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Lurgan hunt for cup glory

Jamie is following in some famous family footsteps

By Jonathan Bradley

Whether it's the likes of Rory and Tony Underwood playing on opposite flanks for England, Scott and Gavin Hastings representing both Scotland and the Lions together, or Ireland's current pair of brothers Rob and Dave Kearney, rugby is a game often littered with familial ties.

And that tradition is set to continue on Saturday morning as the Schools' Cup kicks off with Lurgan College hosting Antrim Grammar School.

Lining up for County Armagh school will be Jamie Hunter, the grandson of Raymond Hunter who toured South Africa with the British and Irish Lions back in 1962.

Raymond, who won his first Irish cap on the same day as the legendary figures of Willie John McBride and Syd Miller during the year all three would become Lions, was Ireland's last dual international having been a part of the national cricket side for over 10 years.

Jamie's father Graeme was the Ireland cricket team's 12th man on two occasions, as well as playing senior rugby for North alongside his two brothers, and Raymond is pleased to see his grandson carrying on the family's sporting tradition.

He said: "It's great to see the kids play any type of sport and I do like to occasionally get down and see Jamie when I can.

"His two younger brothers both play rugby as well and my three sons played cricket for Lurgan and senior rugby so it's a family with a lot of sport in it."

And ahead of his first Schools' Cup game, Jamie added: "It's great to have somebody who played for the Lions in the family and it's probably one of the reasons why I got into it when I was young.

"Everyone is really excited for the game on Saturday and it will be a big challenge.

"We know what to expect from Antrim because we've played them before but at the same time they know all about us so it will be a tough game."

Hunter (pictured) is part of a Lurgan College side who have not been defeated since October and have won nine of their 13 games this season, including two victories over Saturday's opponents.

The College, beaten finalists in the Schools' Cup back in 1934, have not enjoyed success in the competition during recent years but head coach Geoff Caldwell feels that his current crop of players are capable of improving upon their fortunes.

Ahead of the game, he stated: "It might sound crazy but I would rather have this team win two games in the Schools' Cup than go all the way in one of the subsidiary competitions just because it's something that the school haven't been able to do in so many years.

"It's something that we've targeted all year and I think it's very achievable because there has been a lot of progress this season and we're definitely moving in the right direction.

"We've worked hard all year so if we can get those two wins, and go into uncharted territory if you like, it would be a great reward."

However, while Lurgan College have beaten Antrim Grammar by 20 points both home and away in recent months, Caldwell still expects a testing outing.

"We were fortunate enough to beat them twice this season but they were tough games and that's what we expect on Saturday," he said.

"Hopefully home advantage can see us through and we can go forward in the competition."

Caldwell credits the school's medallion coaches, Brian Hanna and Brian Faith, as well as Lurgan High School's Rob McDowell, Ulster Rugby Development Officer Paul Heasley and Trevor Carruthers for helping to develop the squad throughout the years and feels he has been left with a talented group of individuals.

They will be captained by Mark McIlwaine, also the school's head boy, who is the team's top-scorer this season.

Powerful number 8 Matthew Laird provides the most potent try threat while fellow backrow forward Ryan McCann is another influential figure.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the side's play this season has been the scrum, where a front-row comprised of fifth year prop Harry Simpson, Des Bingham and Cameron Lyness has considerably exceeded expectations.

Bangor Grammar, Belfast Royal Academy, Coleraine AI, Down High, Limavady Grammar, Belfast High School, Portora, Dalriada and Rainey Endowed are already in the hat for the second round draw, which takes places following Royal School Dungannon's game with Omagh Academy on Saturday.

A win against Antrim Grammar would not only see Lurgan College join them but also move to within one victory of achieving their season objective in the process.

Belfast Telegraph

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