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McAleese is remaining optimistic despite Hinch's poor start

 

Looking up: Harry McAleese has seen improvement
Looking up: Harry McAleese has seen improvement

By Ronnie Ingram

SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership holders Ballynahinch are aiming to kick-start their season against Banbridge tomorrow.

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The champions have had a poor start to their title defence and have lost their first two league games. A win tomorrow, however, would boost morale before the start of the All-Ireland League next week.

Director of rugby Harry McAleese knows their title defence is already wobbling, but has reason to remain optimistic.

"With two cup wins in the last three weeks, we are now combining better, and the release of Ulster A hooker Tom Stewart will strengthen the pack," he explained. "Bradley Luney was concussed but will return to the back-row, though unfortunately Rory Butler dislocated his ankle and will be out for some time.

"It was the centre's first game back after an injury last February and he was only on the pitch for 10 minutes.

"I was particularly pleased with the team's efforts in the final 20 minutes against Omagh when two tries saw us through to the semis."

Banbridge are in the title chase with six points behind Rainey's 10 and Malone's eight but cannot afford another defeat.

Although they are away, the 41-7 defeat of Ballymena and last Saturday's rest will have given them confidence.

Rainey will be hoping to continue their winning run at Ballymena, while Queen's and Malone, who haven't played for two weeks, meet at Upper Malone.

Division 2 leaders City of Armagh should be too strong at Bangor; second-placed Belfast Harlequins, one point in arrears of Armagh's maximum, face a tough encounter at Omagh; and home advantage could give in-form Dungannon the edge over City of Derry.

SONI Premiership: Ballymena v Rainey, Queen's v Malone, Ballynahinch v Banbridge. Division Two: Bangor v City of Armagh, Dungannon v City of Derry, Omagh v Belfast Harlequins.

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