Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Final Preview 17th March 2016. by Barney McGonigle.

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Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Final Preview 17th March 2016

The Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final on St Patrick’s Day will feature two of the leading lights in terms of Schools’ Rugby in Ulster when Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Campbell College, Belfast meet in the “Blue Ribband” show down of the competition at the Kingspan Stadium at 3-00pm. The 2015/16 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup competition started back in December with thirty two teams entering the competition. Hundreds of young players, along with thousands of spectators, have participated in the world’s second oldest rugby competition and, thirty one games later, it will all come to a conclusion on St Patrick’s Day. This game that has whetted the appetite of everyone with an interest in the game in Ulster Schools and both teams will be determined to bring a high standard of play to the occasion.

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution team won the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup last season and they have shown with their performances in the current campaign they are unwilling to release their grasp on the venerable trophy. Director of Rugby at Belfast Inst, Dan Soper, who is assisted with his 1stxv coaching duties by the experienced Richard Hedley, has already seen the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ 2ndxv Cup, 3rdxv Cup and Medallion Shield arrive into the school. He will be determined to ensure the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup ends up in the Belfast Inst Trophy Cabinet as well.

The return to the playing ranks of team captain, Conor Field, has been a great boost to the Belfast Inst coaching staff and players. Conor has displayed great leadership qualities since his return and his try scoring exploits throughout the cup games have given his team a definite edge. He has displayed great speed when in attack mode on the Belfast Inst wing. Conor probably gets his pace genes from his mother, Alannah, who, as a pupil at Wallace High School, was an outstanding sprinter at Ulster and Irish Schools’ level. Conor has firmly held onto the baton of captaincy at Inst, since his return to play, with great aplomb. He will be doing everything in his power to ensure he gets his team successfully over the finishing line on St Patrick’s Day. Fellow winger, Mark Keane, has been among the leading Belfast Inst try scorers throughout the season and both these players will be hoping the wide open spaces at the Kingspan will afford them the opportunities for further try scoring opportunities in the final. Joseph Finnegan completes the make-up of a talented Belfast Inst back three. His assurance in his defensive roles, allied to a natural attacking instinct, marks Joseph down as a key member of the talented Belfast Inst back division. Centres, James Hume and Ben McGovock, alongside out half, Michael Lowry, are a commanding trio in the Belfast Inst midfield. They experienced success last season and will be determined to add to that this season. James is an exciting player who has an ability to exploit any defensive gap as well an ability to play a clever off-loading game. He is also a fine striker of the ball off the tee. Ben McGavock is a very direct player who has worked hard to hone his defensive skills. Ben will not be found wanting in that department. Michael Lowry has formed a great half back partnership with Rhys O’Donnell and it will be their intention to put the Belfast Inst team on the front foot throughout the game. Both these players have displayed great game management and decision making skills throughout the season particularly in the course of their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup run. The teams from Coleraine Grammar School and Sullivan Upper will attest to that.

There is a suggestion in some quarters the strength of the Belfast Inst team is in the make-up of their pack. Certainly, the Belfast Inst pack has been responsible for the production of quality possession from both set piece and open play during the season. The front row trio of Callum Reid, Neil Saulters and the ever improving John Dickson has rarely, if ever, been beaten at scrum time. Pierce McLernon and Harry Gallagher form a hard-working second row partnership which is compact at scrum time and provides great targets at lineout time. Charlie Fryers, Charles Cloke and David Whitten combine to form a very mobile backrow unit for the Belfast Inst team. This trio has been very clever with their work at the breakdown all season as well as their support work in broken play. This has resulted in all three being among the try scorers at key times during their current Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign. The Royal Belfast Academical Institution team will leave nothing behind them in the Kingspan changing rooms as they look to retain the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup.

The last time Campbell College played in the final of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup was in 2011 when they defeated the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team by 18-11. How the Class of 2016 would love to record a similar result! The current Campbell College team might feel they have flattered to deceive somewhat in the course of their current Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign. However, the teams from Friends’ School, Lisburn, Methodist College, Belfast and Dalriada School might think otherwise! One thing is for certain, coach, Brian Robinson, who is assisted by Jonny Cuppitt, will have left no stone unturned as he prepares his players for the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final. Brian’s attention to detail will have his players in a very positive frame of mind and they will arrive at the Kingspan Stadium on St Patrick’s Day fully aware of their roles and responsibilities. The Campbell College back line contains some very fine players who will, like their counterparts from Belfast Inst, enjoy playing on the wide open spaces of the Kingspan Stadium.

Ben Webb, the Campbell College full back, is a player who loves to attack at every opportunity. His back three colleagues, Justin Savage and Jack Howard, have displayed similar tendencies throughout the season and it is not by accident these three have been among the leading try scorers for the Campbell College team all season. Jonny Haldane and Nicolai Koplewsky form a hard-working Campbell College centre partnership and both these players have been assured in both their attacking and defensive responsibilities throughout the current season. The Campbell College half back partnership of Malcolm Corry, a player whose father, Ian, is closely associated with Belfast Inst, and Patrick Beverland, will be hoping for a good supply of quality possession from the Campbell College pack so that they can impose their stamp on the game. Both Malcolm and Patrick love to get the Campbell College back line on the move and are more than handy with the ball in hand themselves. Malcolm is also one of the front line Campbell College kickers who will be only too happy to punish any Royal Belfast Academical Institution indiscretions.

Like their Belfast Inst counterparts the Campbell College team is blessed to have such a talented front row trio. Team captain, James Boyle, leads his players from the hooker position and James will be the first to recognise the positive input of his props, Matthew Russell and Tom O’Toole, has had on the success of the Campbell College scrum this season. Matthew, as well as being a very strong scrummaging loose head, has also been among the try scorers for his team in the course of the current season. Tom, who this time last year was a member of the Queensland Academy in Australia, is not only a strong scrummaging tight head, but has developed a great skill set when it comes to the handling aspect of the game. James, as well as being a strong scrummaging hooker is a very accurate thrower and his work in broken play is off the highest order. The battle between the respective front rows could be worth the admission money alone on St Patrick’s Day! The Campbell College 2nd Row partnership of James Nelson and Marcus Collim go about their work in a quiet, efficient and effective manner. They give nothing away at lineout time and provide great support for their front row in the scrums. The Campbell College back row was apparently not at full strength during the semi-final against Dalriada. The team was missing the considerable talents of Matthew Crowther due to injury but his replacement, Jamie McCartney, was one of the try scoring heroes in that semi-final. It remains to be seen as to whether or not Matthew makes it for the final. Matthew’s brother, John, played on the opposite flank in the semi-final and he got through a lot of work in open play, on the ground and at lineout time. John brings place kicking ability to the team and has proven to be a more than adequate back up to the frontline kicker. Perhaps the jewel in the crown in the Campbell College pack has been No 8, Jack Barry-Glendinning. Jack has impressed many observers with his dynamic approach to the game, his strong ball carrying skills, his work rate around the pitch, his defensive qualities and his try scoring exploits throughout the season. The Campbell College performances in the course of their current Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign have been described as being as “poor as the results have been good”  If that assessment is accurate the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final will provide the Campbell College players with the opportunity to show just how good they really are.


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