Schools' Cup: Rivals ready to pass final test
The scene is set for what is expected to be one of the most closely fought Northern Bank Schools' Cup final for many years.
Campbell College and RBAI always provide plenty of entertainment and this should be no exception in the open spaces of Ravenhill (3pm).
Each team has had it's ups and down and now with the training and preparations behind them it all comes down to whoever plays best on the day.
It could also depend on whichever team settles first as nerves play a big part in front of such a large crowd.
Both have already played their semi-finals at Ravenhill in front of modest crowds but this time it will be much different.
Both Inst and Campbell come with a strong Cup tradition with Inst having competed in the very first final in 1876 when they lost to Armagh Royal 3-0 and have competed in 51 since, winning 29 times. The Belmont side won their first title in 1898 and have a total of 38 finals and 22 successes.
Campbell defeated Regent House 31-0 and Methodist College 8-3 after two 10-10 draws.
In the semi-final they had an easy contest against Ballyclare High 42-8. Inst started with a 23-6 win over Dalriada and then needed a replay to overcome Armagh Royal 19-13. They also has a straightforward semi-final win over Coleraine Inst 20-8.
Campbell have strength in numbers with 11 players who have either represented their country or province.
Their strength is in the backs but will need an abundance of possession for them to show their capabilities.
John Creighton, Rory Scholes and Christopher Farrell have played for Irish Schools while Rob Haldane, Christopher Best, Glenn Baillie, Jan-Francois Bester, Charles Gallagher, Mark Best, Jack Cooke and Seb McBrien have turned out for Ulster.
Inst should have the edge up front but it will be difficult to keep the ball tight at Ravenhill. They have outstanding players in Ulster Schools' aces, hooker Michael Mairs, second rows Ben Alexander and Michael Kilpatrick and flanker Zack Welshman.
Conor Neill and Andrew Browne are now fully fit while at No 8 they have a young and talented Paddy Anderson who has shown great potential.
In the centre Inst are also strong — Kevin McLean has played for Ulster while Nathan Dougan has scored a few tries.
John Creighton, the Campbell captain who has represented Irish Schools’, said: “It's my first experience of a St Patrick's Day final so it will be a new experience. “We know Inst are a very good side this year and have some great players. We had really tough games against Methody but that was built on our fitness. There's a bit of tiredness but all the knocks should be shaken off in time.”
Paddy Bell, the Inst captain, was also just waiting for the decider.
“The Schools' Cup final is an amazing day. I played as a replacement two years ago so I can't wait to sample the occasion again,” he said.
“Our forwards are our strength and I think Campbell know that as well. They have talented backs but you can't use them if you don't have the ball.”
Richard Hedley, the Inst coach, is optimistic. “We are strong in the pack and expect to be better in the line-outs and set piece,” he said. “We also have strength in midfield but all our players know that they will have to play at their best if we are to win.”
Campbell will start as favourites but Inst are full of optimism and are perfectly capable of settling quicker and lifting the trophy.