With all schools enjoying a half term break there were fewer than usual fixtures involving schools in Ulster played on Saturday 30th October. However, a number of schools did play fixtures and some interesting games took place.
Royal Belfast Academical Institution travelled to play a Royal School, Armagh team that lost a number of key players, including Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ centre, Robbie Magowan, to holiday arrangements. The Belfast Inst team was buoyed by their recent victory against Methodist College and travelled to Armagh in a very confident mood. The Belfast Inst team enjoyed great periods of possession and territory in the opening stages of the game but came up against a RS Armagh team that had worked hard on ensuring their line remained intact. The Belfast Inst attack was thwarted on numerous occasions with the Armagh captain, Neil Faloon, leading the way in terms of his defensive qualities. He was ably assisted by Stuart Hooks, and Peter Eves. As a result of their resolute defensive efforts, the Armagh team saw themselves take a 3-0 lead into the half time break when Harry Boyd converted a penalty following a rare first half incursion into the Belfast Inst 22m area.
In the second period of the game the RS Armagh team scored tries through their inspirational captain, Neil Faloon, as well as Ulster Schools’ U19 outhalf, Harry Boyd. Harry added two conversions as well as a second half penalty to account for the 20 RS Armagh points. In response, the Belfast Inst team kicked a penalty through Matthew McGuigan to reduce the arrears to 20-3 with just seven minutes remaining. However, The Belfast Inst team showed great determination in the final few minutes of the game and scored tries through Zach Welshman and Kevin McLean. Matthew McGuigan added the conversions but it was a case of “too, too late” as the RS Armagh team held out for a narrow, but deserved 20-17 victory.
The Armagh team got a boost not only with their victory but also with the performances of their two Year 12 props, Neil Montgomery and Michael Hoey. Neil Faloon, the RS Armagh captain led by example and put in a “Man of the Match” performance. Ulster Rugby players, Paddy McAllister and Willie Faloon, both ex RS Armagh team mates, had been assisting Kenny Hooks and Dave Eakin with coaching the Rs Armagh team in the lead up to this game. Both were in attendance to see the fruits of their work with the team come to fruition. It was a great encouragement for the RS Armagh team to have the two young Ulster players on the touchline for this game.
Methodist College players and coaches gave up part of their half term break to travel to Cashel in Co Tipperary to play against Rockwell College. This has been a long standing fixture with one of the biggest rugby playing schools in Munster and a game that is eagerly anticipated by players and coaches from both schools. In an exciting game, the Methody team was 7-3 down at half time. Rockwell College scored an early converted try through Shaun Horgan. In response the Methody team kicked a penalty through Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ U19 player, Matthew McFaul.
The second half saw the Methody team take control of the game with Gareth Gracey, Ryan Martin and Dan Kerr leading from the front. Good Rockwell defence kept their line intact but the home team gave away penalties at crucial times. Matthew McFaul took advantage of this and converted two penalties to ensure the Methodist College team travelled home as victorious 9-7 winners of this intriguing game.
A Banbridge Academy “Select” xv hosted the touring King’s School, from Ely in Cambridgeshire who were on a short half term tour to the Province. In an evenly matched encounter, it was the Banbridge team that registered the first score of the game when 2nd Row forward, Colin McGregor powered his way over for a try after twenty five minutes. Marc Stevenson added the conversion to see his team into a 7-0 lead. The King’s School team responded instantaneously with a converted try to draw level at 7-7. Banbridge Academy regained the lead just before the interval when their dynamic hooker, Jordan Buchanan, scored a try, Marc Stevenson converted the try to see his team into a 14-7 halftime lead.
Shortly after the restart the visitors kicked a penalty to reduce the arrears to 14-10. The King’s School team went into the lead by 17-14 with a converted try on fifty minutes. Despite continuous Banbridge Academy pressure in the closing stages of the game it was the King’s School team that scored the final score of the game when they kicked a penalty to seal a 10-14 victory.
Ballymena Academy locked horns with Coleraine AI for the second time in October with the North coast boys hoping that home advantage could be the catalyst for a reverse of the Ballymena win at the start of the month. Ballymena welcomed back Sam McNabney to the starting line-up but took the field without several of their senior players due to injury and holiday arrangements.
Coleraine started strongly and opened the scoring with a Michael Poskitt penalty in the third minute. From the restart, the Ballymena backline showed an intention to stretch the Coleraine AI defence with Caleb Morrison and Nicholas Stirling making ground in the wide channels. The first try of the morning was the result of a dynamic driving maul by the Academy pack, with Adam Mitchell touching down for his first try of the season. Caleb Morrison added the extras to take the score to 7-3 in favour of the Ballymena Academy team.
