six points clear of Civil Service as the near neighbours fight to avoid the relegation play-off. Holywood took a real hiding last week at Letterkenny and will be keen to avoid another defeat against a side in close proximity to them in the league. Service has improved of late but they will be up against it at Kerr Park.

Strabane v Donaghadee

These two produced a classic last October at Donaldson Park and Saturday promises to be another closely fought affair. With Strabane now out of the promotion race and one eye on managing players for the Towns & Gordon West Cups, this could maybe be a hugely important win for ‘The Dee’.

Newry v Lurgan

Lurgan bounced back from their defeat to Letterkenny with wins against Lisburn and Donegal Town. Newry continues to be a tough venue for the best teams in Division three but Lurgan should continue their promotion push with another win.

Virginia v Monaghan

Four points separated these teams last October, and four points separate them in the league too. Monaghan’s pack will have to be to the forefront again this week like they were last week in their victory over Strabane. Virginia will take some stopping at home and with it being a derby, they may just raise their game enough to claim a narrow win.

Cavan v BHSFP

After edging past Monaghan three weeks ago Cavan took a bad beating last week at Donaghadee. High School are generally poor travellers and won’t be relishing a trip to Cavan where you expect the home team to gain the win.

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