One of Ulster’s proudest rugby schools, Ballymena Academy, are continuing their strong tradition of producing players at provincial and national standard by having no less than four former pupils included in the extended Ireland U20 squad ahead of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
Azur Allison, Bruce Houston, Angus Kernohan and Stewart Moore will all be hoping to book a seat on the plane to Argentina next month, and their former school principal, Mr Stephen Black, is understandably very pleased.
“We’re absolutely delighted – delighted for each of the boys individually and for the school, plus the recognition it gives to the school’s senior coaches John Andrews and Gavin Murray, and all those who have been involved in the development of those boys right the way up through the school,” said Mr Black.
“I’m particularly happy for Azur Allison and Stewart Moore, who missed out on the U20 Six Nations through injury, but have fought their way back into the squad ahead of the World Championship.”
All four players are currently enrolled in the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy, as is Marcus Rea, while senior players Andy Warwick, John Andrew, Matthew Rea and Luke Marshall are also former pupils at Ballymena Academy.
“In the last number of years, we have had quite a number of players involved in age-grade rugby and if you look at the Ulster panel at the minute, we have nine players there between the Academy and senior squad. Each one of those would’ve been well-known and respected players within schools and age-grade rugby and they all shone in different ways, and we’re just delighted to see that continue.
“The school has had a great tradition of producing players that have represented Ulster and Ireland, and indeed the British & Irish Lions in the cases of Syd Millar and Willie John McBride. For us, it’s great that we’re able to maintain that tradition and, at the minute, we have 18 different boys involved in the Ulster U17, U18 and U19 squads.
“While we’re very proud of their achievements on the field, they have acted as tremendous ambassadors for the school in the way they conduct themselves off the field. They have also given back to the school – Angus was the Backs Coach for the 2018 Medallion Shield winning team and Bruce was the Backs Coach on the team that reached the Medallion Shield final this year, so it’s great to maintain that relationship between the players and the school.”
The finalised squad for the World Rugby U20 Championship is set to be announced in the coming days, with all four players hoping to join IRFU Ulster Branch President Ian McIlrath – also a former Ballymena Academy pupil – on the three-week trip to South America.