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Ulster derby can launch safety bid

By Michael Sadlier

It's another derby weekend except that this time both teams involved possess that creeping sense of unease familiar to all sides eking out an existence at the wrong end of the Division 1B table.

Admittedly, Malone's need for victory is not quite as intense as that felt by Belfast Harlequins with the Deramore side bottom of the table and knowing they simply have to start winning as many of their remaining seven games as possible to rescue themselves.

Quins are currently four points adrift of overhauling Corinthians who are hanging on in the safety zone so today represents must-win territory for them particularly so as they are at home and chasing the double over their rivals from the Cregagh Road.

Coach Adam Larkin was expecting to have Michael Heaney, Rory Scholes and Ricky Lutton all released for this crunch match with the latter's involvement ruling out the availability of Neil McComb.

Despite their position in the table, Quins will go into this one feeling reasonably confident even though they failed to follow up their bonus point home win over UL Bohemians at Ballymena last Saturday, surrendering a 13-3 lead to lose 17-13 and take home a still valuable losing bonus point.

Malone's victory over Corinthians last weekend was certainly timely for Jacques Benade's squad and saw them rise to sixth after amassing 20 points but they are still only five better off than Quins and just three from UL Bohemians who are also in the relegation zone at second from bottom.

The visitors have Connor Joyce for this crucial tussle and Paul Jackson also starts.

Second-placed Ballymena are on the road at Dublin University and with the students, who are in fourth, also chasing possible promotion this should also be a fairly tense occasion as they both bid to keep the pressure on faltering leaders Galwegians.

Mike McComish has been released by Ulster and will skipper the side from number eight while the backline will again feature Ricky Andrew and Dave Shanahan.

In Division 1A, sixth-placed Ballynahinch host Cork Constitution with a very similar side to the one which lost last weekend at UCD, but managed a losing bonus, and the Co Down men will be aiming to continue their unbeaten record at home.

John Madden is in the back row for David McGuigan who benches while Chris Napier is likely to be brought in to the second row after John Donnan was withdrawn due to illness.

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