Class of 2014 can draw inspiration from BRA old boys
Having nurtured the early talents of Jack Kyle, the man voted Ireland's greatest ever rugby player by the IRFU in 2002, Belfast Royal Academy's storied place in the history of rugby has long been assured and, for current pupils of the school, the quest to add to that legacy begins with a Danske Bank Schools' Cup tie away to Rainey Endowed tomorrow morning.
With the seven sides who won first-round ties a fortnight ago all kept apart in the draw, BRA and Rainey are the only teams who enter the competition at this stage that will play each other but that quirk of the fixtures is of little concern to the north Belfast school's assistant coach, David Creighton.
Ahead of tomorrow's game, he said: "We were never really worrying too much about the draw and you have to approach the game the same way no matter who you are playing.
"You have to play to the best of your ability and come out well against any side in this competition so, in a way, there's not going to be an easy draw against anyone."
It will be the first meeting of the two sides this season but there is a slight degree of familiarity between the pair, as Creighton explained. "They're a bit of an unknown quantity in a sense because we haven't played them in a full game but we did come up against them in a small tournament at the start of the year.
"We have a fair idea of what they're about and we can expect a physical side that will be very aggressive at the breakdown.
"We will need to combat that and we know that it is a tight-knit town so their support will be out to make it a tougher task as well."
Despite being the city's oldest school, BRA's Schools' Cup pedigree is somewhat overshadowed by their illustrious neighbours – Methody, RBAI and Campbell are the competition's three most successful sides – and a triumph back in 1997 is the only occasion when pupils from the Cliftonville Road secured the trophy outright following three consecutive shared finals between 1962 and 1964.
However, Creighton asserts that the current crop of players can draw inspiration from a cup run in the more recent past. The school was a beaten finalist in 2010, suffering a narrow 10-7 defeat to Ballymena Academy, despite boasting the presence of current Ulster and Ireland duo Iain Henderson and Stuart Olding in their ranks.
The pair of former schoolmates, who still reside together in Belfast, have enjoyed meteoric ascensions through the ranks since that disappointing St. Patrick's Day afternoon at Ravenhill less than four years ago and are now considered among the brightest prospects in Irish rugby.
Henderson is currently preparing for the Six Nations championship with Ireland, during which he will be hoping to add to his six caps, while Olding, who wore the number 10 shirt at school but has also played for Ulster at centre and full-back, made his international debut during the summer tour to North America but has since suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Creighton said: "We're a school that's immensely proud of our rugby history, whether that's Jack Kyle or having two guys involved in the Ulster and Ireland set-up at the minute.
"They're all very good to the school in terms of coming back and making visits and it's something that is great in assisting and encouraging a rugby culture.
"When we can point to players with that kind of profile who have gone here it gives real encouragement to the players to keep moving forward with their rugby and that's something that is excellent for the school."
Having won five of their 13 games to date this season, a cup run would be a real boost to the school's rugby set-up and much will rely on the senior players such as wingers David Campbell and Jordan Hylton, both of whom were part of the Ulster School's squad for this year's interprovincial series, as well as number 8 Stewart Martin.
Rainey, meanwhile, have lost just four of 15 outings during this campaign and have an Ulster School's player of their own in the shape of the hard-running Conal Murphy.
The Magherafelt school, that celebrated its tercentenary last year, have won four of their last five and beat last season's Schools' Cup semi-finalists Ballyclare High last time out.