Round four is the stage at which the big guns nowadays enter the Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup fray and tomorrow’s line-up includes one particularly tasty fixture.
Methodist College, the holders and most successful school in the history of the competition versus the Royal School Armagh, first-ever winners of the competition which began away back in 1876.
That Pirrie Park showpiece (11am) will bring a number of Ulster and Irish Schools’ players into direct confrontation.
The hosts’ front row features Irish Schools’ Rory Harrison and Conor Carey. Going head to head with them will be Armagh’s Jonathan Dixon, Andrew Smyth and Simon Carlisle, each with representative honours.
The back rows ooze talent. Methody number eight, Gareth Reilly — remarkably a one-time hooker — is key in making ground and keeping half-backs Blane McIlroy and Paddy Jackson supplied. Armagh boast Stuart Hooks and Neil Faloon, equally outstanding in the creative and destructive roles.
Behind the loose forwards are two top-notch halves. Methody have McIlroy and Jackson, both capped for Irish Schools, as is Armagh number nine Harry Doyle, whose partner, Andrew Magowan, is an Ulster Schools’ Under 19-level player.
Methody’s Schools’ Cup tradition is second to none — 32 triumphs and now aiming for another hat-trick.
RS Armagh’s goal is a second win in six seasons. The winners of this one won’t be too far away come St Patrick’s Day.
There is another intriguing clash at Roughfort where Belfast Royal Academy host Royal Belfast Academical Institution.
All-Belfast, all-Royal, almighty battle in prospect.
A couple of weeks ago, just before the draw for the Schools’ Cup paired them, BRA beat RBAI by an 11-10 scoreline. Tomorrow could well be just as tight.
The other big Belfast rugby school, Campbell College, entertain Dalriada.
The Ballymoney boys have been one of this season’s surprise packages and they will not be fearful of facing hosts who have struggled to find consistency.
Both Lisburn rivals, Wallace and Friends, have home advantage against Omagh Academy and Sullivan Upper respectively.
While Wallace will fancy their chances of yet another quarter-finals appearance, Friends know that if they are to continue in the cup they must eliminate guests who, on their day, are capable of upstaging anyone.
Coleraine Academical Institution host Regent House in what
promises to be an encounter with little to choose between the contestants. With nine Schools’ Cup triumphs to their name over the years, CAI are the most successful participants outside Belfast’s big three.
Limavady Grammar School, who have never reached a final, host two-times winners, Ballymena Academy.
The Roesiders’ form this season has been very good, however, and Ballymena can ill-afford to underestimate them, particularly on their own pitch.
The Ballyclare High School versus Portora Royal School clash at Rashee Road brings together two more past winners, albeit that their victories were some time ago.
Ballyclare have won the trophy once (1973), while the most recent of Portora’s six successes was 1942, before any of the school’s current teachers, never mind pupils, were born!
Northern Bank Schools’ Cup Round 4:
Methodist College v RS Armagh (11am); Belfast Royal Academy v Royal Belfast Academical Institution (11am); Coleraine Academical Institution v Regent House (11.30am); Campbell College Belfast v Dalriada School (11am); Wallace High School v Omagh Academy (11am); Friends' School Lisburn v Sullivan Upper (10.30am); Limavady Grammar School v Ballymena Academy (11am); Ballyclare High School v Portora Royal School (11.30am).
Northern Bank Schools' Bowl Quarter- Finals: Bangor GS v Down HS (10.30am); Foyle and Londonderry College v RS Dungannon (10.30am); Larne GS v Banbridge Academy (10.30am); Rainey ES v Grosvenor GS (11am).
Northern Bank Schools' Trophy Semi-Final: Strabane GS v Portadown College (10.30am).