It’s crunch time in promotion battle

Ballymena Head Coach Andy Graham
Ballymena Head Coach Andy Graham

It could be a defining day in the Division 2A promotion race. Second placed Ballymena face a tough Ulster derby at Rainey, it’s third against fourth at Parsonstown as Barnhall host Queen’s while fifth placed City of Derry face struggling Seapoint.

Ballymena needed a try six minutes into injury time from Ulster Raven No8 Adrian Hamilton to see off relegation threatened Old Crescent last time out and despite the near scare, coach Andy Graham was happy to get the four points.

“We kept fighting to the end and we never gave up, Crescent admitted that’s the best they have played all season and while it wasn’t our best performance it was still encouraging,” said Graham.

Rainey have had a solid season after last year’s promotion winning seven and losing six of their games and while Richard Boyd’s side are comfortable in mid table with nothing to play for Graham knows it will be a typical hard fought battle.

“Rainey will be up for it. A number of players left Ballymena to go there in the summer,” he said.

“It’s another game we need to win, the challenge is for us to stay in second and there is no point in worrying about the permutations if we don’t get the job done.”

Andy Warwick is on the bench for Ulster in Edinburgh and unlikely to feature so Graham is weighing up his front row options with former Ireland prop Bryan Young, Adrian Kirkpatrick and Chris Candell in contention.

Lock Mark Foster is ruled out for the season with a broken fibula while Timmy Small and Jamie Smith are still injured but scrum half Dave Shanahan is available.

Rainey are without goal kicker Mark O’Connor as he is in London watching sister Rachel compete in the semi final of the television show The Voice otherwise coach Richard Boyd has a full squad to pick from.

Queen’s have injury problems ahead of their trip to Barnhall but do have Ireland U20 full back David Busby back after the Six Nations campaign.

The students are two points behind the Braidmen but are without Matt Clarke and Ryan Clarke in the back row, Rory Winters, Mark Foster and Neil Simpson are all absentees in the from row and wingers Johnny Millinken Eoin Devlin also miss out.

Ravens lock Marc Campbell returns to the pack, Stuart Hooks comes into the back row and Lorcan Dow is at No8.

Damon Hall returns to the wing after missing last week’s bonus point win at Bruff.

A bonus point over Cashel last week has thrust Derry back into the promotion picture and they are on the same number of points as Barnhall and Queen’s although they are fifth.

Coach Mark Nicholl is targeting another five point haul as 12th place Seapoint visit Judge’s Road.

Simon Logue switched from the wing to the centre rediscovered his try scoring form with a brace against Cashel.

Seapoint need two points to guarantee their safety from relegation.

Banbridge suffered defeat with the last kick of the game at Bective and they face another trip to Donnybrook to tackle Old Wesley.