All-Ireland League focus on Ballynahinch road trip to tackle Trinity

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Ballynahinch and City of Armagh face contrasting tests in their quest to reach the Division 1A play-offs.

Armagh stayed fourth with a victory over Dublin University last weekend while Hinch moved up to fifth in the table level on points with their Ulster rivals.

Armagh now travel to leaders Clontarf, who have taken 19 points out of a possible 20 from their four games while Hinch are on the road at Trinity with the Dublin students bottom of the table having lost all four games.

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The Co Down side will have Ulster winger Aaron Sexton in the starting line-up.

Aaron Sexton on show for Ulster. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images/Getty Images)Aaron Sexton on show for Ulster. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Aaron Sexton on show for Ulster. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

“There are no easy games in 1A, Trinity are a battle-hardened team in 1A and they very much changed the narrative around students being in that league,” said coach Adam Craig. “We very much have to be on our game to make sure we come away with the win down there.

“We have been away from home twice this year and haven’t picked up the win yet so, hopefully, Saturday will be the time to do that.

“Tony (Smeeth) has been there and in charge for a long time and he knows how to get them going.

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“I watched a good few of their games and they have been quite close in a few, they are certainly not to be under-estimated, they had a kick to win it against Armagh and the Palace Grounds is a tough place to go.

“They will certainly have a bit about them and we just have to make sure we go down and look after ourselves.”

Ulster Academy duo George Saunderson and Ethan Graham start. Kyle and Zac McCall both start in the pack, while Bryn Ward is at No8.

Armagh coach Chris Parker knows his side will need to put on a better display against Clontarf than last week’s performance against Trinity.

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“Really excited to be going to Castle Avenue against a team that are unbeaten this season and has constantly challenged for the AIL,” said Parker. “We know last week’s performance was below par and to get anything out of this week we need to raise the performance levels again...this is a massive challenge but one we are excited for.”

James McNabney starts at blindside flanker for Armagh. Timmy McNiece returns at centre to partner Matthew Hooks meaning Shea O’Brien reverts to his usual full back position as Sam Cunningham and Glen Faloon start on the wing with Andy Willis and Dylan Nelson among the replacements.

Queen’s will be hoping to put the disappointment of last week’s defeat to Blackrock behind them with a victory of basement club Buccaneers at the Dub.

The students slipped to fifth in the table after last week’s result while Buccs arrive in Belfast with no points for four games but did win on the last visit to the Dub in the 2022 promotion play-off final.

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“Queen’s are missing three key players in the pack, Scott Wilson (Ulster), Joe Hopes (not released) and Lorcan McLoughlin (suspended).”

There is a debut in the AIL planned for last year’s RBAI Schools’ Cup-winning captain Jacob Boyd while his opposing captain in the St Patrick’s Day final, Flynn Longstaff, is on the bench.

And Instonians’ record-breaking run of bonus point wins in the All Ireland League will be put to the test as they travel to Merrion Road to face high-flying Wanderers in a mouth-watering clash at the top of Division 2B.

Instonians become the first team ever to go through an entire season by winning all their games with bonus points last year as they racked up a maximum 90 points from 18 games on their way to promotion from Division 2C.

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Stepping up a level, they have started life with four bonus point wins from four games in Division 2B to open up a four-point lead at the top of the table.

Wanderers have won their last three games.

Inst coach Paul Pritchard was delighted with last week’s win over Sligo considering he was missing a number of key players due to a stag night.

“I think that was probably one of the most pleasing aspects of that, the lads played really well,” said Pritchard. “We always speak about opportunities and when you have quite a lot of depth it is sometimes difficult for lads to get an opportunity.

"So the guys that were given an opportunity last week grabbed it with both hands and it has made selection a lot more difficult this week.

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“We really did think about that (last season), it is a new season for us.

"We’re just focusing on each game as it comes.

“The main thing for us is we are trying to win games, if we get the bonus point then ‘brilliant’ but it is certainly not on our mind at this stage.”

He continued: “We know they are going to have quality but we are just looking to play our game, we just take it as it goes, and we don’t focus too much on other teams.

“We are just going to go and try and do our jobs and that is the most important thing for us.

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“If we do our jobs and do them well, we should get a result.”

The four Whitten brothers – Ian, Alan, Robert and David - all start together for the first time.

It’s ninth against 10th at the bottom as Rainey travel to Dolphin, Dungannon host Skerries while Belfast Harlequins visit Corinthians.

In Division 2A, Ballymena, Banbridge and Malon all have home ties against Nenagh, Old Crescent and Navan respectively.

In 2C, leaders Clogher Valley visit Bruff, Omagh are at Clonmel and Bangor host Galwegians.

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