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Ballynahinch must be fantastic on the plastic pitch

By Michael Sadlier

Quite the challenge awaits for Ballynahinch on their return to AIL action as they not only take on Division 1A leaders Lansdowne but also have to deal with the Dublin side's artificial pitch at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2.00pm).

And as if things aren't difficult enough for fifth-placed Hinch, they also head south having yet to win away from their Ballymacarn Park fortress where the Co Down side saw off Cork Constitution 34-13 last time out at the start of the month.

Still, Derek Suffern's squad travel fuelled by a belief that they can get a result to keep pushing for a possible top four finish and Hinch should have a strong side out as well with Kyle McCall, John Donnan, James Simpson, Jonny Murphy and Charlie Butterworth all turning out up front.

"This is a massive game for us," said Suffern.

"They're going well and rarely lose on their artificial surface. We need to focus on what we've been doing well and trying to get that 'home' mentality working when we are away from home."

Hinch have been training this week on a school's artificial surface in Downpatrick to get a feel for what is coming and are also equipped with the memory of beating Lansdowne 14-10 at Ballymacarn Park back in October.

In Division 1B, Belfast Harlequins are going for a second consecutive AIL win when they hit the road to take on Garryowen.

After looking like near certainties for the drop, the Deramore side have struck back with two bonus point victories from their last three games - over UL Bohemians and Malone - which has seen them rise to seventh though they are still a mere two points off the relegation zone.

Quins expect to have the services of Ulster squad members Neil McComb, Michael Heaney and Rory Scholes again for what looks like a big ask for them at their second-placed hosts.

"We've moved up but we could easily go back to the bottom. We have six games and I think we'll need to win at least three of them," said coach Adam Larkin.

"This is a winnable game and we'll give it a go," he added.

Elsewhere, sixth-placed Malone - who like Quins are on 20 points and perilously close to the basement - host in-form Dublin University and have Connor Joyce, Paul Jackson and Josh Bingham all in the starting side.

Ballymena will be very eager to improve, after slipping to fourth, when they meet struggling UL Bohemians at Eaton Park.

It's a must-win for the Braidmen's promotion ambitions and they are able to call upon Andy Warwick, Ricky and John Andrew and Dave Ryan.

Belfast Telegraph

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