There were three Age Grade Inter-Provincial games, two schoolboy tournaments as well as a number of early season schools’ games played over the weekend of the 6th/7th September.
The Ulster U20’s started the defence of their Inter-Provincial crown with a game against Munster U20’s which was played at Ravenhill on the evening of Friday 6th September.
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The young Ulster team had to dig deep and display great character before they were able to emerge as 17-14 winners of an exciting contest. The Munster team started well with their impressive captain, Jack O’Donoghue, Dan Goggins and David Johnston all asking questions of the Ulster defence. A penalty opportunity, after only four minutes of the game, was missed by the Munster outhalf. Munster continued to control possession but could not break down the resolute Ulster defence.
Twelve minutes into the first half the Ulster team took play deep into Munster territory and, from a clever cross field kick from Josh Bingham, it looked as if a try was on. Unfortunately, the ball was knocked on by an Ulster player in-goal and the opportunity for points was lost. The Ulster team continued to pressurise the Munster defence with Ross Haldane, Mark Best, David Busby and Jacob Knight all combining well but unable to find a way through. Eventually, the Ulster team got good possession following a scrum and Mark Campbell stretched far enough to touch down for a try. The conversion attempt from Rob Haldane was successful to put Ulster U20’s into a 7-0 lead.
Munster then gained sufficient possession following the restart to take play into Ulster territory. They failed with a second penalty attempt on twenty six minutes. Two minutes later the Munster full back, David Johnston, must have felt he was through for a try only to be scythed down by a brilliant cover defence tackle from David Busby.
Following a series of scrums close to the Ulster line, Ulster had a player sent to the “bin” after thirty two minutes. The Munster team took advantage of the situation and Darragh Moloney barged his was over the Ulster line to touch down for a try. Shane Airey was successful with the conversion kick to take the score to 7-7.
Just before the interval David Johnston broke through a static Ulster defence to run in for a try. Once again, Shane Airey was successful with his conversion to give his Munster team a 14-7 lead at halftime.
The second half saw the Ulster team control possession for most of the time. The Munster defence was well-organised and gave very little away. The Ulster team came close to the Munster line on a number of occasions only to see the wrong option being taken or the ball knocked on.
However, the determination of the Ulster team shone through in the closing stages of the game. The Munster team won comfortable possession from a lineout and decided to run the ball from deep. The Ulster defence pressurised the Munster ball carrier who threw a pass which was intercepted by the Ulster winger, Jacob Knight. Jacob did not need any invitation and ran in strongly for a try. Mark Best stepped up to coolly convert the try and take the score to 14-14.
With the game now in injury time and the result looking like a draw, the Ulster pack pressurised the Munster pack at the breakdown. The Munster forwards infringed, the referee awarded Ulster the penalty and up stepped that man, Mark Best, once again, to convert the kick into points and give his team a 17-14 lead. The Ulster team remained focused and played out the remaining minutes of the game to record a hard earned, but well-deserved, 17-14 win at the no-side whistle.
The final whistle was greeted with delight by the Ulster players and Management. However, they will all know there is still work to be done before they travel to Galway where the team will play Connacht in the Sportsground on Friday 13th September in a game which is scheduled to kick off at 3-00pm.
The Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team started their Inter-Provincial campaign with a game against Connacht School at Ravenhill on Saturday 7th September.
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The Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team emerged as 14-3 winners following a hard fought game with the team from the West. The Ulster boys controlled most of the territory and possession in the course of the game but found the Connacht defence hard to break down.
The Ulster team scored a try through hooker, Andrew Shaw, who had a great game for the Ulster team. Robert Lyttle stepped up to successfully convert the try and give the Ulster Schools’ team a 7-0 lead, a lead they maintained until the interval.
The Connacht team emerged after the break with a renewed vigour. They took the game to Ulster and got reward for their endeavours when they converted a penalty opportunity, following an Ulster infringement, to reduce the arrears to 7-3.
