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Four-way battle to lift Premiership crown

By Ronnie Ingram

The SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership Division 1 title race is set for a mouthwatering conclusion with Banbridge, Ballynahinch, Ballymena and Armagh all locked on 10 points with just two games to play.

The incredible scenario comes after Hinch's 52-14 loss in Armagh and Ballymena's 26-15 bonus-point win over Banbridge.

Of the remaining fixtures, the clash between Hinch and Banbridge on Saturday and the meeting of Ballymena and Armagh in a fortnight will have a large bearing on the title's destination. Malone, meanwhile, have won Division 2 despite having a free afternoon.

Hinch admittedly travelled to Palace Grounds well under strength but a determined home effort resulted in seven tries and a fantastic kicking performance from 19-year-old Cormac Fox, who contributed 17 points with all the conversions and a penalty.

Armagh stormed into a 28-7 interval advantage by which stage they had already secured the bonus point. Ali Birch and John Faloon each scored twice, with the others coming from Timmy McNeice, James Hanna and Phil Matthews.

Hinch netted tries from Chris Orr and John Dickson for Chris Quinn to goal both, but they were well off the pace.

Ballymena's quality ball and superiority in the backs led to their success, even though they trailed 15-14 at the interval at Eaton Park. They dominated the final period and the dogged Bann defence did well to restrict them to two second-half tries.

Ritchie McMaster converted three of the home tries from Mark Foster, Matthew Norris, James Beattie and replacement winger Johnny Rosborough. Laughlin Little kicked a penalty and goaled one of Bann's tries by Peter Cromie and John Porter.

In Division 2, Belfast Harlequins failed to gain a bonus point in a 19-7 win at Rainey so Malone cannot be overtaken.

Queen's had a bonus-point 22-0 victory over Bangor.

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