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Bann wary of buoyant Braidmen in derby

 

By Michael Sadlier

Another weekend of action and this time the Ulster derby meeting which brings together Banbridge and Ballymena takes top billing.

Both come into the game off notable wins even though they are at opposite ends of the table with Bann up in second and the Braidmen propping it all up down in 10th though only four points separate the sides as they prepare for battle at Rifle Park.

Bann won at leaders Naas last weekend to rack-up two victories in a row while Ballymena's thumping 40-22 triumph over St Mary's College ensured that Andy Graham's squad finally broke their duck of wins and points.

Caleb Montgomery, James Hume and Alex Thompson are all thought to be available to Bann coach Simon McKinstry though it is unclear if Schalk Van der Merwe, Jonny Stewart and indeed Ulster benchman Greg Jones are released.

"You can't read much into the table at this stage of the season," said McKinstry of Bann's second place.

"Looking at the league and the results from the first three weeks any team seems to be able to beat anyone, so home form seems vitally important. You'll have to win your home games and try to pick up what you can away.

"Ballymena's tails will be up - they had a massive win against St Mary's last week and we're expecting a really tough encounter," he added.

Ballymena have Jonny Spence in at hooker as John Andrew has not been released while it was unclear if Clive Ross is available.

Marcus Rea and Michael Stronge are in the side, as is out-half Tim Small who scored an impressive 25 points in the win over St Mary's.

"One win doesn't make a season - we have to back it up and Ulster derbies have been an issue for us," said Graham whose side have already lost to Malone."

Ballynahinch face Buccaneers buoyed by having registered their first win of the campaign at Old Belvedere which also brought a try bonus for Brian McLaughlin's squad.

That result along with home advantage against struggling Buccs should give the fifth-placed Co Down side an edge though their visitors did rack up a big win over Old Wesley last weekend and will also be in confident mood.

City of Armagh, who are up in third, are in Dublin at St Mary's College and coach Willie Faloon will be looking for another big display after last Saturday's 32-3 tanking of Malone.

Meanwhile, Malone, who slipped to fourth after being well beaten at Armagh last weekend, will bid to bounce back when they take on Old Belvedere at Gibson Park.

Div 1B: Ballynahinch​ ​v Buccaneers​, Banbridge v Ballymena, Malone v Old Belvo, St Mary's v Armagh

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