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Omagh Academy turn on the power against Carrickfergus

Adam Stephenson assumes control to inspire second-half salvo

By Jonathan Bradley

Omagh Academy will face Carrickfergus Grammar in the third round of the Danske Bank Schools' Cup after they powered their way past Grosvenor Grammar on Saturday morning.

An evenly matched first-half saw the visitors start strongly only for Grosvenor to fight back and the score stood at just 5-5 at the half-time whistle.

After the turn, however, the County Tyrone side ran in two tries to ensure their victory.

Speaking after the win, head coach Ross Hunter reflected: "We're very pleased with the second-half performance especially. In the first-half we were a bit nervous and a bit edgy but, as the game went on, we got the scores for what I thought was a deserved win.

"We had three great line-outs in their territory early on, and probably should have scored, but then they go the whole way up the field and set up camp in our 22.

"We grew into the game after they scored and ended up running in some good tries.

"We've been doing really well all season. We've only lost three times, to Armagh, Coleraine and to Carrick, which we were a bit disappointed with, so we're happy with how it's going and to be in the next round."

The early exchanges all took place in the home side's 22, with Omagh's rolling maul looking particularly threatening but, when the ball was knocked on, the resulting scrum gave Grosvenor the opportunity to clear.

Omagh's pack - containing Ulster Schools' RDS members Joshua McKinley and James Longwell, the latter the nephew of former Ulster Heineken Cup winner Gary Longwell - clearly had the upper hand but their inability to translate that early dominance into points was punished when Grosvenor took the lead.

Having gained meaningful possession for the first time in the game, the Belfast school spent the next quarter of an hour camped deep into opposition territory.

Ten minutes before half-time, the pressure eventually told and, after Taylor Pollock was stopped just inches short of the line, Grosvenor earned a lineout in the corner.

Using usual target Isaac Richardson as a decoy, Pollock claimed the throw and the pack mauled their way to the line for prop Andrew Boyd to touch down.

As half-time neared, the influential Ethan McKeown rampaged upfield after a quickly taken penalty and, when the ball was offloaded to Adam Stephenson, the impressive captain broke through two tackles for his first score of the day.

The conversion was missed to ensure the game was tied at the half-time break.

After the restart, Omagh were the stronger of the two sides but Grosvenor held firm for almost a quarter of an hour.

With 48 minutes on the clock, out-half Stuart Ballentine knocked over a penalty to give the visitors their first lead of the day.

As Grosvenor tried to force their way back into the contest, Stephenson became the dominant figure of the game and, when bursting onto a pass from midfield partner Luke Hanson, he utilised a good turn of pace to streak clear from halfway and score under the posts.

Ballentine's conversion made it a 10-point game.

As the minutes ticked away, a looping high ball was claimed by Stephenson and, after advancing towards the 22, he fired a pass out to the right where wing Andrew Montieth cantered home for the final points of the morning.

The strong second-half showing will raise expectations of booking their place in the quarter-finals when they face Carrickfergus but there will be no danger of over-confidence given the friendly defeat suffered against the County Antrim school earlier in the season.

With the top eight seeded sides coming into the competition at the third round stage, Saturday's draw has thrown up some other intriguing ties indeed.

Ballymena Academy are one of the form teams of recent weeks and will be the first side hoping to derail Methodist College's attempts to win a historic fourth title in a row.

In another appetising fixture, Campbell College will make the short journey to face local rivals Sullivan Upper.

RBAI will host Regent House after the County Down school came through against Foyle College and Down High's reward for beating Rainey Endowed is a visit from Coleraine AI.

Limavady Grammar - one of just two sides who remain from the competition's first round - will welcome Royal School Armagh, Ballyclare High will meet Bangor Grammar, and Wallace travel to Portora Royal.

Belfast Telegraph

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