Belfast Telegraph

Rugby: Crunch time for clubs

Pressure mounts in fixture run-in

By Jim Stokes

ULSTER rugby is on the edge of a precipice.

ULSTER rugby is on the edge of a precipice.

In the main, clubs are hanging on to what they have, regarding All Ireland League stature.

But a slip up here and there could see clubs spiral into the nether regions.

Only Division Three unbeaten pace-setters Portadown are on a major roll and look set to promote themselves to a higher level for next season when they entertain North.

As for the rest, the majority are fighting for survival in their respective corners.

In Division One, Ballymena need victory over Lansdowne at Eaton Park to keep their top four play-off interests alive, while both Malone and Instonians need victories from their respective Division Two encounters with Greystones and Buccaneers to help alleviate relegation fears _ for the time being.

At least Ballynahinch are going in the right direction.

Victory against Trinity tomorrow will keep them on track for a Division Two promotion play-off slot. Their final game is against Queen's University who are already destined to drop down to Division Four.

The script for Collegians is also along the same lines.

Two get demoted, so success from their away trip to Corinthians is essential in order for them to avoid automatic relegation.

But even if they win, they will still be engaged in a dog-fight with Suttonians for a play-off against the runners-up in Division Four.

At least Bangor and Omagh are safe in the bottom division _ they play each other at Upritchard Park _ but both a rejuvenated CIYMS and Ards, who face the already-relegated Creggs, and Waterpark respectively at home, still need results to go in their favour to consolidate their present senior status.

But for their part, Ballymena are in dire need to find that commitment and spirit that ear- marked them down as a team likely to wrestle the title away from the Munster parishes.

Three successive defeats has left them just outside the main quartet that are challenging for the honours.

Nelie Smith's side are hopefully back to full strength again with Keith Gallick and Rab Irwin returning to the pack and Derek McAleese, Stanley McDowell and Sheldon Coulter all available again.

'Hopefully we will get back to form again,' said Smith. 'We were in a way fortunate to have no injuries in our earlier run this season. But it is a different story now although we can not use that as an excuse.

Relegation-threatened Dungannon sit this week out, giving Keith Patton and his 'new' assistant Willie Anderson the chance to prepare their troops for their final two games against Old Crescent and Clontarf.

Three teams are automatically relegated while the fourth- bottom side face a home and away play-off with the runners- up of Division Two to see who features in Division One next season.

As for Portadown, they will not have things their own way against fellow Ulster side North who may be safe in mid-table, but would love to put one over their Co Armagh rivals.

However, Portadown have remained unbeaten in their league campaign, and are unlikely to let matters slip in their bid for the Divison Three crown.

Portadown will be looking to their prolific goal-kicker Richard McIlmoyle to edge them to glory and finally seal promotion.

McIlmoyle is the division's top marksman and his return from injury should give them a great boost and see them collect the necessary brace of points.

Belfast Telegraph


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