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Malone to shuffle the pack for title decider with Ballynahinch

 

Return: Matthew Dalton
Return: Matthew Dalton

By Ronnie Ingram

Malone make eight changes, some positional, for the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership decider against Ballynahinch this afternoon.

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Although Malone currently have a three point advantage over their opponents, this is a 'winner takes all' contest.

Fresh from their bonus point 24-5 defeat of Queen's last week Malone, who last won the Stevenson Shield in 1992/93, will be fielding a stronger team in an attempt to also gain revenge for a 11-7 All-Ireland League defeat by their rivals a fortnight ago.

With Academy players released, second row Matthew Dalton, No. 8 Joe Dunleavy, scrum-half Graeme Curtis and winger Ben McCaughey are included while Callum Smith comes in at out-half and Rory Campbell at full-back. In the pack, captain Dan Kerr moves from the back row to hooker and Jonathan from No. 8 to flanker. Even after all these changes they still have some injury doubts.

The Hinch club face three formidable challenges in the next eight days as their seconds contest the Junior Cup final against Dromore on Wednesday, with the firsts then facing Ballymena in the Senior Cup semi-final next weekend.

They also make a few changes for today's decider. Former Irish Under-20 hooker Zach McCall is hopeful of playing after sustaining a split lip against Ballymena. Second row forward Bradley Luney has been on the sidelines for a while with a knee problem and will probably turn out in the back row.

Scrum-half Rhys O'Donnell sustained a shoulder injury in the hard fought 21-10 success that ended Banbridge's hopes so the capable Lewis Finlay will substitute.

In the front row Johnny Blair will step in for Tommy O'Hagan who is on Ulster duty. Hinch, who last won the title four seasons ago, must be mildly surprised to be still in contention after September's 25-15 loss to Queen's but must start favourites by virtue of home advantage.

The other Division 1 games are: Queen's v Armagh and Ballymena v Banbridge. With Rainey having already clinched promotion from Division 2, there is nothing at stake but pride in the three fixtures: Dungannon v Rainey, Belfast Harlequins v City of Derry and Omagh v Bangor.

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