Ulster then started to get their hands on some quality possession which allowed their talented back line the opportunity to launch wave after wave of attacks. A combination of clever play from Zach Bertenshaw and Angus Macartney paved the way for a lineout close to the Munster line. From the lineout, Ulster second row forward, Harry Clelland, blasted over for a try. Robert Lyttle added the extras to secure a comfortable 14-3 lead, a lead the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team held until the end of the game.
The Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team will have been delighted with their win but the management and players will all realise there is much to be done before they play Leinster Schools at Belfast Harlequins RFC on Saturday 14th September at 2-30pm.
The Ulster U19 team completed a hat trick of age grade wins for Ulster teams when they came through from 10-0 down to defeat Munster U19’s by 13-10.
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The Munster team started the game strongly with their pack taking the game to Ulster and disrupting many Ulster scrums and lineouts. After only five minutes of play the Munster team took a 3-0 lead when their outhalf, Thomas Quinlan, converted a penalty opportunity following an Ulster infringement at a midfield ruck.
Munster continued to control both territory and possession and the Ulster defence had to work hard to ensure their line remained intact. James Gallagher, Daniel Dass and Ross Todd got through a lot of effective work in defence. They received good support from Jordan Garford and Rory Bell in the Ulster midfield.
The Munster team then created an opportunity following a scrum close to the Ulster line and the Munster captain, Steven McMahon, took full advantage to scramble in for a try close to the Ulster posts after twenty six minutes. Thomas Quinlan added the extras to increase the Munster lead to 10-0.
For the first time in the game the Ulster pack managed to provide some quality ball for their back line. Jordan Garford made a great midfield break and off loaded to Rory Bell who was running a great support line. Rory’s strength and pace took him past a despairing Munster defence as he ran in for a try. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful but the Ulster U19’s had reduced the arrears to 10-5. The Ulster team might have had another try prior to the interval when Rory Campbell made a great break to put David McMaster, the Ulster fullback, into space. David got close to the Munster line but the Munster defence just managed to halt his progress a metre short of the try line.
The Ulster team started off the second half, as they finished the first, on the attack. They took the game to Munster and, three minutes into the second half, presented their industrious hooker, Steven Weir, with a try scoring opportunity. Steven did not disappoint and touched the ball down over the Munster line. The conversion attempt rebounded off the cross bar but the Ulster team was back in the game with the scoreboard reading 10-10.
The Munster team went on the attack from the restart and the Ulster defence had to be sound. An Ulster player went to the “bin” but the Munster team could not take advantage of their numerical advantage. Dave Cave came on to replace the injured James Gallagher and made an immediate impression, thwarting a number of Munster attacks.
Just as it looked as if the game would finish with honours even, the Ulster team broke out of defence and was awarded a penalty following, a Munster infringement, on the half way line. Up stepped Jack Milligan who struck the ball sweetly to see it rebound off the bar and over for the three points to give the Ulster team a 13-10 lead with just minutes remaining.
The Ulster team got control of the ball from the restart, secured possession and cleverly played out the last few minutes to ensure a hard earned 13-10 victory at the end of the game.
The team displayed tremendous character throughout the game and this win will ensure they travel to the Sportsground in Galway to play Connacht U19’s on Saturday 14th September in a positive frame of mind. The game is scheduled to kick off at 1-00pm.
As well as the Inter-Provincial Age Grade games involving schoolboy players there two schoolboy tournaments played on Saturday 7th September.
Grosvenor Grammar School hosted a tournament involving teams from Grosvenor Grammar School, Belfast Royal Academy, Rainey Endowed School, Wesley College, Dublin and Banbridge Academy.
The Banbridge team, with fine performances from players such as Rory Carson, Rory Thompson, Daniel McIlderry, Shane Honeyford and Jordan Pickering got through to the final to face Wesley College. The Dublin School, despite an excellent performance from the Banbridge Academy team, ran out as narrow winners and received the Ian H Graham Trophy at the end of the tournament. Rainey Endowed School had wins against Grosvenor GS and Belfast Royal Academy while Grosvenor GS finished with a win against BRA.
Dalriada School hosted teams from Campbell College, Dalriada, Cambridge House, Portadown College and Ballymoney Rugby Club in a competitive tournament at the St James’ Road venue.
