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Only way is up for Ulster rivals after slow start

By Michael Sadlier

There is no avoiding the stand-out clash of the weekend which is sure to see a fairly feisty Ulster derby played out at Gibson Park between Malone and Belfast Harlequins.

Both Division 1B sides go into this game off the back of notably contrasting fortunes with Malone having suffered three straight defeats since opening with a win over Dungannon, while Quins arrested their already accumulated trio of reverses last Saturday when they overcame Blackrock College at a weather beaten Deramore.

However, despite the fact that Quins currently find themselves in fifth, while Malone are languishing two off the bottom in eighth place, there is actually only a solitary point separating the sides which all adds to the pressing need for both to secure the win to create some breathing space in what has become a very claustrophobic environment.

Quins travel the short distance in confident mood and should have Ulster's Neil McComb available to bolster their pack while it was hoped that Michael Heaney is fit after shipping a shoulder injury last Saturday.

"Of course we'd love to beat local rivals Malone but we also have to consider the bigger picture and a win would get us up nicely in what is a very tight table," Quins' coach Adam Larkin said.

As for Malone, they expect to have Ulster's James McKinney available to slot in at out half and could also have Rudolph Benade in the backline while Conor Joyce is expected to bring his usual power to the back row.

The Gibson Park side also hope to have prop Ross Kane back on board but second row Michael Ferguson is a doubt due to injury. Influential fellow lock Alan O'Connor is definitely ruled out with a shoulder problem and prop Bronson Ross is also missing.

Ninth-placed Dungannon head to Dublin to meet Blackrock College (kick-off 2pm) with the emphasis very much on avoiding a third consecutive defeat to help them escape the bottom two.

Peter Nelson and Chris Cochrane are expected to play while Adam Macklin makes the bench on his return from injury.

Meanwhile, in Division 1A, struggling Ballynahinch continue their quest for a first win of the campaign at Old Belvedere (kick-off 2pm) and this might well prove to be another big ask.

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