Schools' Cup: Belmont ‘stars’ have the edge in decider
The scene is set for what should be an entertaining 135th Northern Bank Schools' Cup final between Campbell College and RBAI at Ravenhill tomorrow (3.00pm).
Both sides have shown that they are capable of producing open, attractive rugby and the wide spaces of Ravenhill should make for a final to be remembered.
Inst and Campbell come with a long cup tradition with, Inst having won the trophy on 29 occasions, seven more than their opponents.
The finalists have both had their problems in reaching this stage and in a few ties the results could well have gone the other way.
Campbell, after a 31-0 win over Regent House, then had three epic meetings with Methody.
After two 10-10 draws they finally qualified for the semi-final with an 8-3 victory at Shaw's Bridge.
In the semi-final, Campbell eliminated an under-performing Ballyclare High 42-8.
Inst needed a late rally for a rather flattering 23-6 win over Dalriada, before they fought back from a 14-6 deficit, with four minutes remaining, to force a replay against Armagh Royal.
They then won 19-13 at Osborne Park, before a comfortable 20-8, last four success against Coleraine Inst.
It is 31 years since the sides last met in the showpiece decider, when Campbell won 3-0, but since then Inst have a much better record.
They have been involved in 12 finals — this is their seventh in the last 12 years — with six victories while Campbell have a 50 per cent success rate from six visits to Ravenhill.
Campbell are packed with representative players.
Christopher Farrell, Rory Scholes and their captain John Creighton have all played for Irish Schools' Under 18 while Christopher Best and Charlie Gallagher have turned out for Ulster under 19's. Rob Haldane, Glenn Baillie, Mark Best, Jack Cooke, Jan Francois Bester and Seb McBrien are Ulster under 18 players.
Their main strength is in the backs with Scholes, particularly worth watching.
He has had a big influence in Campbell's progress with frequent attacks out of defence and also with his accurate kicking.
In the other camp, Inst have been improving as the season has progressed and although they can’t call on as many ‘star’ players as their opponents can, the city centre side have been gaining in strength and confidence, which was exemplified in the clash with Coleraine.
They have a formidable pack that should create problems. Paddy Bell, Zac Welshman, Kevin McLean, Nathan Dougan and Michael Kilpatrick have all contributed well. They also could have a matchwinner in accurate kicker Matthew McGuigan.
If Inst deprive their opponents of possession then they have a real chance of winning, but with Campbell having so many talented players and much more match practice in recent weeks, they must start slight favourites.
Campbell College: R Scholes, M Rogers, C Best, C Farrell, R Haldane, J Creighton (capt), G Bailie, S McBrien, K Adams, R Taylor, J Cooke, G Crooks, M Best, J-F Bester, C Gallagher, E Vollands, C Jordan, R Greenwood, S Moffett, T Bill, C McGlade, B Sloan
RBAI: M Madill, J McClure, N Brown, N Dougan, K McLean, G Lawlor, M McGuigan, M Keane, M Taylor, P Bell (capt), Z Welshman, P Anderson, B Alexander, M Kilpatrick, J Martin, A Browne, A Roulston, M Mairs, T Dowling, D Clegg, R Keane, C Neill
Referee: M Black.
Players to watch
PADDY BELL (RBAI)
Royal Belfast Academical Institution flanker and skipper Paddy Bell has played a huge part in his side’s march to Ravenhill, not least by scoring a crucial try in the quarter-final replay victory over the Royal School Armagh.
He plays a key role in what is a formidable RBAI back row — he ticks each of the boxes in that he can secure possession and make progress beyond the gain line. He can also retrieve the ball in situations where if had appeared to be beyond redemption. And he can obliterate opponents by dint of his fierce tackling.
Bell contributes equally impressively in both set pieces and in the loose; in other words he is an all-round flanker and his delight at having led Inst to Ravenhill confirms what this means to him.Big day: Inst’s Paddy Bell is relishing his Schools’ Cup final appearance
JOHN CREIGHTON (Campbell College)
Campbell College scrum-half John Creighton is a big-occasion player and the stage for a schoolboy doesn’t come any bigger than Ravenhill on St Patrick’s Day.
At a personal level he will be relishing the opportunity to shine and realising that, as a team, Campbell are so much more potent when he is at his best.
Whilst he is a highly-talented individual, Creighton’s focus is on what he can bring to his team. Don’t forget that his ability to lead, not only by virtue of what he says to those around him but by the excellent example he sets, has seen him captain Ulster Schools under-18s and play for Ireland in that same age-group.
Provided his forwards feed him, Creighton can liberate that impressive Campbell back line.Leader: Campbell’s hopes will rest largely on the performance of John Creighton