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Rugby Schools Cup: Strabane aim for upset on debut

By Jonathan Bradley

The Schools' Cup launch was held at the Kingspan Stadium yesterday with the first round draw also taking place.

With the competing captains and coaches in attendance, as well as Ulster's Paul Marshall, there were several interesting ties pulled out of the hat including Carrickfergus Grammar School hosting Lurgan College and Larne Grammar School's trip to Foyle College.

The fixtures are scheduled to be played on Saturday, January 10, 2015 after which Bangor Grammar School, Belfast High School, Belfast Royal Academy, Dalriada School, Down High School, Omagh Academy, Portora Royal School, Rainey Endowed School and Royal School Armagh join the competition.

The eight top seeds, including the likes of champions Methody, last season's beaten finalists Sullivan Upper, and Belfast heavyweights Campbell College and RBAI, will enter the fray in round three.

Before all that, however, Antrim Grammar School and Strabane Academy will face off in a preliminary tie for the right to face Banbridge Academy in the first round.

The tie is the culmination of three years' hard work for Strabane Academy who are in the competition for the first time since Strabane Grammar and Strabane High School merged in 2011.

The rugby team, who have benefited from the assistance of Academy Schools coach and former Ulster supremo Brian McLaughlin for one session a week, are thrilled to be back in the competition.

"It's very exciting for the school and especially for the boys," said coach Niall McDonnell.

"From the school's merger, we've progressed from the 3rd XV Schools' Cup to the 2nd XV Schools' Cup and now this.

"Although it's a bit of mountain we have to climb, the boys are there on merit and it's a great incentive to be involved in the competition.

"For the squad numbers that we have, we're really happy with the direction we've been heading."

While the prospect of facing Antrim Grammar is somewhat daunting, McDonnell is still keen to see his side offer a credible performance.

"We know that Antrim are an established, well organised team who have had tight games against opposition we've played against," said the coach.

"For me, it's a process that we're going through and it's very performance-driven.

"If we can put in a performance that shows the spirit we have here and the collectiveness then I'll be happy. I want to see the kind of performance that can inspire pupils further down the school."

That is not to say that the school has ruled out the possibility of an upset, however.

McDonnell continued: "It would be huge if we could get a result. We can only the control the controllables and that's our performance. We'll come off that pitch knowing that we've left everything out there and couldn't have given any more."

The preliminary round fixture will be played on Saturday, December 6

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