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Ballymena and Malone aim for bragging rights

By Michael Sadlier

After their last-minute heroics at Galwegians ensured they became Division 1B's only unbeaten side, Ballymena now turn their attention to hosting Malone at Eaton Park today in what is sure to be a hotly-contested derby clash, the first of two meetings this month as the sides have been drawn together in the semi-final of the Ulster Senior Cup.

The high-flying Braidmen are aiming to stretch their victorious run to six games and Malone know they will be very much up against it despite their own impressive victory over UL Bohemians last Saturday, which was only the Gibson Park side's second win of the campaign.

As with all the Ulster clubs this weekend, neither side has had professional players released to them so there is no Michael McComish nor, indeed, Ricky or John Andrew available for the Braidmen, while Malone are having to make do without Connor Joyce, Bronson Ross and Alan O'Connor who has now served his ban which came in wake of the Ulster game against Glasgow.

Ballymena coach Andy Graham has brought veteran Ian Caldwell into the second row while Matty Rea switches from lock to blindside flanker and Stephen Mulholland moves from flanker to number eight.

Malone have brought in Richard Millar and Phil Eadie up front while Josh Bingham starts at out-half with Josh Pentland moving to inside centre. Double try scorer from last week John Creighton is also starting after shaking off a knock and the visitors' intent is clearly to try and move the ball around.

Belfast Harlequins also tasted victory last weekend, at Shannon, and they entertain Buccaneers seeking back-to-back wins to move them away from the bottom end of the table.

There is no Ricky Lutton this week with Tom Fraser looking likely to be brought into the starting side as tight-head prop while Academy back-rower Frank Taggart is back on duty, though out-half Eamon Lane may miss out with a calf injury.

Up in Division 1A, in-form Ballynahinch are at Young Munster with the Co Down side seeking their third win on the bounce.

Hinch do not have Ruaidhri Murphy, James Simpson, Kyle McCall and Charlie Butterworth with Jonny Simpson, Josh Donaldson and Stuart Orr all coming into the squad.

"If we get parity or dominance up front I'm confident we can come away with another win," said coach Derek Suffern.

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