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Four Ulster sides in big battle to avoid relegation

By Michael Sadlier

At this stage of the season the last place you want to be is within range of the bottom of the table but this is precisely where Ulster's four clubs find themselves in their respective divisions.

With most having only two games to play, getting something from this weekend is imperative and, in Division 1A, Ballynahinch need one point from their next two games to absolutely guarantee they dodge the possibility of being overhauled by Garryowen to end up bottom and immediately exit the top flight.

So ninth-placed Hinch host UCD with their sights on getting a result and copper-fastening their position to earn a play-off – at home to the side which ends second in Division 1B – with the outcome determining their survival for a second season in the upper tier.

Though there is still a chance they can escape this by overtaking Dolphin who are currently eight points ahead, realistically the Co Down side are heading towards the play-off, especially as their final game is at Clontarf whose battle with Old Belvedere for the title looks to be going to the wire.

Hinch go into their penultimate game having won their last two AIL outings with bonus points and have the added psychological edge of already having got the better of the students in Dublin.

"It's a possibility that we can escape the play-off, but if we have to go into it we want to be going there off the back of good form," said Hinch coach Derek Suffern.

Hinch should be welcoming back second row James Simpson to AIL action and will have flanker Paul Pritchard back in their squad while David McIlwaine, Kyle McCall and Jonny Murphy are all on board for starts.

In Division 1B, the situation is far more fraught as Malone, or even Belfast Harlequins, could find themselves accompanying bottom side Dungannon who, though they have three games left, are surely doomed to the drop into Division 2A.

Sixth-placed Quins – who have lost their last five – head to promotion-chasing Corinthians with the Deramore side a mere four points off the drop zone.

The presence of Neil McComb and Rory Scholes should help, though Quins may be missing regular place-kicker Liam Cambridge who has a thumb injury.

Malone are in much more danger and desperately need a win at Shannon in their bid to escape ninth position.

Dungannon host already promoted Terenure College and a defeat to the still unbeaten Dublin side will send Paddy Johns' side down.

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