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RBAI face a tricky task in retaining Schools' Cup

By Jonathan Bradley

If winning last season's Danske Bank Schools' Cup proved a tough task, RBAI head coach Daniel Soper knows that retaining the trophy is an even more daunting proposition.

Remarkably for a team with 30 outright victories, the Belfast institution haven't won back-to-back titles since reeling off six in a row between 1943 and 1948, having shared the title in 1942, and Soper is aware of the challenge ahead.

"It's incredibly difficult to win it two years in a row," he said while attending the competition's launch and first round draw at Kingspan Stadium yesterday.

"That's why you have to tip your hat to Methody for what they did to win three in a row before last year. That's phenomenal.

"Inst haven't won it back-to-back for a long time so that shows you how difficult it is."

Much of the team that denied Wallace 14-10 last St Patrick's Day have moved on but Soper is enthused by his current crop who will get a real test when they face Campbell College in a friendly this weekend.

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"It's a new team, new season and new competition," he said. "Certainly we can take some confidence out of it, those that were involved or in and around the squad, but everyone is starting again.

"There's quite a lot of turnover. There's only a couple in the pack that are back as starters and only two, arguably three, in the backline.

"We had Blackrock at the weekend, we've Campbell this weekend, Castleknock and St.Michael's from Leinster coming up here, Wallace on the back of that. All the fixtures from here on out until the competition starts are going to be tough games.

"You just want to get that intensity building in every game so that it just becomes the norm."

If the champions' Schools' Cup campaign remains somewhat in the distance, for Carrick Grammar and Strabane Academy the first game at the start of next month is only weeks away.

The preliminary fixture will see who goes on to face Royal School Dungannon in the first round proper and Carrick coach Stephen Martin expects a fierce contest.

"We played them last year in the sevens competition and I know they've retained about six from that team; they've got a bit of strength in depth there," he said.

"We're obviously glad to get the home draw there and with a two-hour journey it should certainly play to our advantage.

"We've struggled a bit with small numbers but the guys are really keen and really enthusiastic so we'll look for a couple of wins before the start of December to build the confidence."

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