Royal Belfast Academical Institution booked their place in the quarter-final of the Danske Bank Schools’ Cup on Saturday morning after narrowly overcoming a fearless Dalraida side, 14-7 at a wet and windy, St James’s Road.
The Belfast side will now face a mouth-watering encounter, against reigning champions, Methodist College Belfast who had a comfortable victory defeating Limavady Grammar 29-0.
The last time the two sides met in the cup, outside of a semi-final or final was in 2000, when RBAI took the spoils, 7-0 at Pirrie Park.
Daniel Soper’s team were favourites going into Saturday’s encounter but Dalriada proved a tough outfit.
Enjoying the underdog title, they were unlucky not to earn themselves at least a replay.
The opening exchanges were tense with Dalriada having the first chance of the half, setting up an impressive maul from a lineout.
Their powerful forward pack marched over the opposition try line only to be held up by some impressive last ditch defending.
Enduring some intense pressure, RBAI managed to battle their way back into the game with talented fly half, Fraser Wright putting the ball in the right areas of the pitch with the boot.
However, credit must go to Michael Finnerty, the Dalriada full-back, who responded well to Wright’s tactical awareness, clearing his lines.
The visitors attacked patiently trying to break down Dalriada.
Number 8, Toby Boyd carried countless times for the men in Black and Yellow but the opposition back row of Henry Loan and Scott Malcomson stood up to the task as they tackled furiously.
Just before half time, quick thinking from a penalty by RBAI halfback, Cameron Black allowed space to be created for second row Harry Clelland to crash over from close range.
Wright added the extras making it 7-0 at the break.
The second half saw the home side come out fighting with Ulster Schools representative Timmy Emerson their talisman.
Fly Half, Emerson was the orchestrator linking play between forwards and backs.
David Dougherty’ s side produced the best move of the day, as a fine cut out pass from Emerson, found winger Robert Hunter who used his pace to scythe through. Hunter failed to use the two-man overlap outside him therefore squandering the chance. RBAI defended with resilience as the home side failed to covert their chances.
The 29-time Schools’ Cup champions showed their endeavor as they closed the game out, turning defense into attack.
On the 70th minute they got their reward, after a powerful scrum inside the opposition 22, allowing Wright to break the gain line, creating quick ball for industrious hooker, Andrew McGrath to power over.
Wright once again slotted the conversion making it two from two with the boot. As their hopes of a quarter-final birth faded, Dalriada got their reward scoring four minutes from time giving their loyal fans something to remember.
The classy Emerson produced a bit of magic, as his perfectly weighted up and under landed into Peter Dunlop’s hands who impressively ran in from 35 meters to score under the posts.
However, RBAI held on to claim a hard earned victory.
Their coach Soper admitted his side were fortunate but was delighted with the win. He is also looking forward to the visit of Methody and realizes how big the task is,
“Methody are the front-runners in the Ulster schools rugby over the last number of years and deservedly so,” he said.
“It is nice to get them at home but that does not diminish the enormity of the task. It will be a massive rugby occasion and hopefully supporters will get along.”