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All change as revamped Ulster League gets under way

By Ronnie Ingram

The Ulster Senior League has undergone a major revamp this season with the introduction of a new format - and even a fresh name.

The new Ulster Championship League divides the 10 AIL Ulster teams into two Sections, decided by last season's final standings.

Section 1 is made up of the top five teams from last year - Ballynahinch, Armagh, Ballymena, City of Derry and Malone - while Section 2 contains Queen's, Belfast Harlequins, Rainey, Banbridge and Dungannon.

The new season kicks-off this evening with a Section 2 clash between Queen's and Banbridge at Upper Malone.

The majority of participants are in favour of the new set-up, with Banbridge coach Daniel Soper content with just four UCL games.

"Previously it was difficult to compete in two competitions, especially in the middle of the season," he said. "The AIL was more important but we attempted to play our best possible team in the league. However, the congestion of fixtures caused problems.

"This meant that two or three games had to be squeezed in at the end of April."

Ballymena are another team that are happy to embrace the change. Their Director of Rugby, Peter McKenzie, feels his players will be glad of the odd week off.

"The new format should suit most clubs as a good run in the Cup as well as the AIL would complicate matters in the old format," he said. "One bonus is that we will be playing the top teams in the province in Section 1 and although we finished third in April, I hope for improvement."

Queen's will not be at their strongest for tonight's encounter. They have a shortage of props and several injuries, including Conor Shiels.

Soper will introduce a number of new players to his Banbridge squad. Scrum-half Lee Steenson and hooker Fraser Mulholland have joined from Dromore while Mike Bentley, who helped Dundalk clinch AIL status last year, comes in as flanker.

Tomorrow: Section 1: Ballymena v Ballynahinch, Malone v Armagh. Section 2: Rainey v Dungannon.

Belfast Telegraph


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