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Graham is keen for Ballymena to get title bid up and running

 

By Ronnie Ingram

Ballymena can give their SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership title ambitions a major boost with a win against Ballynahinch tomorrow afternoon.

They lost 33-26 against Queen's in a high-scoring opening game, but the two points picked up could prove beneficial in the long run.

Coach Andy Graham said: "We've started slowly in our last two games and, after the setback against the students, won our cup tie at Dungannon on Saturday.

"We showed plenty of determination to come back from a 10-point deficit but conceded a try right at the death, which made the final result of 22-18 look closer than it was.

"Our team is still taking shape as we have a number of injuries and some players are still unavailable.

"We are slowly getting there and optimistic about the season ahead but this game against Hinch will be difficult.

"We played them in a pre-season friendly and will need to be at our best to win. They have recruited well and with an abundance of speed in their backs we need to be fully prepared."

Centre James Beattie sustained a knee injury right at the end of the Dungannon tie, and there is only a 50/50 chance that scrum-half Glen Bailie will have recovered from a hamstring problem.

Second-row forward David Whann is unavailable and is a big loss, but Ballymena have a number of up and coming players who will be given their chance.

Ballynahinch's Director of Rugby Harry McAleese is hopeful of fielding much the same side that defeated holders Armagh.

He said: "We will have to re-jig the back line as both centres will be missing. Calum McLaughlin was concussed against Armagh and Stuart Morrow has sustained a foot injury but the team has not yet been finalised."

Queen's have made an encouraging start with two wins from two in the league and cup, and they meet Banbridge for the second time in eight days.

Having eliminated their opponents from the cup, the squad is being rotated. Half-backs Conor McAuley and Ritchie McMaster - as well as captain David Whitten - are being rested.

Hooker Andrew McGrath comes in, as does Brian Cunningham, who propped for the students two seasons ago. A fit Rory Bell also makes a return in the centre.

Meanwhile, Armagh's Harry Doyle sustained an ankle injury in the cup tie against Bangor but the remainder of the team will be much the same for the visit of Malone.

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