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Ballymena not taking Portora test for granted

By Ronnie Ingram

Ballymena Academy, considered by many to be one of the top three teams in Ulster, are now firm favourites to win the Subsidiary Shield.

The Braid boys bowed out 18-10 in the Danske Bank Schools' Cup to Methodist College but they will travel to Fermanagh as hot favourites to see off Portora Royal having beaten a strong Sullivan Upper side 27-10 in the quarter-finals.

Coach Gavin Murray commented: "We are pleased to have Tom Alexander back from injury on the bench so he will give us some extra speed on the wing.

"It has been a tough season so far having played two of the other top seeded teams but we are not taking Portora lightly.

"They are not on our fixture list but we know they have recorded some good results and we expect a close contest."

Ballymena have a formidable pack, which includes Ulster Schools' under-18 captain Jonathan McKeown in the back row. He was also in the Irish Schools' squad while second row forward Marcus Rea has also played for his province. Their captain and centre Josh McIlroy and out-half Andrew Magrath have represented Ulster at under-19 level.

In their Cup campaign, Portora held Wallace to 10 points at the interval before losing 30-0 and in the Shield quarter-final they recorded a 27-3 success against Limavady Grammar.

Coach Rhys Botha is looking forward to the contest. "In the pack we have prop Marcus Crawford, No 8 Josh Kennedy and flanker Andrew Crawford who have been invaluable all season and our out-half Adam Lendrum distributes well and is our accurate kicker," he said.

In the other semi-final, Regent House, even with home advantage, will find it tough going against Down High.

The Newtownards side defeated Carrickfergus Grammar 12-8 while Down had an easier 25-3 victory against Bangor Grammar.

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