Unbeaten Ballymena set sights on Dublin University

Ballymena Head Coach Andy Graham
Ballymena Head Coach Andy Graham

Ballymena have won both their opening games and are a point behind leaders Old Wesley at the top of Division 1B.

Coach Andy Graham was delighted with last week’s bonus point win in Cork against Dolphin.

“We didn’t know what to expect but we thought their fitness wouldn’t be great and that proved to be the case, we did a lot of the damage in the first half even though we were behind and our fitness came through, it’s always pleasing to get an away win and a bonus point,” said Graham.

“It is a super start and a couple of wins helps confidence, it is a very good group of players and they are play for each other.”

The Braidmen host Dublin University at Eaton Park.

“Trinity are a very good side, we had to super games against them last year, we beat them at home and they pipped us down there with the final play of the game.

“Gone are the days when you could bully a student side up front. Trinity have a very good pack and they play for 80 minutes and will keep coming at you until the final whistle.

“I think that now we’re a bit older that we know you have to earn the right to win games and can’t take anything for granted.”

Ballymena are boosted by a number of Ulster and U20 players being released.

“You have to treat it as a one off because you don’t know when you will get them again and it is very beneficial to have them as it gives me a chance to rest a few players,” added Graham.

Ulster hooker John Andrew is joined in the front row by loose head Bryan Young and Ross Kane.

Alan O’Connor and David Whann will form the second row partnership.

Ulster backrow Clive Ross starts at open side flanker, Connor Smyth is at blindside and No8 Matthew Rea completes the pack.

Dave Shanahan is at scrum half with Ritchie McMaster at No10.

There is a debut for Ulster U20 centre Kieran Joyce and he is joined in midfield by the free scoring Callum Patterson.

Jordan Foster is unavailable so Johnny Rosborough starts on the wing with James Beattie on the other and Rodger McBurney at full back.

Ulster U20 captain Adam McBurney is among the replacements.

Belfast Harlequins travel to table toppers Old Wesley in search of their first win of the season.

Adam Larkin’s side are seventh having lost both games but have picked up bonus points in each, while Old Wesley have a maximum 10 points from their first two outings.

In Division 1A Ballynahinch are bottom after two defeats and travel to leaders Clontarf.

Derek Sufferin’s side are looking to bounce back from a heavy 47-13 defeat by UCD last week and the coach is looking for a big improvement at Castle Avenue.

“We made so many unforced errors and UCD capitalised and played like they can with some late scores pushing the score line up,” said Sufferin.

“We’ve just got to get on with things and I don’t believe we’ll perform as badly as that again.

“Clontarf are the only team we haven’t beaten in the league but this will probably be our strongest side we’re sending out though it’s a case of whether we can gel.”

Ulster props Ruairdhi Murphy and Kyle McCall are available, with John Madden and James Simpson in the second row and Connor Joyce, Paul Pritchard and Michael Graham for the back row.

Scrum-half Paul Rowley is released while Richard Reaney moves from the centre to out half.

Will Stewart returns in the centre and Adam Craig starts at full back.