The Wallace High School team will be delighted to have home advantage when they host Ballymena Academy in their Danske Bank Ulster Schools' quarter-final game on Saturday 18th February. The Ballymena Academy team is one of the few teams from Ulster to have beaten the Wallace High School team this season and that game was played in Ballymena. Many neutral observers see the Wallace High School and Ballymena Academy squads as the two groups of players that might be strong enough to loosen the grip of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution on the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup.
The Wallace High School pitch has become something of a fortress for the Wallace team with very few teams leaving it with a victory under their belts. In their last Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup encounter against a very strong Omagh Academy team the Wallace High School team recorded an impressive 44-14 victory. That impressive result will have sent a warning shot out to the Ballymena Academy team as they prepare to travel to Lisburn. The Wallace High School Director of Rugby, Derek Suffern, who is assisted with his 1stxv coaching by Ian Latham, will have completed an in depth analysis of the Ballymena Academy team and his talented squad will be well-prepared for the game. The Wallace High School team captain, Gary Dillon, will want his team mates to ensure they leave no stone unturned in an effort to overcome the strong Ballymena Academy challenge. Gary will wish to ensure his team has the Wallace High School name in the draw for the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup semi-final stage. Gary leads from the front and his team has produced a very impressive set of results in the course of the current season. Not only has the team achieved some great results against teams from Ulster but they have achieved some significant results against school teams from Leinster as well. Gary has been the leading try scorer for the Wallace High School this season with players such as Matthew Pentland, Jamie Manderson and Jonny Hunter not far behind. Matthew Pentland, as well as impressing with the ball in hand, is a superb place kicker who will be only too happy to display his place kicking skills on Saturday. Tom McKendry is another fine place kicker the Wallace High School team has used to good effect in games this season. Jamie Manderson is a very athletic winger who has outpaced quite a few opposition defenders in his game this season. Jamie and Jonny Hunter both played for the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' U18 team earlier in the season. There are first class rugby genes in Jonny Hunter whose grandfather, Raymond, a former Wallace High School pupil, went on to play for Ulster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. The Ballymena Academy defence will not only have to monitor these players but will need to watch out for the emerging talents of players such as Peter McRoberts, Conor Rankin and Andrew Reid, a player who impressed with his try scoring exploits in the previous round. Stephen Courtney touched down for two tries against Omagh Academy and proves the fact this Wallace High School team is capable of scoring tries from any position on the pitch. The Cardosi twins, Sam and Josh, are two more Wallace High School players who have caught the eye of interested observers with their positive performances in games for the Wallace High School team in recent weeks. Josh scored two tries in the game against Omagh Academy and will be delighted to do something similar against Ballymena Academy. The Wallace High School squad took part in a successful training camp in Portugal prior to Christmas. The squad used it as an opportunity to cement in place their physiological and psychological approach to their Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup campaign and, to date, it seems to have worked. They feel they are well on the road for another appearance in a Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup semi-final. The next leg on that journey starts on Saturday.
The Ballymena Academy team was made to work hard for their 38-24 victory against a very committed Dalriada School team when the teams met recently in the 4th Round of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup. Having emerged eventually from that game as winners the Ballymena Academy team will realise they will have to raise their standard of performance if they are to have any chance of coming away from their quarter-final game against Wallace High School with a victory. 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.
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 Saturday against the Wallace High School 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 be hoping to play 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 previous round that the players started to perform with the usual standard of performance expected of them. Azur Allison, a try scorer against Dalriada, 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 four successful conversion kicks against Dalriada and Stewart Moore touched down for one 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.
Royal School Armagh v Methodist College Belfast (11.00am)
Having been on the road for their 3rd and 4th Round Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup games against the Royal School, Dungannon and Enniskillen Royal Grammar School teams the Royal School, Armagh team will be delighted to be playing at their College Hill venue when they host Methodist College, Belfast in the quarter-finals of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup.
The Royal School, Armagh team recorded a comfortable victory in the course of their previous outing and will expect a much sterner test of their Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup credentials when the Methodist College team arrives in to play. The Royal School, Armagh coaches, Chris Parker and Willie Faloon, who have the not inconsiderable shadow of the well-renowned Kenny Hooks overseeing their endeavours, will want their players to raise their performance to another level when they face up to the Methodist College challenge. The Royal School, Armagh team has the experienced James Dunne at the captaincy helm this season. James has led his team well but the feeling around the Royal School, Armagh team is that, while there have been some encouraging performances and results this season, the squad might have struggled overall for consistency. A good core of experienced players has returned from the previous season with Jonny Agnew and talented scrum half, Benjamin Boyd, among the pick of the Year 12 players giving a good account of themselves in the course of their first year playing senior rugby. Jonny has been involved with Ulster U16 squads while Benjamin is a player whose progress is being closely monitored by the Ulster Rugby Talent ID Department. Their respective performances against the Royal School, Dungannon and Enniskillen Royal Grammar School teams in the previous rounds would suggest this monitoring process will continue. Peter Wilson has been the top Royal School, Armagh try scorer with an impressive tally of nineteen, his last one in the third round. Not far behind come players such as Zac Thompson, who scored another one against the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School team in the previous round, and Glen Faloon. Glen has amassed a tremendous total of 162 points this season and will be only too delighted to add to that total against the Methodist College team. Nicholas Jennings and Ryan O'Neill, both try scorers in the previous two rounds, have been involved with the Ulster Schools' U17 squad. Christopher Jennings, older brother of Nicholas, is Head Boy of the Royal School, Armagh. Both Jennings brothers will hope to emulate the achievements of their father, John, in the course of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup campaign. John, of course, scored the winning try for the Royal School, Armagh team in the 1977 Ulster Schools' Cup Final.
