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Campbell dig deep to earn a semi-final with Methody

Campbell College 12 Ballymena Academy 10

By Michael Sadlier

It was as tense a contest as had been anticipated, but Campbell College got the better of it over Ballymena Academy and go on to now face old Belfast rivals Methodist College at the Kingspan Stadium in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup semi-final on March 6.

The day before that, holders Royal Belfast Academical Institution take on Royal School Armagh (both semi-finals kicking off at 2.30pm) with Dan Soper's squad still in the mix for a fourth consecutive cup final success.

Methody cruised through to the last four after their 53-10 thumping of Bangor Grammar at Pirrie Park while Inst did likewise when seeing off Sullivan Upper 29-3 at their south Belfast fortress.

But Armagh Royal School and Wallace High School slugged it out in Lisburn with the visitors winning narrowly by 22-14 after being 22-7 ahead at half-time.

Campbell, too, had to dig deep for this and came from being 7-5 behind to win at Fox's Field in a game which was all about small margins from start to finish.

Selecting the excellent Jamie Macartney - usually a back row player - in midfield to counter-act Ballymena centre Stewart Moore's strong ball carrying proved to be a fairly inspired call.

Indeed centre partner Ben Power - who scored the opening try - also had a big game and, when worked into space, wingers Will Davis, who got Campbell's second try and was then fortunately not hurt after later being tip-tackled, and Rex Tinsley looked dangerous.

Macartney's strength in the tackle was fundamental to shutting Ballymena down and it was no surprise that the final year pupil was on hand for an assist in the creation of winger Davis's crucial score 10 minutes after half-time.

Indeed the opening 35 minutes had seen the visitors lead 7-5 and Davis's try was timely - though the scoring pass looked possibly forward - as it came shortly after full back Conor Rankin had missed a kickable penalty.

Though a late Ballymena penalty closed Campbell's lead down to just the two points, the home side's collective will to resist and overcome their set-piece issues carved out the result.

"We're just delighted to get through and we're looking forward to going to the Kingspan with the boys," said a relieved Campbell head coach Brian Robinson afterwards.

"I thought we had two really good sides going at it in a game which came down to the wire," he added.

As for deploying Macartney in the backline, Robinson said: "I thought that worked really well.

"Jamie is a very talented player who can play in a lot of positions and I thought he played exceptionally well as indeed did (Ballymena centre) Stewart Moore."

For Academy coach John Andrews it was a hugely disappointing end for a side which will now largely break-up.

"I'm very proud of the boys and they are a team who have largely been together for three years now in Schools' Cup rugby and had two trips to Ravenhill but unfortunately not this year.

"Our set-piece was super and Josh McAuley (skipper and flanker) was outstanding," added Andrews.

Out-half Bruce Houston also had a strong game and ended up kicking the conversion of determined flanker James McLean's first half try and then landing that late long-range penalty to narrow Campbell's lead to just the two points.

Macartney's turnover helped put Campbell on the front foot early on in the game for Power to score after six minutes. Rankin failed to convert from a difficult angle.

The Academy, though, took the lead after 23 minutes when flanker McLean barged over with Houston converting well to put the visitors 7-5 in front.

The new half was only seven minutes when Rankin missed what appeared to be a crucial penalty chance but then, three minutes later, Tinsley's surge down the left began the attack which Davis finished.

Rankin converted and Campbell were 12-7 up.

With over 10 minutes on the clock, Ballymena opted for goal with a lengthy penalty which Houston nailed but, from there, Campbell held firm.

Belfast Telegraph

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