Ballymena’s second try was created by out-half Stephen Shaw who spotted space behind the Coleraine defensive line. His well-measured kick was gathered and touched down by Timothy Patton with Caleb Morrison again adding the conversion. The Ballymena team now looked to be in control with the score at 14-3 in their favour.
Coleraine AI reduced the deficit with a replica of the Academy try. Michael Poskitt’s well-placed kick exploited the space behind the Ballymena try line and the Coleraine wing had no difficulty in touching down. Michael Poskitt was unsuccessful with the attempted conversion but the scoreline was now reading 14-8 in favour of the visitors.
Following a period of pressure before half-time, Ballymena increased their lead with Matthew Rea driving over from close quarters. Caleb Morrison confidently slotted the conversion to leave the half-time score at 21-8.
The second half was a disappointing affair, particularly for Ballymena Academy. They made careless mistakes and a number of wrong decisions which enabled the Coleraine team to capitalise. It was the home team who scored the only points of the second half when their Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ U18’s prop, Stephen Best, showed strength and dynamism to drive over from close range. Michael Poskitt made no mistake with conversion and the final whistle sounded with the score 21-15 to the visiting Ballymena Academy team.
The Larne Grammar School senior teams and staff travelled to British Columbia in Canada for a half term tour. The 1stxv began their tour in downtown Vancouver after a long day of travelling. The first night of the tour was held in a local YWCA. The whole squad was tired and decided to have an early night. The next day the entire party got up around 9am to get breakfast followed by our first activity. They had the option of going for a cycle around Vancouver or to visit the Vancouver Aquarium. Later that day the tour squad had their first training session at UBC pitches in preparation for their match against Hugh McRoberts Secondary School. Great conditions and relatively warm weather led to a promising and tiring session. After this training session the players were taken to the Hugh McRobert Secondary School to meet their first hosts and then returned home with them that night. On the Thursday morning the whole squad went to Capilano Suspension bridge to touch up on their history of the area. After seeing some great sights and breath taking wildlife the entire squad went to Hugh McRoberts pitches to prepare for the match.
The match began with a bang. Hugh McRoberts showed rapid and aggressive rucking, fast ball and great pace across their back line. Their out half was precise with his boot and began to put pressure on the Larne Grammar School full back and wingers. However, after this furious start to the game Larne Grammar began to pick up the pace. Fast ball and precision handling created an overlap with Houston Saunderson getting the ball on the wing and running in a try under the posts. The restart gave Larne Grammar back possession. After a few phases of solid running from the forwards a turnover was forced and the first scrum of the match was called. A strong Hugh McRobert’s pack caused the Larne Grammar School pack some difficultly in the scrums and managed to win a few against the head. Then, after another few phases of constructive rugby, Houston Saunderson made another break and five metres from the line made an unselfish pass for Aaron McBride to score his first try of the tour. This period of great play from Larne Grammar School continued with Head Boy and flanker, Billy Brown, scoring four tries in the first half, two of which came from clever back row moves. Half time came and Billy Brown was taken off and replaced by Marc Robinson. Larne Grammar School continued with the Hugh McRobert’s team struggling to keep up with the intensity and pace. Two great runs from Jamie Johnston on his first game back saw him add two tries to his name. Larne Grammar School skipper, Ross Williamson, also managed to spot a gap and made the most of it by scoring try number nine. At this stage both teams we tiring and the last ten minutes of the game were approaching. However, Larne Grammar dug deep and managed to create an over overlap and a few great lines and solid passing saw Nathan McCullough run a try in under the posts. The young fly half, Philip Andrews, managed to convert eight of the ten tries leaving the score at the final whistle 66-0.
That night the players went back to their hosts and enjoyed the Canadian hospitality for another night. The next morning the players bid farewell to their hosts and said goodbye to the pupils of Hugh McRobert’s Secondary School and started their journey to Vancouver Island. This journey included a two hour ferry trip that took the tour party into Victoria. Once off the ferry, the group headed straight to their hotel that they would be staying in for the next night. Once all the tour gear had been taken off the bus and safely stored in the hotel, the entire party made their way down to the wharf to go whale watching. The y got changed into waterproof gear and set off with eager anticipation in the boats. This event was by far the most eagerly anticipated activity that the squad was going to do. While on the trip killer whales, humpback whales, grey whales and a lot of seals were spotted. The experience was breath taking and everybody loved it. After this the group spent a short time in Victoria to site see. Once back in the hotel the players had study time organised to enable the tour party to catch up on the work they had been missing back home! That night the entire party had time free to do what they wanted and many of them went into the town to soak up on the local culture and atmosphere. The hotel was beautiful and many of the boys were happy to go to sleep in the huge beds that were provided.
