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Malone and Hinch set up title decider

 

By Ronnie Ingram

The SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership title will be decided on Saturday when Ballynahinch and Malone meet at Ballymacarn Park in the final series of games.

Saturday's Division One results meant that Banbridge and Queen's were knocked out of contention following losses to Ballynahinch (21-10) and Malone (24-5) respectively so Malone now have 16 points, Hinch 13, Queen's 11, Banbridge 10, Ballymena seven and the relegated Armagh two.

In Division One, undefeated Rainey are the new champions and will play in the top section of Ulster rugby for the first time.

Hinch, determined to repeat their recent one-point AIL win over Bann, opened up a 13-point advantage after 25 minutes when Hilton Gibbons kicked two penalties and added the conversion when No8 Conal Boomer intercepted on halfway and ran in.

Bann, with only two of their regular pack in action, replied when pressure around the home line led to a penalty before lock forward Chris Allen touched down for Adam Doherty to goal. Then Hinch's Boomer squeezed over for his second and there should have been a third before the interval but Bann managed a turnover on their own line.

It was 18-7 at half-time before the second-half turned out to be a lot duller with just Doherty and Gibbons swapping penalties.

Undefeated Malone were the only Division One to earn a winning bonus point at Gibson Park where the 24-5 scoreline was rather flattering. Mark O'Connor converted two of the tries by Conor Spence, Johnny Davis, Ben Halliday and Josh Davidson while Matthew Keane scored a try for the visitors.

Ballymena were behind for most of the contest at Armagh but a late Liam McGookin try led to a 24-21 success. The home team led 21-10 at one stage after Cormac Fox goaled tries from Neil Faloon, Shea O'Neill and Ollie Miller. Ballymena's Timmy Small was on target with a penalty and all the conversions, the other two tries coming from Jack Lewis and Connor Smyth.

In Division Two, Rainey made sure of the title with a 28-19 success against their nearest rivals Belfast Harlequins. They have an unassailable 19 points with Dungannon and Quins on 13, while Omagh have seven, City of Derry six and Bangor three.

Bangor were 22-5 in arrears against Dungannon but a late rally gave them a losing bonus point in a 22-17 loss at Upritchard Park. City of Derry and Omagh players were shown the yellow card on three occasions with the visitor's Kyle Beattie receiving a red for his second. Omagh repeated their recent AIL victory, winning 18-17.

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