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BRA looking to ramp it up in Schools' Cup after last year's Bowl win

By Michael Sadlier

Tomorrow morning will be a challenge for them, but Belfast Royal Academy will travel to Ballymena Academy firmly focused on their round four clash in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup.

Though an away draw is always a tough one, BRA at least have a cup victory behind them after overcoming Belfast High School in what was a full-on contest at Roughfort, with the Academy winning 17-3.

For Ballymena, this will be a first taste of cup action and BRA coach David Creighton is hoping that his squad can bring some of their recent good form to this game, though he is still expecting this to be quite a battle.

"Away at Ballymena Academy is never easy," said Creighton (below).

"But from our point of view, we're looking forward to going there and it's a great place to play.

"I think it could be a very tight contest and I just hope our lads do enough to come out on the right side of it.

"But we know we'll have to be at our very best," he added.

Creighton's squad is full of experience with around 11 players returning from last year's campaign, where BRA exited to Sullivan Upper in round three of the Schools' Cup but went on to win the Schools' Bowl against Portadown College after coming through a dramatic semi-final with the last play of the game to beat Regent House.

"There is no doubt that our group of senior players this year learned a lot (from winning the Bowl)," Creighton, who is a PE teacher at the school, maintains.

"We have a really good leadership group and if our senior players are firing we'll give any team a run," he states.

The influence of skipper Tom Stewart is considerable, and the Ulster Under-19s hooker is one of the best leaders Creighton has seen in his time at the north Belfast school.

"A lot of credit has to go to him for where we have got this team at the minute, both in performance and working to bring a team with him," says the coach.

Full-back Brandon Hassan has also played for Ulster at Under-18 level, though Creighton identifies the overall squad strength as the key to BRA's progress, in addition to the work also put in by rugby consultant Brian McLaughlin at both senior and junior level.

"He's exceptional and is great working with young players," says Creighton.

"It's also hugely important that we have staff who are willing to give up their time in trying to drive the rugby forward.

"Without them it just wouldn't be possible," adds Creighton, who is in his fourth year with the Firsts.

Naturally, rugby at BRA - a school with notable pedigree having had Jack Kyle and, more recently, Iain Henderson as former pupils - is about so much more than the first team with a good structure in place at both senior and junior levels.

There are four senior sides, with the fourths labelled a Colts team, and from there BRA put out two teams from Medallion onwards, with this being a core value at the long-established school. Girls also play the game at the north Belfast establishment.

"One of our big targets at school is to have two teams at every level," Creighton states.

"For us that his hugely important and we would almost see that, in the junior years, as more important than the results.

"That we get an A and B team, and with a few reserves in there, playing will pay dividends down the line.

"At the minute we're getting two teams out and we're in a healthy place," adds the coach.

"So we've got to make sure we keep doing that and that helps feed into the likes of our Colts.

"If you take a Medallion B team who are coming into senior rugby, there's a real attraction for them in that they are going to stay together and play as a team from their own age group.

"That is the way we're trying to do it in BRA, to make playing attractive, and we have found that if we put as much in to trying to get two teams out on a Saturday morning it really helps bring a good buzz about the club."

But the school are also ambitious to add to their solitary Schools' Cup win back in 1997.

"Ultimately, we want to win another Schools' Cup," Creighton states.

"And we want to be consistently challenging to win one as well, so to get there we need to constantly broaden the playing base and keep the boys enthusiastic about playing.

"We'll get there but, far more importantly, we want boys playing and having smiles on their faces."

It seems to be working as Creighton highlights the fact that, already, some of this year's senior players are asking to be involved in helping out next season after they have left.

"I do think we're doing something right," he says.

Indeed they are.

Belfast Telegraph

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