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Danske Bank Schools' Cup: Soper taking nothing for granted as Inst eye fourth straight crown

By Ronnie Ingram

RBAI have won all 12 of their Danske Bank Schools' Cup ties since Daniel Soper took over as head coach four seasons ago - so it is no surprise they are favourites to lift the trophy for the fourth successive time.

It represents a remarkable achievement for the Kiwi, who has also steered Banbridge into the AIL First Division, but he still has a way to go to emulate Inst's six consecutive trophy wins in the 1940s.

The Belfast team face Ballyclare High at their Osborne Park fortress tomorrow, and Soper expects a tough challenge.

"They have a very strong pack and although we won earlier in the season, no doubt they have improved since," he said.

Inst started their season back in July when Soper took his squad for a successful trip to southern New Zealand, where they trained in his hometown of Alexandra en route to Dunedin.

Since then, Inst are undefeated in Ulster - although they lost when playing September friendlies in the Republic with a weakened team, 29-24 against PBC and 23-5 against Belvedere. They recently drew 24-24 against the formidable Clongowes College.

"We have five representative players on the team but apart from them our back row players Max Preston and AJ Hussell have been leading figures," added Soper.

"Upper sixth players Ethan Sloan and Connor McCormick are excellent in the front row and in the backs Bradley McNamara and Jamie Mullan have been outstanding leaders when other senior backs have been out injured."

Ballyclare have also had a number of successes and only two teams have beaten them by more than five points - Inst and Armagh Royal.

Their coach Mike Orchin-McKeever said: "We had a run of victories over Ballymena Academy, BRA, Belfast High, Grosvenor, Bangor, Friends' and Coleraine so will travel to Belfast with confidence.

"Our pack, with the height and size of matured upper sixth players Jamie Cross, Peter Gray, Josh Young, James Nelson, Rory Dorman and Owen Lockhart, is capable of playing running rugby as was displayed in the win over Ulster U18 Clubs.

"The bulk of the squad is lower sixth with one year 12 player in Jack Gamble, who has been making regular appearances."

Inst eliminated Ballyclare 54-0 in the fourth round last season but the visitors are now a much stronger outfit.

Meanwhile, history was made when Cambridge House reached the fourth round for the first time with wins over Banbridge Academy (34-22) and the seeded Regent House (17-13) and their reward is a home tie against Armagh Royal.

Coach John Nicholl's efforts have paid dividends and the squad is still young.

"We have 10 fifth formers involved and some have shown real potential so there are encouraging signs for the future," said Nicholl.

Cambridge House is enthusiastic about rugby. There are strength and conditioning sessions every morning and the players improve through watching videos combined with the expert coaching of Nicholl, Chris Smyth and Dungannon's Seamus Mallon.

Mallon, who is in charge of the Medallion side, said: "There used to be only a handful of players but in the last five years we have started to be more successful at the lower levels.

"We want Cambridge House to be known as a forward-looking rugby school. We will never reach the heights of Methody or Inst but we can still make an impact by improving each year."

Royal's Willie Faloon, who has also coached City of Armagh to success in AIL 2A, is not taking the trip to Ballymena lightly.

"We have a number of players who can score tries. Oliver Webb is versatile and Matthew Rainey is an outstanding performer," he said.

Danske Bank Schools' Cup R4 fixtures

Enniskillen Royal GS v Ballymena Academy

Bangor GS v Rainey Endowed

Royal School Dungannon v Wallace HS

Campell College v Dalriada

Cambridge House v Royal School Armagh

Sullivan Upper v Down HS

RBAI v Ballyclare HS

Coleraine GS v Methodist College Belfast

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