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Resilience can drive Sullivan

By Michael Sadlier

Published 19/02/2016

Lining up: the Sullivan Upper squad
Lining up: the Sullivan Upper squad

Two weekends ago should have just been another regular cup game when Sullivan Upper went to Regent House, but it ended up being anything but.

Their third round meeting in the Danske Bank Schools' Cup came with a couple of wholly unanticipated events which had ramifications for the Holywood school's squad.

Prior to kick-off, Sullivan's Director of Rugby, Willie Anderson, had to be taken to hospital with a heart issue before, after things got going, the visitors' skipper Chris Jordan suffered a broken leg which considerably delayed the completion of the clash.

You could hardly have blamed Sullivan had they succumbed following the distress of such disruption, but they, very admirably, regrouped and went on to beat Regent 14-0 prior to the quarter-final draw then managing to bring them up against cup holders Royal Belfast Academical Institution at Osborne Park.

So, Sullivan came through one hugely difficult situation strongly and now, as underdogs, face another formidable task in heading to south Belfast to take on Inst, who thumped Coleraine Grammar at Osborne Park for their third round introduction to the competition. Still, Sullivan sound ready for the challenge.

Former Ireland skipper Anderson, who has now recovered and will be on the touchline tomorrow, said: "The reaction to the setbacks they had on the day was outstanding.

"I obviously didn't see any of the game but from what I gather it was our best performance by a long way this season.

"They stuck to the game-plan for the day and there was a 40-minute break in the game (due to Jordan's injury) so they had to keep the concentration to go back inside and then come out and play again.

"To be able to do that and function says a lot for them, and they're a great bunch of guys who have really knuckled down."

While admitting that the loss of talented winger Jordan is considerable, Anderson is still confident that his side have shown their mettle in successfully dealing with the events at Regent and that this will stand to them tomorrow.

As Anderson - who is assisted by Lawrence Kelly and team manager Stephen Finlay - pointed out: "We went to Regent, which was a pretty hostile environment, and with all the things we had to contend with we came through.

"For the Regent game it was actually one of the best build-ups and warm-ups we've done and though, obviously, I didn't finish it, you could feel the electricity.

"We have to adopt that same approach at Inst. We're really looking forward to the match and we know we're the underdogs but that's great for us.

"We have to go out and believe in our abilities so we're certainly intending to give them a game."

Though they lost to Inst fairly recently, the game was close at half-time and, anyway, this is now cup rugby.

Despite the fact that the losing finalists from 2014 haven't had a sparkling season, there is a feeling that they just might be peaking at the right time.

And Sullivan do possess a talented squad. New skipper Luke Coulter is a quality second row and leader while their pack, containing promising players Steven Moore and Shaun Tyler - No.8 and hooker respectively - also has a decent lineout and scrum which are sure to come under close scrutiny from Inst's own formidable eight.

Behind the forwards, Sullivan look to have considerable cutting edge. Despite losing Jordan, the back three is still strong with outstanding winger Jules Storey and full-back Johnny Betts both very dangerous players with ball in hand.

Their midfield of Matty Moran and Rory Kilpatrick is also one with attacking guile and defensive strength though much will depend on how half-backs Ruari Meharg and Calum Jeffrey fare.

Anderson is certainly under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task in making the last four of the competition, but wants his side to show their strength and belief.

"It's very important we go into the game and play with confidence and no fear," he added.

"We know they've got very few weaknesses, but we're going in knowing there's an opportunity here and one where we have got to give our all.

"So it's a case of us going out and expressing ourselves."

It should be quite a game.

RBAI: Jake Chambers, Bailey Gribben, John Dickson, Harry Gallagher, Pierce McLernon, Patrick Finnegan, Ethan Field, Charlie Cloke, Nial Armstrong, Michael Lowry, Sam Fryers, James Hume, Conor Field, Callum Reid, Neil Saulters, Dermott Wallace, Charlie Fryers, Blair Robinson, David Whitten, Mark Keane, Joe Finnegan, Rhys O'Donnell, David Lyttle, Adam Gowdy, Ben McGavock.

SULLIVAN: Michael Montgomery, Shaun Taylor, Stephen Brush, Jake Stevenson, Luke Coulter, Peter Baker, George Chitack, Steven Moore, Ruari Meharg, Matty Moran, Rory Kilpatrick, Lewis Smyth, Jules Storey, Johnny Betts, Micheal Houston, Dan Braniff, Calum Jeffrey, Adam McKenna, Nameer Shahzad, Charlie Gregg, Thomas Anderson, Rory Jemphrey, James Crickford, Andy Weir, Andy McConnell.

Belfast Telegraph

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