A number of games were played in the course of the morning at various venues throughout the Province with a number of the teams participating losing players to the various Inter –Provincial games.
Coleraine AI hosted Belfast High School in a game played in difficult conditions which seemed to suit the Belfast High School pack.
The home team scored first through their scrum half, Brad Dempster. Calum Smyth added the conversion to see his team into a 7-0 lead.
Close to the interval, Jake Hutchinson ran in for a try, which was not converted, to reduce the arrears to 7-5 in favour of the Coleraine AI team at the break
The second half conditions ensured little in the way of constructive rugby from either team with the only score coming from a Robbie Reid penalty to ensure an 8-7 win for the Belfast High School team.
Friends’ School and Antrim Grammar School played out a training game which gave both sets of coaching staff the opportunity to use extended squads.
The players responded positively with both team scoring a couple of tries each.
Omagh Academy travelled to play Limavady Grammar School and, despite coming away on the wrong end of a 28-0 scoreline, felt they had taken a lot from the game.
Both schools took the opportunity to kick off their season with a coaching match played over four quarters. Credit must go to both teams for trying to play rugby in dreadful conditions with the driving rain and wind making it difficult for handling. Limavady triumphed by scoring four tries through Tom McClelland, Scott McLean, Michael McMullan and Joel Stirling. All four tries were converted by Scott McLean. Limavady were the better of the two sides with their big pack controlling possession and went close to increasing their margin of victory on a number of occasions. However, coaches from both schools can be happy with what they witnessed in the dreadful conditions.
For the Omagh Academy team the performances of young players such as Gavin McCrossan, Stuart Ballentine, Ross Nelson, Luke Hanson and Thomas McKeown will give great hope for the season.
Ballyclare High School and Ballymena Academy met in what has become a traditional season opener for the Co Antrim teams.
Both teams fielded a number of young players making their debuts at this level and, despite the adverse conditions, a good-sized crowd were entertained by an open, competitive game.
The Ballymena Academy team was without Duncan Maguire, Josh McIlroy and Andrew Magrath who were representing Ulster Schools’ Under-18 at Ravenhill while Ballyclare welcomed back James Beattie from Ulster Under-19 duty.
Ballymena took the lead after twelve minutes when Marcus Rea created space for fellow centre, Jonathan Rosborough. Jonathan showed pace and power as he finished under the posts and Marcus added the extras to put the Ballymena Academy team into a 7-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Ballymena enforced a turn-over in their 22m area and the ball was moved wide to full back, Dean Reynolds. Dean beat three players as he made inroads deep into Ballyclare territory. He was stopped metres short of the line but the ball was recycled for Eddie Kosch to race over in the corner. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful but the Ballymena team now had a 12-0 lead. Moments later, from a line-out five metres out, the Ballymena pack went through several phases before Joe Thompson powered over for a try. Marcus Rea narrowly missed the touchline conversion but his team now had a 17-0 lead
Minutes before half time, Ballyclare scored a mirror image of Ballymena’s second try when their speedy winger finished from long range. The successful conversion left the score reading 17-7 at half time.
Weather conditions worsened in the second half and the home team began to enjoy more of the territory and possession. Ballyclare scored an unconverted try from dynamic maul to reduce the deficit to 5 points but a Marcus Rea penalty increased the Ballymena lead to 20-12.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Ballymena added a further try when out-half, Gary Small, accelerated through a gap in the Ballyclare defence for an excellent individual try. In the final seconds of the game, following an extended period of pressure, the Ballyclare hooker touched down below the posts and the successful conversion left the final score reading 25-19 to Ballymena Academy.
Sullivan Upper School, minus some ten players on Danske Bank Ullster U18 Schools and Ulster U19 Inter-Provincial duty, hosted a spirited Larne Grammar School team in exceedingly wet conditions.
Larne put up a spirited performance but could not withstand the speed of rugby that Sullivan are played in the course of the game. By halftime the Larne team had conceded seven tries with just a penalty in reply.
Both teams made changes in the second half but the Sullivan attack was not diminished with Chris Jordan running in four tries, Harry Harper scoring a hat trick and Fergus Jemphrey touching down twice.