Rugby: Bann’s pre-season gets underway this weekend at Shaw’s Bridge

Banbridge's Lee Steenson.
Banbridge's Lee Steenson.

The new local rugby season kicks off on Friday evening when Banbridge travel to play a practice game against Instonians at Shaw’s Bridge, kick-off 7.30pm.

Bann Coach Daniel Soper has been working his players hard on the training field since the start of July and this game will give him an opportunity to see just where his squad is in terms of fitness.

The Belfast side was relegated from All-Ireland rugby at the end of last season and they will be hoping to bounce straight back up to the senior ranks. So they can be expected to provide a useful test of Bann’s readiness for the up-coming Ulster League games.

There have been a few changes in the Bann ranks. With scrum-half Ian Porter signing for Connacht in the close season Soper will be pleased to have secured the signature of Ulster Junior pivot Scott Nelson. He will battle it out with Lee Steenson, understudy to Porter last season, for the No 9 jersey. And Soper was also delighted to get the signature of forward Nico Vorster. The South African-born flanker was player of the year at Naas two seasons but although on the books of Boyne last season was unable to play because of work commitments.

With Hugo Harbinson having moved to Malone and Simon McKinstry stepping down after a long career in senior rugby the opportunity is there for some of the younger players to come through and stake a claim for places in the AIL squad.

On Saturday week (August 23) Ballynahinch will provide the opposition as Bann mark the opening of their newly refurbished pitch. Following expenditure of £100,000, with financial assistance from Banbridge District Council, the pitch is looking in tip-top condition for an afternoon’s rugby featuring all sections of the flourishing club.

A Bann Youth select side will take on Ulster U-17s at 2.00pm and the seniors will kick-off at 4.00pm, with the two Bann mini teams taking on their ‘Hinch counterparts at half-time.

Bann travel to Ards on August 30 for their first Ulster League game of the season and City of Derry and Dungannon will be at Rifle Park on the following Saturdays before Bann take on Cashel at home in the first AIL game on Sept 20.

Bann’s youth sides open their season with friendlies at home to Ballynahinch on September 13, with the league season kicking off on October 4.

Over 100 primary school kids took part in the Ulster Branch Summer Scheme held last week at Rifle Park. Bann’s mini season kicks off with Registration Day on Saturday September 6. All boys and girls from P2 up who are interested in giving rugby a try are asked to be at the club for 9.15am.