Methodist College 8 RBAI 6: Holders Methody advanced to the semi-finals of the Danske Bank Schools Cup with a narrow victory at the home of their fierce rivals RBAI.
A first-half try from Alastair McIvor and a penalty from the boot of out-half Josh Bingham provided all the points that were required for the visitors who will play Wallace at Ravenhill in the first of the competition’s semi-finals.
RBAI will surely feel that they could have won the game but four errant penalty attempts and an inability to score when Methody were reduced to 14 men would ultimately prove their undoing. There was no mistaking the magnitude of the occasion as the streets surrounding Osbourne Park were littered with makeshift placards heralding the home team's title credentials while the hundreds of Inst pupils who led a procession from their school to the ground ahead of kick-off provided a vocal and vibrant presence throughout the contest.
RBAI began the game in the ascendancy with the tactical kicking of stand-off Frazer Wright ensuring that Methody’s backs would spend the early portions of the game chasing punts back into their 22.
In contrast, the champions were uncharacteristically lacking a clinical touch with three separate kicks put into touch on the full to sacrifice valuable territory.
Unfortunately for RBAI, if Methody lacked accuracy out of hand, Daniel Soper’s side did so off the tee and with 10 minutes played Wright sliced a penalty wide to the left from the point where the 22 and 15 metre lines intersect.
When next they were awarded a penalty it was sent to the
corner only for Andrew McGrath’s line-out throw to be deemed not straight by the referee and, when Frazer Wallace’s box kick took a fortunate bounce into the hands of Alex Thompson, Methody were again able to clear their lines without the concession of points.
Few, if any, teams at this level are a match for Methody’s relentless driving maul and, when Conall Boomer successfully gathered a line-out and handed the ball back to Steven Weir, another try off their vaunted set-piece seemed inevitable.
The hooked was, however, held up over the line as RBAI’s defence worked frantically to keep the game in a scoreless deadlock. That determined work would be undone just seconds later when from the resulting scrum Methody's pack worked the ball to the onrushing McIvor and the inside centre jinked his way over the line.
The conversion was missed, after the pacy Connor Field’s charge almost reached Bingham before he kicked, but Methody would lead 5-0 at the turn.
Shortly after the restart, Wright got RBAI on the board with a central penalty and, after bloodied prop Josh Lyness had been replaced by Aaron Davis, five minutes later they threatened again as Methody were pinned back deep in their own territory.
Once again though, the rolling maul proved a devastating weapon and the ball was marched from the 5m line to the 10m line in a matter of seconds.
After another miss just prior, Wright gave the home side their first lead as he successfully made his most difficult penalty attempt of the day with 20 minutes remaining.
The lead would be short-lived however as his opposite number Bingham made no mistake with a relatively straightforward shot at goal just before the hour mark.
With Methody reduced to 14 men after flanker Saul Herdman was shown a yellow card for an incident spotted by the touch judge, RBAI would eke out one final penalty as the clock ticked down.
With the silence that descended on Osbourne Park punctuated only by the sound of passing traffic from the Malone Road, Wright’s low attempt was drilled agonisingly wide and it would prove to be the final scoring chance of the game.
It was an unjust end for the young playmaker whose kicking game in open play ensured RBAI shaded the territory but it meant jubilation for Methody as they continue their quest for a third consecutive title.
For Inst — who last won the competition in 2007 — the wait for their 30th continues.