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Hinch and Bann up for battle as title race goes down to wire

 

By Michael Sadlier

Though they are still part of a three-horse race to claim the Division 1B title, the mood at both Ballynahinch and Banbridge is rather more downbeat than it might have been.

The reason? Last weekend saw both clubs shipping damage to their table-topping ambitions.

Hinch lost top spot to Shannon after their 14-14 draw at Old Wesley and though they only trail by a point - the same as their lead had been - it is now firmly advantage to the Limerick side, who host fourth-placed UCC in the final round of games ahead of the play-offs.

Banbridge's 33-32 reverse at UCC still brought them two losing bonus points but they now trail Shannon by three, which may mean that they will be unable to improve on third.

But they could also be potentially overhauled by UCC if things go badly wrong for Dan Soper's side when they host UL Bohemians.

Though there are a number of permutations at play, it would appear that Hinch and Bann - who both cannot finish outside the top four - look likely to now end up facing each other in the play-offs.

Hinch are at home to Old Belvedere and Brian McLaughlin will have his side primed to chase all the points available with the title still potentially up for grabs.

Hinch Director of Rugby Ronnie Duncan said: "It's not ideal and it's out of our hands.

"We're really relying on UCC doing something for us against Shannon for us to win the league.

"So, all we can do is do our best against Belvo and we need a bonus-point win."

Hinch have Peter Nelson, Aaron Cairns, Peter Browne, Jack Regan and David Busby all available.

Bann have been licking their wounds since their one-point defeat at UCC and though they are confident of bouncing back against Bohs at Rifle Park, there is no escaping the feeling that only the play-offs now await.

Soper said of the loss at UCC: "The opportunity was staring us in the face and we weren't good enough to take it.

"It looks like it is going to be a play-off."

With Adam Doherty's season over, John Porter comes onto the wing with Adam Ervine moving to full-back while, otherwise, Bann expect to be unchanged with Eric O'Sullivan, Caleb Montgomery and Greg Jones all featuring.

Meanwhile, down in seventh, Ballymena are still not out of the woods and need to beat fellow strugglers Old Wesley at Eaton Park to guarantee they escape the possibility of finishing in ninth and entering a relegation play-off.

Admittedly, should Bann turn Bohs over then the result will hardly matter for Andy Graham and his squad but, to keep control of matters, the Braidmen will be chasing a third win on the bounce to finish off their lacklustre campaign.

Clive Ross, Adam McBurney, Brett Herron and Callum Patterson are all released.

1B: Ballymena v Wesley, Hinch v Belvedere, Bann v UL Bohs.

Belfast Telegraph

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