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Inst look to draw influence from their New Zealand connection

By Ronnie Ingram

RBAI, with only one defeat to an Ulster team this season, will start as favourites to overcome Dalriada in the third round of the Danske Bank Schools' Cup on Saturday.

They have the all-round strength but the Ballymoney side have home advantage and their players have already experienced playing in the Cup, against Portadown College 26-0 in the last round.

It's a new era at Inst where New Zealander Daniel Soper is the Director of Rugby throughout the school but Richard Hedley is still fully involved with the Firsts.

Soper, brought up in Alexandra, a town with less than 5000 inhabitants on the South Island and 117 miles north of Dunedin is known as the hottest, driest and coldest place in the country.

He learnt his rugby at Dunstan School and Otago University before he came to Banbridge. He spent a year at Padova in Italy, a club that has had included players like David Campese and the Bergamasco brothers, and then back to Bann.

He started teaching at Sullivan Upper but is remembered for his seven-year stay at Ballyclare High where, with his coaching they reached one Cup final and five semis, a remarkable achievement for a country school.

He is a top class coach with abundant experience as he has also proved with the increase in the standard of rugby at Banbridge over the past number of seasons.

Soper and Hedley have bonded well with the former concentrating on the attacking aspects of the game and Hedley the defence.

"We have a competent team and enter the competition with confidence" stated the Kiwi.

"Hopefully we have not too many weaknesses and have had only the one local loss to Methody 23-7 early in the season but the scoreline was rather flattering as we conceded a late try.

"From my experience at Ballyclare, I know there are no easy games at Dalriada. They are a skillful team capable of playing open rugby although the conditions at the moment may not help that type of game.

"It will be quite a challenge and we have no illusions. My job has been to encourage the team to relax more and play to their abilities," he concluded.

Under Hedley's control, Inst won the trophy in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and were finalists in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and, with his skills, Portadown in Qualifying One have gone from strength to strength.

"We have a number of representative players in our squad including Andrew McGrath, who was a flanker last season but now hooks for us and Ulster Schools," observed Hedley.

"Robert Lyttle has been playing well at full-back and Rory Campbell has a lot of pace in the centre.

"Fifth former Conor Field has plenty of potential on the wing, second row Harry Cleland is a tower of strength and back row Toby Boyd, who was injured early in the season came through his first outing last Saturday. Our out-half Fraser Wright has improved immensely".

All in all, Inst will be a difficult obstacle to overcome but Dalriada have been preparing strenuously.

"We were training in Limerick at the weekend and that has helped us bond as a team," stated coach David Dougherty.

"We have no real star players but our strength lies in our combination as a team. Timmy Emerson has been immense at out-half as has our other Under-19 representative player Peter Dunlop.

"We have won more than 60 percent of our games and the convincing victory over Portadown College has boosted our confidence.

"It is a great occasion for Dalriada but we know we are up against it. I have a hard working bunch of lads and hopefully we can combine as a unit.

"We have already beaten a couple of the 'big' schools and a win is not beyond our expectations."

Belfast Telegraph

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