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'Pleased and relieved': Wallace HS on a high after seeing off Methody to reach Schools' Cup decider

Methody 17 Wallace HS 22

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Top class: Wallace High’s Ben Dillon dives over to score

Top class: Wallace High’s Ben Dillon dives over to score

Photo by John Dickson / DICKSOND

On the run: Wallace’s Jack Dillon races clear during the Schools’ Cup semi-final against Methody at Kingspan Stadium

On the run: Wallace’s Jack Dillon races clear during the Schools’ Cup semi-final against Methody at Kingspan Stadium

Photo by John Dickson / DICKSOND

Conor Spence touches down for Methody

Conor Spence touches down for Methody

Photo by John Dickson / DICKSOND

Top class: Wallace High’s Ben Dillon dives over to score

The scoreline suggests another edge of the seat contest but, in reality, Wallace High School were comfortable enough winners and deservedly advanced to meet Royal School Armagh in the St Patrick's Day shoot-out.

With pre-match favourites Wallace leading 22-5 with just under a quarter of an hour remaining, Methodist College's late two-try burst, after the Lisburn side had a man binned, always looked likely to lose the battle with the clock.

Both sides scored three tries in what was an entertaining contest but the pivotal moments came at the end of the first half when solo runs from Wallace centres Jack Dillon and the excellent Ben Carson resulted in them dashing in under the posts.

With Nathan Doak converting both, coach Derek Suffern's side went into half-time 17-5 ahead, and the score which secured the semi-final win arrived just before the hour when full-back Jamie McNeight surged over for Wallace's third try.

Last year's cup winners Methody can have few complaints. With Wallace able to cope with their driving maul and more direct approach, it seemed inevitable that the battling Belfast school, with skipper Adam Reid to the fore, would fall short.

Indeed, Wallace skipper Reuben Crothers was the game's dominant player with his ball-carrying and defending on another level.

This will be the Lisburn school's sixth final, though they have yet to actually take ownership of the cup, and this year's final will also be the first occasion since 1994 when two schools from outside Belfast will contest the title, and back then Wallace lost out to Regent House.

"We are very pleased and relieved," said Suffern about making it through.

"You are always a bit nervous and excited coming into a semi-final against a very good Methody side. We knew what they would bring and they certainly brought it right until the very end.

"But we managed to get far enough ahead and hopefully we can now go one more," he added.

As for now meeting Armagh on St Patrick's Day, Suffern said: "They are a good side, well coached, with two friends of mine (Willie Faloon and Chris Parker) coaching them.

"It is going to be a tough battle, Armagh have a good pack and a good backline, and they have a lot of experience and were very good in their semi-final. We're going to have to be on our game to beat them."

Wallace got off the mark first with a fourth minute penalty from Nathan Doak, though the Lisburn side had nearly worked winger Harry Wallace over in the corner during the penalty advantage.

Methody's bid to hit back came undone shortly afterwards after they lost possession under the Wallace posts and it was the Lisburn school who pounced a minute later when, off turnover ball, Nathan Doak launched an attack down the left wing which ended up in Methody's 22.

The holders managed to clear the danger but got little return from launching several mauls, and then five minutes before the hour they were turned over again with Wallace flanker Harry McMeekin bringing an end to a sustained period of Methody pressure by winning a penalty on the deck.

But, not for the first time, Wallace were sloppy in possession and, after being pinged on the deck, Methody again went for the corner just before the half hour mark.

After several close-in drives, the ball was spun wide and centre Callum Davidson picked out winger Callum Doherty with a cross-kick to the right corner. Though Davidson missed the tricky conversion, Methody had the lead, but then lost it five minutes later and were never to regain it.

Just before the half ended, Wallace launched a rare break out which saw McNeight make inroads down the right before the ball was spun left.

Dillon dropped the pass that came his way but regathered and then set off on a slaloming run which took him through a thicket of white shirts to score under the posts.

Nathan Doak converted and then, shortly afterwards, Carson produced a carbon copy of Dillon's effort as he stepped in and raced through under the posts, allowing Doak to convert and give Wallace a 17-5 interval lead.

The opening period of the second half was a cagey affair, though Methody had the better of things in the early stages only for them to come away with nothing from a couple of penalties, the first seeing them go for a lineout and the second a scrum.

A key moment arrived 20 minutes in when McNeight's tackle on opposite number Conor Spence resulted in a penalty as Methody strayed offside after Spence's knock-on.

Wallace then went up the other end and moved right for McNeight to score though Nathan Doak missed the extras.

A possible re-run of Tuesday's dramatic semi-final then looked a possibility when Wallace lock Charlie Irvine was binned in the 62nd minute.

Indeed, Spence got over with five to go, though Davidson missed the conversion, though he was successful when, right at the end, hooker Harry McCartney wriggled through.

But it was Wallace's day.

MCB: C Spence, C Doherty, P O'Hagan, C Davidson, A McMurray, L Graham, L Simms; J Watson, H McCartney, D Dougan, M Humphreys, A McNamee, Z Porter, A Reid (capt), M Crothers..

Replacements: J O'Kane, C White, F McAdam, P Fullerton-Healy, L Montgomery, A Armstrong, E Bryce, J Brennan.

Wallace High School: J McNeight, H Wallace, J Dillon, B Carson, F Rankin, N Doak, L Nelmes; C Doak, J Dundas, S Wilson, T Brolly, C Irvine, P Heasley, McMeekin, R Crothers (capt).

Replacements: E Gilliland, R Davis, N Macklin-Copeland, M Thompson, P Kennedy, H Patterson, C McCluskey, J Wiseman.

Referee: J Erskine.

Belfast Telegraph