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Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Semi-Final Previews Monday 27th-Tuesday 28th February 2017

Monday, 27 February 2017

The semi-finals of the 2017 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-finals will take place at the Kingspan Stadium on Monday 27th February when the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team will play against the Ballymena Academy team with the second semi-final, featuring Methodist College, Belfast and Belfast Royal Academy, taking place on Tuesday 28th February. Both these games are scheduled to kick off at 2-30pm.

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution team had to work hard in their quarter-final game against Campbell College, Belfast before they came away from that encounter with a 10-3 victory under their belts. 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 jelled 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 quarter-final game. 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 semi-final will need to be monitored closely by the Ballymena Academy 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 remainder of their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign. Callum Reid played for the Ulster U19 team while the talented Niall Armstrong 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 semi-final game. 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. Angus Adair is an emerging talent in the Belfast Inst backline who would love nothing more than a successful run in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup. 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 appearance.

The Ballymena Academy team was made to work hard during their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ quarter-final game against Wallace High School before they were able to secure their 21-17 victory which ensured their place in the semi-final. This eagerly anticipated Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game is a mirror image of the semi-final last season which the Belfast Inst team won before going on to lift the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup. Many observers of the schools’ game in Ulster would suggest the Ballymena Academy might be the one team that can loosen the grip of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team on the famous trophy. This will be the first head to head meeting of the two teams this season and it could be a case of “winner takes all”.

The Ballymena Academy team, coached by John Andrews and Gavin Murray, has had a successful season in terms of results, losing only three of their games. However, the coaches, who are able to call upon the services of Aaron Moore and former Ulster Rugby player and past pupil, Ricky Andrew, to assist, feel there is a lot more to come from this talented squad of players. Ryan Keating looks after the Strength and Conditioning aspects of the team’s performance so there is doubt the players will be well prepared physically for this encounter. Seventeen players in the current Ballymena Academy squad featured in the 2016 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game against the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team. There is an abundance of Ulster and Ireland U18 and U19 Age Grade talent throughout the ranks of the Ballymena Academy squad. Team captain, Alexander Clarke, has played for two years on the Ireland Schools’ U18 team and was a member of the successful Ulster U19 team earlier in the season. His performance on Monday against the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team will be monitored closely by the Ireland U19 Management team. As well as being 1stxv captain in Ballymena Academy, Alexander’s leadership qualities off the pitch have been recognized with his appointment as Deputy Head Boy in the school. Angus Kernohan is Head Boy of Ballymena Academy and he acts as Vice-Captain of the rugby team. Angus has been involved with the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team and has attended Ireland Schools’ U18 Camps in the course of the season. Angus is the leading try scorer for the Ballymena Academy team this season and, along with Alan Small, will have played his 50th game for the Ballymena Academy team in the course of this current Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign. It was only when Angus made an appearance on the Ballymena Academy team against Dalriada in the 4th round that the players started to perform with the usual standard of performance expected of them. His two try heroics against the Wallace High School team in the quarter-final game were pivotal in securing the victory in that game. Azur Allison captained the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team during the Inter-Provincial series and has attended the Ireland Schools’ U18 Camps. Bruce Houston, the leading point’s scorer on the Ballymena Academy team this season played for the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ U18 team and also attended the Ireland Schools’ Camps as did his fellow back, Stewart Moore. Bruce added to his point’s scoring exploits with another three successful conversion kicks against Wallace and Stewart Moore touched down for a crucial try in that game. Scott Agnew, Ben Savage, Tim Savoury, Oisin Jordan, Mark Thompson and Tiarnan Martin all featured with the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team while Michael Stronge was a valued member of the Ulster U19 squad. Oisin and Mark each scored two tries in their last Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup outing. Emerging talents such as Jonathan Browne and Joshua McAuley have had their ability recognized by their inclusion in Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ U17 squads. Seventeen players of the current Ballymena Academy squad were involved in the semi-final of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup last season with eleven of the squad having started that game. They are very keen to go one step further this season. Scott Agnew and his brother, Conor, are twins and grandsons of Sam Alexander, a former Vice –Principal of Ballymena Academy. In his time at the school Sam coached many teams including the 1stxv. He was an Ulster and Ireland Schools’ Selector of some repute. Among his progeny emerging from his Ballymena Academy teams is one John Andrews, the current Ballymena Academy coach. Sam is sure to be an interested spectator at this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup quarter-final game on Saturday. Former King’s Scholars, Ballymena RFC, Ulster and Ireland centre, Ian McIlrath, a former member of staff and rugby coach in Ballymena Academy and currently Junior Vice-President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, hopes to get time away from his busy schedule to attend this eagerly anticipated Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final.

This Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game is scheduled to kick off at 2-30pm.

The Methodist College, Belfast team has had a somewhat indifferent season in terms of results until now. However, it is now Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup 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 Belfast Royal Academy team. Having recorded hard-earned wins against Down High School and Royal School, Armagh in the previous rounds of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup the Methodist College squad will be in a more positive mood as they prepare for their semi-final game against Belfast Royal Academy, a team they defeated earlier in the season. 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 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 previous round. 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 be hitting a bit of form at just the right time. Their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup wins against very committed Down High School and Royal School, Armagh 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, 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 proved in the quarter-final game. He will be only too happy to punish any Belfast Royal Academy indiscretions. His try, conversion and penalty in the course of the 4th Round game and his four conversions in the quarter-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 semi-final game.

The Belfast Royal Academy team has had a mixed season in terms of results since September including one heavy defeat at the hands of Methodist College. However, there now seem to be some encouraging signs breaking through and the Belfast Royal Academy team will see this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game as being potentially winnable. Team coach, David Creighton, has the experience of his Director of Rugby, Brian McLaughlin, to call upon. With few exceptions in the schools’ game in Ulster, there are no more experienced coaches with the knowledge of what it takes to achieve success at schools’ level at Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup time than Brian. David, and the entire Belfast Royal Academy team, could hardly wish for a more experienced mentor than they have in Brian. Team captain, Conor McAuley, is a live wire scrumhalf who always gives off his best. He directs operations, cajoules and encourages his team mates, scores tries, kicks goals and has caused numerous headaches for the opposition players and teams in all his games this season. All these qualities were evident in his performances against Portadown College and Rainey Endowed School in previous rounds. Conor has topped the try scoring and, indeed, the points scoring charts for his team since the start of the season. He kicked another nine points in his last Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup game. The hard-working Tom Gilpin, in the Belfast Royal Academy backrow, has assisted with the try scoring statistics this season as has Matthew Borne. Tom had his great ability recognised earlier in the season when he played on the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ U18 team throughout the Inter-Provincial series of games. Matthew Dalton, but for a knee injury, would have played on the Ulster U19 team. His progress in terms of his performances in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign will be monitored closely by the Ireland U19 Management team. His lifting work in the lineout, as well as his two tries against Portadown College in the 3rd Round of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup, show that Matthew has lost none of his all action style of play. His recent switch to playing in the backrow seems to have energised Matthew and he will be keen to display his versatility in the course of this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game. In the Belfast Royal Academy 2nd Row Bradley Luney is another player the Methodist College team will need to monitor closely especially at set piece time. There are two emerging young players on the Belfast Royal Academy team whose progress in the course of their Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup campaign will be watched closely. Tom Stewart, who scored two tries against Rainey Endowed in the 4th Round, is a player who could play anywhere in the front row while Brandon Hasson is adept in a number of outside positions in the backline and loves nothing more than to get the ball in his hands. Abdullah Sabri, another wide player in the Belfast Royal Academy back division, will be very keen to add to his recent try scoring exploits in the course of this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game. He will enjoy the space afforded him by playing at the Kingspan and, having scored tries in each of his previous two rounds, Abdullah will be keen to keep adding to his try scoring exploits.

This Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-final game is scheduled to kick off at 2-30pm.