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Champions Inst fire out a final warning as Schools' Cup hat-trick bid cranks up

RBAI 41 Ballymena Academy 8

By Jonathan Bradley

Champions RBAI are just one win away from a third consecutive Danske Bank Schools' Cup title after powering their way past Ballymena Academy by a commanding score of 41-8 in the first of the semi-finals at Kingspan Stadium yesterday.

Going for their first trio of titles since the 1940s, the competition's second most successful side ran in seven tries over the course of the afternoon, with wing Niall Armstrong bagging himself a hat-trick.

They will now face either Belfast Royal Academy or Methody, who meet today, in the final on St Patrick's Day.

Ballymena, the only school outside of Belfast to win the competition since 2004, brought back plenty of players who lost to the same opposition at this stage last season but could only manage a solitary try, scored by Azur Allison, despite creating plenty of first-half opportunities.

Inst were on the scoreboard first after ruthlessly exploiting a Ballymena knock-on.

Shifting the ball quickly to the touchline, wing Zak Davidson evaded the despairing tackle of James McClean and ran the better part of 70 metres to score despite a game chase from hooker Alexander Clarke.

Ballymena almost responded right away after a clever lineout worked between Clarke and Oisin Jordan but the ball was spilled in contact.

Although Inst missed their touch when clearing, Ballymena couldn't utilise the extra numbers out wide into a try and were eventually bundled over the sideline.

Instead, Inst would extend their lead further after 20 minutes.

The Belfast school were knocking on the door when the game was stopped for a clash of heads and, when it resumed with a scrum, they worked their way over with a well executed blindside move that saw James Hume put Armstrong over in the corner.

Having provided the scoring pass, Hume converted the try with a well struck kick.

Ballymena ended the half on the front foot but multiple chances were spurned in the final minutes before the turn, notably after a piece of quick thinking from Stewart Moore at the line-out.

Ninety seconds into the half, Inst seemingly made the game safe with their third, and Armstrong's second, of the day.

Callum Reid was binned shortly after for persistent offences, with Ballymena out-half Bruce Houston grabbing his side's first points from the subsequent penalty.

Even with the man disadvantage, it was Inst who scored next, David McCann making a break through the middle and sending his back-row colleague Yasser Omar over.

With confidence now soaring, Inst's fifth was arguably the best of the afternoon, another lengthy run from deep inside their own half with Lowry this time leaving defenders grasping at air.

To their credit, with the game long gone, the County Antrim school grabbed the next try thanks to a piece of strong running by Clarke.

This time Academy did recognise the overlap, with Angus Kernohan giving Allison a free run across the whitewash.

Normal service was quickly resumed, however, with Inst's sixth coming after Ballymena had scrambled back well but carried over their own line and Armstrong's hat-trick came off the scrum.

And, for an exclamation point, prop Reid barged his way over from close range in the game's final play.

RBAI: J Finnegan; Z Davidson, J Hume, D Lyttle, N Armstrong; M Lowry, R O'Donnell; C Reid, N Saulters, M Nelson; D Wallace, P McLernon; D McCann, P Finnegan, Y Omar.

Replacements: C McCormick, E Sloan, B Gribben, A Adair, E Field, R McIlveen, S McMaster

Ballymena Academy: M Thompson; A Small, S Moore, A Kernohan, C Gallagher; B Houston, M Stronge; J Gocher, A Clarke, S Agew; J McAuley, C McLeister; O Jordan, J McLean, A Allison

Replacements: D Stevenson, T Savoury, M Boyd, J Browne, T Martn, L McGuckian, C Agnew, J Foster

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