Big clash as Malone face Ballynahinch in Division 1B of AIL

Ballymena's Timmy Small should start this weekend
Ballymena's Timmy Small should start this weekend

There is no doubting the match of the day in Division 1B as third place Malone host fourth placed Ballynahinch in a huge Ulster derby at Gibson Park,

Both sides are a point behind leaders St Mary’s, Hinch won the first game and then beat Malone in the Ulster Senior League decider.

Malone coach Paddy Armstrong welcomes back Jack Owens and Callum Smith and is expecting another close encounter.

“Both games were fairly tight and it shows the tight margins.

“We have been training well so it is just about building and worrying about ourselves and the big thing is to focus on what we are trying to do and taking it from there,” said Armstrong.

“It is a very tight league and I don’t think there is any need to worry either way at this stage of the season whatever happens.

“We’re just trying to get a good performance and not think about the other stuff and control the controllable.”

In the pack Ulster hooker Adam McBurney should start but lock Matty Dalton and flanker Matthew Agnew are out due to injury.

Behind the scrum Graham Curtis starts but centre Stewart Moore is missing.

Hinch have hooker Zac McCall available.

A win in Athlone just before Christmas saw Ballymena leapfrog Buccaneers at the bottom of the Division 1B table.

Andy Graham’s side are three points clear of the Connacht men as they meet in the return fixture at Eaton Park.

“We were comfortably ahead in that game but then we had two yellow cards which hurt us badly and let them in for a score or two at the end,” said Graham.

“Buccs are the same as us as they are scrapping for every point and are losing games by very few points.

“But they are losing. It’s tough sometimes and it difficult for us.

“ If we beat a team the first time around we automatically think we’ll beat them again.

“The big thing is we just can’t think it will happen.#

“We have to make it happen and work as hard as we can and do all the things right to get the win.

“Things can turn very quickly but it is looking a lot better than it was a couple of months ago and we have started to find a bit of form.

“The players are playing to form and there is a bit more confidence about what we’re doing.

“In this league it is important to win all your home games so we will go into this encounter looking to do that.

“We want to have as strong a finish to the season as we can - so that we finish as high up the table as we can.”

Graham is hoping Ulster back row Clive Ross is available, out half Bruce Houston is injured so Timmy Small starts.

Hinch have hooker Zac McCall available.