Round 8 certainly threw the cat in amongst the pigeons in AIL 1B with the top four sides all losing. This allowed St Mary’s College to leapfrog them all with their bonus point win against Banbridge. At the moment only five points separate the top six sides.

It got equally close at the bottom of the league as Ballymen’s win, against Ballynahinch, put them level on points with Buccaneers at the bottom of the table and now only five points separate the bottom four sides.

As we go into the final round of the competition before the Christmas break, it would be fair to say that every team has something to play for.

AIL 1B Current Standings after Round 8.

Team P W D L F A Diff TB LB Pt
St Mary’s College 8 5 0 3 205 172 33 4 1 25
Malone 8 5 0 3 170 130 40 2 1 23
Naas 8 4 0 4 177 148 29 4 2 22
City of Armagh 8 4 1 3 133 112 21 1 2 21
Banbridge 8 4 0 4 158 133 25 2 2 20
Ballynahinch 8 4 1 3 168 161 7 2 0 20
Old Wesley 8 4 1 3 142 161 -19 1 0 19
Old Belvedere 8 3 1 4 139 185 -46 2 1 17
Buccaneers 8 2 0 6 174 202 -28 3 3 14
Ballymena 8 3 0 5 126 188 -62 2 0 14

We’ll have a full review of scorer stats on a team by team basis after Week 9 so we’ll get straight to the fixtures for the coming weekend.  All matches taking place on Saturday 15th December.

14:30 Ballynahinch v Malone Ballymacarn Park
14:30 Banbridge v City of Armagh Rifle Park
14:30 Buccaneers v Ballymena Dubarry Park
14:30 Naas v Old Belvedere Fournaughts
14:30 Old Wesley v St Mary’s College Donnybrook

Ballynahinch v Malone

Current Form
Ballynahinch (6) WB L W W L 52%
Malone (2) WB W WB L LB 60%

Neither side will be overly happy with their current run of form and Malone will be particularly disappointed that they didn’t consolidate their lead at the top of the table over the last two weekends after their big win against Naas.

Hinch should have Zack McCall,  Tom O’Hagan, Pete Nelson and Iwan Hughes this week, and possibly Kyle McCall depending on Friday night usage.  Nelson has improved their kicking percentages over the last three weeks but Hinch may be relying on his golden boot too much as their tries per game has dropped significantly in the same period.

Malone are able to call on Ross Kane, Adam McBurney, Joe Dunleavy and Matty Dalton up front and Graham Curtis is available at scrum half if required. The Red Soxs will also be looking to up their try count after a dull game against Old Wesley last week.

Despite the teams being four places apart there is not much between them and, despite Malone having won one more game this season,  they are both on a similar run of form.

The forecast for Saturday is wet and windy so chances may be few and far between. It might just come down to a kicking contest between Hinch’s Nelson and Malone’s Rory Campbell, with Nelson having the more reliable boot.

Banbridge v City of Armagh

Current Form
Banbridge (5) WB LB LB W L 44%
City of Armagh (4) L W W LB W 52%

Armagh will be delighted to be travelling to this game as marginal favourites but fully aware that any trip to Rifle Park is going to be a difficult one.

The Orchard County side are on a comparatively good run and, while not spectacular, they have been steadily accumulating points and will have gained a lot of belief following their second half fight back against Buccs, two weeks ago, which they built on with a home win against Naas last week.

Bann, on the other hand, will be wondering how their season unravelled so quickly in recent weeks and they’ll be particularly disappointed with a limp performance against St Mary’s College last weekend. However they are well bolstered this weekend with Rob Lyttle, Caleb Montgomery, Greg Jones, Jonny Stewart, David McCann and Alex Thompson all available and they will be looking to make a statement.

The weather may be the big leveller here as the hard working Armagh face the “star studded” Bann and, for all their undoubted tallents, Bann’s “big boys” are going to have to get down and dirty if they are going to stop their visitors adding another scalp to their increasingly impressive season.

Buccaneers v Ballymena

Current Form
Buccaneers (9) LB LB LBB W LB 36%
Ballymena (10) L L L WB W 36%

The weather is going to be equally nasty in Athlone, but it won’t matter to these two sides as this was always going to be a bottom of the table dog fight with neither side wanting to go into the festive season at the bottom of the table.

Ballymena are bolstered by the availability of Clive Ross, Azur Allison, Bruce Houston, Marcus Rea and Robert Baloucoune and they will fancy their chances of making it three in a row, particularly after their win against Hinch last weekend.

As we’ve said a few times before, the colossal boot of Luke Carty will keep the home team in the hunt and they won’t cough up a game easily, their last three losses are by a total of 4 points.

However, Ballymena have the equally reliable boot of Tim Small. This one is going to be won by the team that makes the fewest mistakes.

Naas v Old Belvedere

Current Form
Naas (3) WB WB L L LB 44%
Old Belvedere (8) L WB LB L W 36%

It’s been a disastrous three weeks for formerly high flying Naas though the topsy turvey nature of this league means they have only slipped to third place despite three losses on the bounce.

However, one of the few things we’ve been able to rely on this season is the poor form of Old Belvedere outside the confines of D4, they have not travelled well.

It should be an opportunity for Naas to get their season back on track.

Old Wesley v St Mary’s College

Current Form
Old Wesley (7) L W WB L W 52%
St Mary’s College (1) WB L WB W WB 76%

St Mary’s go into this one as the form team in the league and they will be keen to showcase thier high scoring form on the artificial surface at Donnybrook on Saturday. They have threats all over the pitch, with the largest number of individual scorers, by some margin, and their pack has chipped in with four penalty tries in recent weeks.

Wesley are on decent form themselves, however they are one of the few teams that have shown better form away from home. Indeed with St Mary’s scoring 70% more tries than Wesley this season the home side may be wishing they were playing this one on an old fashioned mud heap.

Can’t see beyond Mary’s for this one.

#SUFTUM