Wellington College are the only side to have already tasted Schools’ Cup action already and coach Peter Chambers is hoping the momentum gained will prove vital in his side’s second round clash at Lurgan College.
The Belfast school won two tight games against Antrim Grammar School (12-10) and Strabane Grammar School (23-16) in the first round-robin matches.
With perfect timing, they also represented Wellington’s first two victories of the season, if a win against a Methodist College 4th XV is discounted.
Both wins were fraught, with a dramatic drop-goal by Jonny Armstrong clinching the win over Antrim before a trip to Strabane three days later climaxed with No 8 Tom Gonzales, the team’s talisman, touching down in the final minutes to prevent a replay when the score was locked at 16-16.
Lurgan College may be hot favourites, having romped to a comprehensive victory at Wellington in September, but Chambers hopes that the fact that his side are battle-hardened will make a difference on Saturday.
“It was nice to get a couple of wins,” said Chambers, whose side is a mix of upper sixth and fifth formers.
“Lurgan will definitely be favourites. They were an abrasive side with a couple of big ball carriers.
“But the way our season has gone, getting two wins back-to-back has been great for us.
“Confidence is booming amongst the boys.”
Wellington will lean heavily on Armstrong and his half-back partners Kyle Agnew, who has been part of the Ulster Schools Under-17 training squad as well as Gonzales.
“We can defend quite well and keep the ball tight with a good kicking game but we are a little bit limited out wide,” added Chambers.
“Jonny Armstrong has scored a lot of points for us and Tom Gonzales would be a key player for us and hopefully on the day we can get it right.”
Lurgan will also be hoping to
get it right on the day.
Coach Geoff Caldwell, ably assisted by Wayne Buttery and Jonny Gillespie, has moulded together an impressive young side who look equipped for a decent cup run.
“We had a really good start to the season but have found the last couple of weeks tougher going in playing stronger opposition,” said Caldwell.
“We are still moving forward and getting better. We beat Wellington previously in the year and I don’t know if that gives us a psychological edge or not but I think I am going to work on that one!
“We beat Strabane and we have had a couple of close encounters down at Inst.”
Captained by No 8 Chris Bulter, Lurgan have a strong backline, marshalled excellently by fifth former Josh McKay, with centres Danny Andrews and Tom Dreaning providing the attacking spearhead.
Full-back Peter Cullen is also a rock in defence.
Injuries however have been an on-going problem, with prop Ross Jackson, one of the side’s best players, out for the season with a broken collar bone while Aaron Robertson, the second row, has been out for a couple of months with a head injury.
“We are looking forward to the cup campaign and although our recent results haven’t been great that is because we are trying to improve ourselves by playing sides who are better than us,” added Caldwell.
“We are pleased with the draw and it is the first time for six or seven years that we have had a home draw and that’s a big thing for us.”