Campbell College justified their pre-match favourites’ tag by winning yesterday afternoon’s Northern Bank Schools’ Cup final at Ravenhill.
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It was the east Belfast seat of learning’s 23rd such success and, in the final analysis, they just about deserved it.
Certainly their second-half display was a big improvement on their pre-interval performance, although the most significant moment of the afternoon came when they scored with the last kick of that opening 35-minute spell.
As a result, Campbell reached the break a mere 6-3 in arrears, despite having failed to serve up the football of which they are capable.
Psychologically that hurt RBAI, who turned could only realise a three-point lead at half-time after having given their best against opponents who, up until that stage, had failed to fire.
Boosted by that penalty right on half-time, Campbell began to show some of their class after the restart. As a result, everything changed in the space of a little over five minutes.
From leading 6-0, suddenly RBAI found themselves trailing 13-6 and they never quite managed to make good that damage, although, to their credit, they did pick themselves up off the canvas by scoring a try which breathed fresh life into what had begun to look like a team that was out on its feet.
Despite well-nigh perfect conditions — good to soft going, dry with a breeze that, although chilly, did not play too big a part — the first half was more a war of attrition than a case of clever rapier thrusts.
Campbell did try to play their usual fast running game but too often they were victims of their own errors. There RBAI deserve credit, for the intensity of their tackling and spoiling saw ball turned over.
There was uncharacteristic hesitancy in Campbell’s decision making, suggesting that the tension of the occasion, coupled with being favourites, was getting to them.
That RBAI aggression, the quality of their tackling and those smothering tactics worked in that they frustrated Campbell enormously by forcing errors and testing their discipline.
Referee Michael Black penalised them on a number of occasions — he showed lock Geoffrey Crooks a yellow card as early as the ninth minute.
By that stage RBAI were already 3-0 up, Matt McGuigan having kicked a third-minute penalty. But it was to be the yellow-booted full-back’s only success in six |attempts off the tee.
He did, however, drop a 17th-minute goal, which left Campbell six points in arrears and struggling in that they just could not find their rhythm.
But in the final play of the first half, McGuigan’s Campbell counterpart, Rory Scholes, put his first attempt of the afternoon between the War Memorial End sticks. Game on.
The first of the day’s three tries came when Campbell centre Chris Farrell took advantage of a gap from a well-worked passage, with Scholes converting to make it 10-6 before promptly adding a long-range penalty.
Trailing 13-6 and seemingly in danger of being blown away, Inst rallied, with No 8 Patrick Anderson adjudged to have got over from a close-range ruck to make it 13-11, however, McGuigan was unable to achieve parity with his conversion attempt from touch.
Relieved at that, Campbell made it safe with a glorious 67th-minute try by left-wing Rob Haldane, who finished a lovely set-up by Farrell and Scholes.
That restored the seven-point differential and it didn’t matter that Scholes was unable to convert from the left touchline. RBAI were left requiring a converted try to level the scores and there was little likelihood of them getting it the time remaining. Nor did they.
CAMPBELL COLLEGE: 15 R Scholes; 14 M Rogers, 13 C Best, 12 C Farrell, 11 R Haldane; 10 J Creighton (c), 9 G Baillie; 1 S McBrien, 2 K Adams, 3 R Taylor; 4 J Crooke, 5 G Crooks; 6 M Best, 7 JF Bester, 8 C Gallagher. Replacements: 16 E Vollands, 17 C Jordan, 18 R Greenwood, 19 S Moffett, 20 Thomas Bill, 21 C McGlade, 22 B Sloan
RBAI: 15 M McGuigan; 14 N Browne, 13 N Dougan, 12 K McLean, 11 J McClure; 10 G Lawlor, 9 M Taylor; 1 C Neill, 2 M Mairs, 3 A Browne; 4 B Alexander, 5 M Kilpatrick; 6 P Bell (c), 7 Z Welshman, 8 P Anderson. Replacements: 16 D Clegg, 17 R Keane, 18 T Dowling, 19 J Martin, 20 A Roulston, 21 M Keane, 22 M Madill