After a good night’s sleep the tourits made their way up to Cowichan Rugby Club to take part in a festival of rugby. Once the group arrived they went straight into their first game against Comox RFC. The games started very slowly as many of the Larne Grammar players were still tired due to their travel schedule. After a few minutes of playing the team pulled together. Fierce rucking and solid scrums began to tire the opposition and as a result gaps began to form in the Comox defence. Houston Saunderson seized his opportunity and ran hard with the ball to score 3 tries on the wing. The scrums worked well for Larne and good play from Billy Brown eventually paid off and rewarded Larne with another try. Bryan Hamill had been placed on the wing as a test to see how he would play. This paid off and Bryan made a huge run through the defence and headed for the posts to score another well-earned try. Four out of the five conversions from Philip Andrews went over the posts to see the final score end as a 33-0 win for the Larne Grammar School team. This was a brilliant start to the tournament and gave the players the drive to keep playing.
The next match the 1st XV was to play was against Cowichan Rugby Club. This was the host team and they were a well-trained side. The match was a lot more physical and the Larne squad appeared surprised as to how good the Cowichan team was. After prolonged pressure in the scrums and lines out and immense defence by all the team, Larne began to break through and the flood gates opened enabling the Larne team to score tries. The first came as a result of a well -timed run from Houston Saunderson to score in the corner. Billy Brown showed great strength in shrugging off the Cowichan defence in order to score another try for Larne. Jamie Johnston showed fantastic vision by running the ‘Helicopter’ ball in which he smashed through the Cowichan Line and subsequently scored another try. A stroke of genius from Philip Andrews saw him scoring in the 2nd half and then the 6 out of 6 kick attempts including a beautiful penalty kick meant that Larne were well ahead with no time for the opposition to come back. In the final minutes though, the Larne team slowed down and this resulted in the Cowichan team scoring but missing their conversion, meaning the final score finished 38-5. This was a great win and put the Larne 1st xv through to the finals against an English team, Ellesmere School from Cheshire, the next day.
Next morning the Larne squad gathered for the final that was to be played against the Ellesmere School team. If Larne Grammar won this game they would emerge as the overall winners of the tournament which would have been a fantastic boost for the morale of the team. This match was not going to be easy as it was to be a full 60 minutes long and to make things worse, the weather was very wet and the pitches had become waterlogged. However, the Larne squad were already used to this kind of weather back home and conditions did not impact on their performance. After a good warm up session before the match, many of the team were very positive and felt that they could win the match. Larne began the match with a good restart by Aaron McBride. The English side were very powerful and great at spreading the ball around their opponents. Initially, it was the Larne team who started the more strongly. A disallowed try from Houston Saunderson got the squad frustrated but they continued to put pressure on their opponents. Most of the first half was played inside the Ellesmere half, but unfortunately the English side were too fast and adept at spreading the ball to their wings enabling them to create overlaps. From this situation it was easy for their wide players to run and score to put them into a 12-0 half time lead. During half time the Larne team spirits were lifted by the coach and the team talk given by the skipper and other senior players. They came out in the second half desperately seeking an early score. Unfortunately, again the opponents proved too quick around the wing and subsequently two tries. Larne then saw a change in fortune and began to get penalties in their favour. This allowed them to get closer to their opponents try line and a solid shove by Ryan McAllister saw the ball go over the try line and give Larne the desperately needed score. This gave the team the determination to keep going, but the try was too little, too late and the final whistle blew, with the final score reading24-5 in favour of the Ellesmere School team. It was a disappointing match but there were many positives that came out of the match and the players were looking forward to playing the Capilano team when they got back to Vancouver.
The Larne Grammar School tour squad returned safely at the end of the half term holiday after a very challenging but ultimately rewarding tour. The entire squad would like to thank the Larne Grammar School Principal, Mr John Wilson, his Board of Governors, the Parents and Guardians of the players as well as the tour sponsors, for their support for the tour to British Columbia. A special word of thanks goes from the players to Mr Jonny Lowe, Mr Stephen Snoddy as well as the other members of staff who gave up their holiday break to accompany the tour party on this rugby trip of a lifetime!