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Ballynahinch and Banbridge going to the wire to claim promotion

 

By Michael Sadlier

With just one point separating the top three sides in 1B, the pressure is mounting and, with just two games to play, leaders Ballynahinch and chasers Banbridge and Shannon are locked in a squabble for the title.

Hinch could win it this weekend - should they manage a bonus point win at Old Wesley while Bann and Shannon are beaten without gathering up bonus points - but the safe money is on the race for automatic promotion going to the last round of games.

Though Hinch are taking on a side in seventh, they are not underestimating their hosts who are fighting to avoid a ninth-place finish while the visitors also must deal with Wesley's artificial surface at Donnybrook.

Coach Brian McLaughlin has Pete Browne, Jack Regan, Peter Nelson and Aaron Cairns all released by Ulster.

"This is a tough one," said Hinch director of rugby Ronnie Duncan.

"They need it, we need it, and it's on their 4G pitch."

"You just forget about it and focus on your systems and not outcomes," adds Duncan of the high stakes.

That notion is echoed by Bann coach Dan Soper, whose third-placed team meet fourth-placed UCC in Cork.

"We'll just focus on our two remaining games starting with this one," said Soper.

"We just have to make sure we do our own job," he added.

With Tom O'Toole starting for Ulster, Eric O'Sullivan comes back into Bann's squad, which includes Greg Jones, for the trip to UCC who are seven back from Soper's team.

Ballymena are facing their own battle to avoid finishing ninth and facing the play-offs for survival.

The Braidmen are also in Cork and take on already relegated Dolphin with Clive Ross, Brett Herron and Ross Kane all on board.

1B: Dolphin v B'mena, Wesley v Hinch, UCC v Bann

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