Quins aiming to take step closer to title triumph
The Ulster Senior League championship could be virtually decided tomorrow afternoon when Dungannon face Belfast Harlequins at Stevenson Park.
Both teams are undefeated after seven games and, with only four remaining, a victory for the Belfast team would make them firm favourites.
They have the easier run-in, with two home games against Banbridge and Instonians and a visit to Armagh whereas, Dungannon still have to face tough opposition in Ballynahinch, a team that has already defeated them 25-21 in the AIL. Their other two games are away to Banbridge and Armagh.
Training has been curtailed during the holiday period and Quins had their first training session last night after a lapse of nine days. In consequence their squad, like Dungannon's, will not be finalised until this morning.
This is the first of three important matches for Dungannon as they face Bruff (H) and Ballymena (A) and if they lose both, their AIL title hopes are gone.
Ballynahinch, lying in third place on 26 points, are seven adrift of Quins and eight in arrears of Dungannon and out of contention. Following their 49-7 defeat of Ards on Tuesday they will be stronger for the trip to Malone where the home team will be without the holidaying Luca Fiireto.
Jacques Benade will be giving the opportunity to a few up-and-coming players as he did against City of Derry.
At Judge's Road they lost 25-7 but had only five of their regular team in action. As they would have been without competitive rugby until Jan 28 Malone have now arranged friendlies against Queen's and Banbridge
Instonians make a number of changes for the visit of Banbridge. Captain Paddy Dornan sustained a foot injury so Stephen Ferguson will start. Paddy Bell has ankle ligament problems following the Queen's game so that allows Kenny Morton to come back.
Scrum-half Michael Sargent is in for the injured Rory McCorry and Richard McCarthy makes his first start in place of Rory McCann. Paddy Irwin and Robbie Kirk will play in the centre.
Brian Curran is at lock for Colin Bickerstaff in the Bann line- up. Ryan Patterson is at No 6 for Dale Carson and Andy Brown for Stephen Irwin at 8. Stephen Cowan remains at full-back.
Armagh make just the one alteration for their encounter at Rainey. Phil Hill was not available when they lost to Hinch 22-3 but returns to the second row.
Queen's will be without James Reakie and Ed Scott-Bowden who have returned to England but the students will give most players a run-out, either in their firsts or seconds, in the games with Ards.
City of Derry hope to gain revenge for their closely fought 33-27 Senior Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Ballymena when the two meet at Judge's Road. Derry will be fielding the same squad that overcame Malone.