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Suffern insists Hinch ready to step up survival bid

By Michael Sadlier

After all the drama of their last-ditch escape from finishing bottom - and making an immediate exit to 1B - Ballynahinch are now intent on grasping their shot at survival through the play-offs when they host Buccaneers at Ballymacarn Park.

It's all about knockout rugby now and should the Co Down side get the better of Buccs - who finished fourth in 1B - in this promotion/relegation semi-final then they will meet the winner of the clash between Dublin University and Ballymena to settle matters over the make-up of next season's top division.

Lose this weekend, though, and Hinch are gone so the sole focus for coach Derek Suffern's squad is currently on overcoming Buccs while all thoughts about making another weekend of action to stay up have been put on hold.

"We're buoyant after our Houdini act to escape the straight drop last weekend," said Suffern.

"And we know we have to bring that confidence into this game," he added, while stressing that the euphoria of last weekend's 59-5 tanking of Garryowen, coupled with Cork Constitution's last-minute try against Galwegians, which sent the Connacht side down, has been well and truly parked.

"We've now got to get another job done. We're at home which is huge, and if we win we'll be at home for the final play-off too, but we've got to beat Buccs first and we can't think about getting that second game."

Hinch will pretty much field the same team as last week though they will be missing the injured Robin Harte with David Nicholson coming in to cover midfield.

Ballymena's hopes of ultimately making it up to 1A require them to deal with Dublin University in their play-off semi-final and coach Andy Graham is looking for a reaction from his players after last weekend's unexpected defeat at relegated Belfast Harlequins.

Even though the result had no impact on the Braidmen's finishing position of third in the 1B table, the performance at Deramore was unacceptable for Graham.

"Losing wasn't exactly ideal preparation, but maybe it was the kick up the backside we needed," he said ahead of the trip to Dublin.

"I think we're going into it as underdogs, but it will be a very different attitude we'll have for this one."

Clive Ross, Dave Shanahan and John Andrew should all feature for Ballymena.

Banbridge - who finished second in 2A - are also in action in the knockout stages and host UCC at Rifle Park for their semi-final.

Bann have been undefeated at home in this campaign and coach Dan Soper is determined to maintain their record.

"This won't be the time to lose that record, but we've had two very tight games with UCC already this season and I guess this one will be no different," said Soper.

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