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 Royal School, Armagh team. Having recorded a hard-earned win against Down High School in the 4th Round of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup the Methodist College squad will be in a more positive form as they prepare for their quarter-final game in Armagh. 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. He forms a very effective break away trio with Cameron Kelly and Thomas Gallagher. Thomas added to his growing reputation with a match winning try 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 win against a very committed Down High School two weeks ago 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. He will be only too happy to punish any Royal School, Armagh indiscretions. His try, conversion and penalty in the course of the 4th Round 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 quarter-final game.
Campbell College Belfast v Royal Belfast Academical Institution (11.00am)
Campbell College, Belfast will expect a full house when they host the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team in their eagerly awaited Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup quarter-final game on Saturday 18th February. This game is, of course, a re-run of the 2016 Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup final which the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team won. Nothing would please this Campbell College team more than they would be the team to release what might appear, to some observers, to be an ever strengthening Royal Belfast Academical Institution grip on the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup.
Despite being short of a number of players, including their team captain, James Nelson, the Campbell College team recorded a reasonably comfortable 29-5 victory against Sullivan Upper School in the previous round. The Campbell College coach, Brian Robinson, who is ably assisted by the youthful Jonny Cupitt, will be hoping that he can guide his current squad back to the Kingspan Stadium on March 17th and go one stage further than the squad he took there last season. So far this season the Campbell College team has lost only three games and those games were lost narrowly when the team was missing quite a number of frontline players due to Age Grade Inter Provincial commitments earlier in the season. Team captain, James Nelson gained representative age grade honours with the Ulster U19 team earlier in the season as did tight head prop, Tom O'Toole. It is unlikely that James will play any major on-field role in the Campbell College Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup campaign as he is currently recovering from a collar bone injury. There is power and pace aplenty in the ranks of the Campbell College squad and, with many of their players having experienced the disappointment of the loss in last year's Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup final. There is an overwhelming desire for success in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup among both the coaching staff as well as the players. This Campbell College team has the ability to score tries from anywhere on a pitch. Full back, Ben Webb and backrow forward, Jamie Macartney, share the leading try scorer ratings with Tom O'Toole and Oscar Yandall not far behind. Oscar, Ben Power and Will Davis share the place kicking duties which ensures they are among the leading point's scorers in the Campbell College squad this season. Tom O'Toole, Ben Webb, Ben Power and John McKee, with two, were all try scorers against Sullivan Upper with Will adding two conversions. As well as their two Ulster U19 Inter-Provincial players the Campbell College team can call upon the services of six Danske Bank Ulster Schools' U18 players in Matthew Crowther, who is also Head Boy of the school, John McKee, Oisin Kernan, Jamie Macartney, Ben Webb and Oscar Yandall. Emerging talents such as Harry Owens, Sam Robinson, Lucas Yandall, brother of Oscar, and Jack Stinson are other Campbell College players the Royal Belfast Academical Institution team will need to monitor carefully when the teams meet in the quarter-final of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup.
Since taking over at Royal Belfast Academical Institution as Director of Rugby, Dan Soper has seen his team play all but one of their Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup games at their home pitch at Osborne Park. Obviously the semi-final and final appearances at the Queen's Arena and Kingspan Stadium are not included in that statistic! Dan 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. 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. The whole thing is jelled together by the team manager, the redoubtable 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 will be more that keen to follow in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors as captains of the Royal Belfast Acadeical Institution team, Conor Field and Lewis McNamara, in stepping up to lift the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup on St Patrick's Day. 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. Alongside James Hume, the Vice-Captain, and Joe Finnegan 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 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 the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup campaign. 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 back 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. 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 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 travel further along that road on Saturday.
Friends' School Lisburn v Belfast Royal Academy (11.00am)
The Friends' School, Lisburn team has achieved a great deal of success in the course of their Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup campaign this season. Victories against Antrim Grammar School, Coleraine Grammar School in a replay and Grosvenor Grammar School have seen the Friends' School team reach the quarter-final stage with a home draw against Belfast Royal Academy. A full strength Friends' School team would see this game as an opportunity to make further progress in the competition. However, with eighteen Friends' School players unavailable for selection for the game, the favourites tag would now seem to lie firmly with the Belfast Royal Academy team.
The Belfast Royal Academy team has had a mixed season in terms of results since September. 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 quarter-final game as being eminently winnable. Team coach, David Creighton, has the experience of 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 in all his games this season. All these qualities were evident in his performances against Portadown College and Rainey Endowed School in the 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 the previous round. 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 performance 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. In the Belfast Royal Academy 2nd Row, Bradley Luney, is another player the Friends' School 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 quarter-final game. Having scored tries in each of the last two rounds Abdullah will be keen to keep adding to his try scoring exploits.