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Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Final Preview Friday 17th March 2017

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final will take place at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday 17th March at 3-00pm when the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team will play their long established adversaries from Methodist College, Belfast in a game that will capture the imagination of supporters from both schools and much further afield.

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution team has reached the final confident in the fact they are favourites to win the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup for a third successive season. They have come through their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign having defeated Ballyclare High School comfortably in Round 4, having had to work hard before recording a close victory at Campbell College in the quarter-final and dealing efficiently with an “out of sorts” Ballymena Academy team in the semi-final.

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution Director of Rugby, Dan Soper, has built up an impressive array of talent around him in terms of both staff and players. Richard Hedley has had years of experience coaching senior teams at Belfast Inst as well as at Ulster Age Grade representative level and Ulster Qualifying League level. James Knox looks after the Strength and Conditioning aspects of the preparation of the Belfast Inst senior teams while Gavin Noble provides a first class physiotherapy service to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution senior players. Master-in-Charge of Rugby, Raymond Pattison, is always on hand to deliver sage advice to the coaching staff should the necessity arise. The whole thing is gelled together by the team manager, the experienced Andrew Douglas. Team captain, Michael Lowry, was a leading player with the successful Ulster U19 team earlier in the season. He was one of a number of key decision makers in that squad and provides a similar role with this Belfast Inst team. Michael sets very high standards for himself and expects nothing less from his team mates. Michael is more that keen to follow in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors as captains of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team, Conor Field and Lewis McNamara, in stepping up to lift the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup on St Patrick’s Day.

His captaincy skills were well tested in the course of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game where he scored an outstanding try.. Michael’s half back partner, Rhys O’Donnell, is an outstanding prospect who was another member of the Ulster U19 squad. Rhys gained International recognition last season when he played on the Ireland U18 3 Nations team against a France U18 and the England Home Counties U18 teams. In recent games Rhys has taken the development of his game to another level. His performance in the final will need to be monitored closely by the Methodist College defence. Alongside James Hume, the Vice-Captain, and Joe Finnegan, the two try hero against Campbell College in the quarter-final, in the Belfast Inst backline, the performances of these players will be closely monitored by the Ireland U19 Management team during the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final. Callum Reid played for the Ulster U19 team while the talented Niall Armstrong, a hat trick hero in the semi-final against Ballymena Academy, and Ethan Field, had their abilities recognized when they played for the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team earlier in the season. Ethan has missed quite a few games due to injury and it would be seen as a major boost for the Belfast Inst squad if his rehab was sufficient to allow him to take his place in the squad for this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final game. Ethan did get some pitch time in the semi-final game which will have been seen to have helped with his strictly monitored rehab programme.  Players like Pierce McLernon, who has had an outstanding season, Dermot Wallace, Yasser Omar, Neil Saulters, Paddy Finnegan and Charlie Cloke are all in Year 14 and have been the backbone of the development of a very good set of forwards.

Added to that list can be David Lyttle who has proved to be more than a handful for opposition teams this season. David McCann is a Belfast Inst player who is equally adept in playing in a number of positions and this gives the coaching staff a great degree of flexibility when it comes to selection alongside his talented colleagues. David had an outstanding game when he came on as a replacement in the quarter-final game against Campbell College and was a starter against Ballymena Academy in the semi-final. Angus Adair is an emerging talent in the Belfast Inst backline who would love nothing more than a successful runout in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final. A successful midterm tour to Northampton and Bedford back in October cemented in the minds of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution squad that they definitely had the talent, desire and experience to continue along the road of recent success the school has achieved in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup competition. They now find themselves within striking distance of another Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final victory.

The Methodist College, Belfast team will be pleased to be seen in the eyes of many Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup observers as being outsiders to win this eagerly anticipated Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final. However, no Methodist College team should ever be underestimated when it comes to final time in the second oldest rugby competition in the world. The Methody players had to work hard before overcoming a resolute Down High School team in the fourth round,  were tested fully before coming from a long way back to defeat the Royal School, Armagh team in their testing quarter-final game and dealt comfortably with the Belfast Royal Academy team in the semi-final.

The Methodist College, Belfast team has had a somewhat indifferent season in terms of results until the success of their recent Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign. However, it is now Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final time which will mean that whatever has happened earlier in the season there will now be a total re-focusing of efforts to ensure the Methodist College players are suitably well prepared, both mentally and physically, for their encounter against the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team. Having recorded hard-earned wins against Down High School, Royal School, Armagh and Belfast Royal Academy in the previous rounds of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup the Methodist College squad will be in a very positive mood as they prepare for their final game against the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team. When it comes to winning Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup games few teams have coaches in charge with more experience than the Methodist College team. Nick Wells and Stephen Lindsay have seen quite a few Methodist College teams through the trials and tribulations of a successful Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup run. They receive great assistance from Andrew Willis who has given freely of his time to develop his level of expertise in dealing with talented schoolboy players. Team captain, Matty Loane, is an all action player who leads his team by example. Matty sets very high standards for himself in terms of what he does both on and off the pitch. His attention to detail is renowned and he expects the same from his team mates.

His try against the Royal School, Armagh team, in the quarter-final game, came at a crucial time and could be looked upon as a turning moment in that game. He forms a very effective break away trio with Cameron Kelly and Thomas Gallagher. Thomas added to his growing reputation with a match winning hat trick of tries in the quarter-final round against the Royal School, Armagh team and touched down for another against Belfast Royal Academy in the semi-final. It has been a difficult season at times for the Methodist College squad but things seem to have turned around somewhat since their trip to Portugal for a training camp prior to Christmas. While in camp the Methodist College team played against the Portugal National U19 team and recorded a well-deserved victory. On their return a successful outing to Dublin and a win against a much vaunted Terenure College team would suggest the Methody team might just have been hitting a bit of form at just the right time.

Their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup wins against very committed Down High School, Royal School, Armagh and Belfast Royal Academy teams would suggest that to be true. The Methody team has the ability to score tries from just about anywhere on the pitch. Players such as Paul Kerr, a hat trick hero in the semi-final, Conor Scollan, Jonny Jordan and Chris Larmour have been regular try scorers this season. Chris is a young emerging talent who has adapted well to the demands of senior schools’ rugby.  Thomas Armstrong is another young player to have done likewise. Paul Kerr is not only a threat with the ball in his hands but he is also very accurate off the kicking tee as he has proved in the quarter-final and semi-final games. Paul will be only too happy to punish any Royal Belfast Academical Institution indiscretions in the course of the final. His try, conversion and penalty in the course of the 4th Round game and his four conversions in the quarter-final game, allied to his three tries and successful kicks in the semi-final game, show just how vital a player Paul is for the Methody team. Ben Crangle is a hard working prop who was involved with the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ U18 team earlier in the season. His interactions with his opposite number at scrum time in the course of this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup game could have a great bearing on the eventual outcome. James McConnell, Ethan McIlroy and Thomas Fletcher are other Methodist College players who will be hoping to impress in the course of this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final game.

The 2017 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup final will kick off at the Kingspan Stadium on March 17th at 3-00pm.