Campbell pack real punch to soothe a seven-year Cup itch
Schools' Cup final: Campbell Coll 19 RS Armagh 13
The Danske Bank Schools' Cup is heading back to east Belfast for the first time since 2011 after Neil Doak's Campbell College saw off the spirited challenge of Royal School Armagh at Kingspan Stadium.
Campbell, organised so impressively for a side at this level, scored tries through Dara Gaskin, Conor Rankin and Will Davis, but it was how they stood up to lengthy periods of Armagh possession that was most eye-catching.
For so much of the game, Armagh were met by a wall of black jerseys and, even when they did advance into opposition territory, usually thanks to Matthew Reaney, they were met with dogged resistance.
The defeated side, in their first final since 2004 and cheered on by past pupil Tommy Bowe, more than played their part in the game but Campbell were undoubtedly the more clinical, led superbly by a dynamic pack.
The Willie Faloon-coached underdogs had plenty of ball early on but the first real line break came from Campbell on the counter. Centre Jamie Macartney, the Ireland Under-18 player who has been impressive through this run, pounced on a loose ball and stormed forward but the opposition scrambled back well.
With the battle mainly being played out between the 10 metre lines, the first real chance for points came after Campbell were pinged for a high tackle on Reaney. From a lengthy distance, his midfield partner Zac Thompson saw his penalty attempt drift agonisingly wide.
Faced with a penalty soon after from a similar distance, Campbell opted for the corner and the decision seemed set to pay off when Jack Stinson rose to claim the lineout. A big carry from the strong-running Tobi Olaniyan drew defenders into the breakdown, giving the backs more space to operate but Davis was tackled in the corner by Michael Campbell.
Campbell were still camped on the five metre line, but a knock-on gave Armagh a scrum and the chance to escape.
Armagh were playing with plenty of linespeed in defence but that left gaps for Campbell when they could evade the initial rush, one such advance seeing Conor Rankin dance down the touchline but when he came inside his pass just drifted from the trailing Rex Tinsley.
While Armagh weren't making much headway themselves in attack, captain Jack Treanor was leading from the front.
With the last play before the turn, Campbell finally scored the game's first points. Again a penalty was sent to the corner, with things this time kept tight with the forwards.
With Gaskin directing traffic from nine, it was the scrum-half himself who feinted another pass out to his pack but instead produced an audacious show and go to wriggle his way over the line. The conversion shaved the post but Campbell had the lead at the interval.
Having been so solid in defence throughout - a hallmark of their play that was evident in the semi-final win over Methody - Campbell were for once caught cold straight from the restart when another break from Reaney saw Armagh storm forward and, while they were inches from the whitewash, had to settle for a penalty when Campbell were caught not rolling away.
A breakdown penalty, this time from Armagh, gave Campbell an opportunity to answer back right away, but again the distance proved just too great for the kick to keep it's accuracy.
Armagh were enjoying their best spell of pressure, and just couldn't get the ball wide quick enough when camped under the posts but they were hit by a hammer blow with 20 minutes to go. A grubber through hit the standing leg of Gaskin and bounced kindly into the part of Rankin and, after the full-back did well to kick ahead and gather a bouncing ball, there was no catching him and he streaked away.
To their huge credit, Armagh didn't let the unfortunate bounce derail them and were back in touching distance only minutes later when Thompson stroked over a penalty for 12-6. A grandstand finish seemed in store.
As the minutes ticked away for Armagh, they just couldn't get a hold of the ball as Campbell managed matters well.
Tinsley did well to earn his side a line-out as he was being forced into touch. It would prove a pivotal moment in the game. Stinson, who was a great option in the set-piece, again controlled the throw, and the maul inched menacingly forward. It was a great effort from a determined Armagh forward unit to halt the drive but they were forced to come narrow and were exploited ruthlessly.
Davis (left) eyed a gap and darted through for a score. And that was that, a two-score gap was never to be closed in so few minutes and both coaching teams went to their bench, giving as many players as possible a taste of the final. One such substitute though, Ben Lavery, scored quite a brilliant try in the 70th minute, but while there was time for the kick-off, there was none for anything else and the game was over.
A run to remember for Armagh, but a win for Campbell that will seem especially sweet as they end the six-year duopoly of their old Belfast rivals RBAI and Methody.
CAMPBELL COLLEGE: C Rankin, W Davis, J Macartney, B Power, R Tinsley; O Yandall, D Gaskin; J McKee (c), H Jenkins, P McAlpine; O Kiernan, J Harrison; J Stinson, S Robinson, T Olaniyan.
REPLACEMENTS: J Gildea, M Carlisle, M Poor, J Johnston, J Brennan, L Yandall, H Owens, K Robertson
ROYAL SCHOOL ARMAGH: M Cambpell; O Webb, Z Thompson, M Reaney, N Jennings; R Morrow, A Johnston; J Champman, J Treanor (c), A McAlpine; J Agnew, S King; A Woods, G Crawford, R O'Neill
REPLACEMENTS: S Rainey, A Edgar, R Finlay, J Roberts, J Kings, B Lavery, C Whiteside, P Taylor
Referee: J Erskine