Schools' Cup: New-look Bangor all fired up for derby crunch, says Botha
The Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup boldly strides into new territory tomorrow when 20 of the 24 schools involved - two games having already been played - have their first outings.
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Instead of the familiar straight series knockout rounds, the competition has undergone a revamp which has brought in a league structure involving 24 teams split into six groups.
Each group has three rounds, and the winners from each league, along with the four best runners-up - 10 sides in total - then proceed to knockout rugby where they enter the mix with the top six schools - holders Methody, Campbell College, RBAI, Royal School Armagh, Ballymena Academy and Wallace High School all sit out the league format - in the New Year.
Of the games in tomorrow's first round of league action - Belfast High School host BRA today while Down High School thumped Foyle 40-0 on Wednesday - the north Down derby between hosts Regent House and Bangor Grammar (kick-off 10am) clearly catches the eye.
It wasn't that long ago that the now Group B rivals crossed paths in the Cup. Last January previously brought them together, and at Regent as well, in what was then the entirely knockout third round of the Schools' Cup.
It was an understandably feisty occasion which resulted in an Aaron Sexton-inspired Bangor advancing to the last 16 of the competition after a hard-fought 27-5 victory.
But that was then and things have changed. Rhys Botha is now in charge at Bangor Grammar and is optimistic about the new format while sounding much more cautious about meeting Regent again in Newtownards.
"It's the competitive side of things (which is good) in this new format," he said.
And tomorrow's initial taste of action?
"We know it will be a massive derby game between both schools," he said.
"We won the last time, but on a derby day like this you have to realise that anything can happen, and we know that well."
Though Sexton and others have now gone, Botha is reasonably happy with the strength of his squad and the form they bring to the beginning of the league stages.
"We've lost four or five from our senior squad but we've got some good young boys coming through, so we're happy enough and we've been building well," he stated.
Key players for Bangor are sure to be skipper Conor Lusty, as well as the experienced trio of Angus Christie, Patrick Dobie and Riley Westwood.
Though Regent have not been in great form coming into tomorrow's clash, they will still be well up for having a crack at their local rivals.
Meanwhile, in Group D, Grosvenor are on the road to Strabane Academy and intend to make a positive start at a difficult enough place to get results.
Of what has been already been a tough and injury-blighted season for the Belfast school, Grosvenor coach Mark McDowell said: "Playing Strabane away is a tough opening fixture but we've prepared well this week.
"We're staying up there the night before and the boys are really focused.
"We do feel that we've flown under the radar and we can have a little rattle at this group and see what happens," he added, with games still to come against Sullivan Upper and Dalriada.
Wednesday: Group B: Foyle College 0 Down HS 40
Today: Group E: Belfast High School v BRA (2.30pm)
Tomorrow: Group A: Rainey Endowed v Dromore High School, Friends' School v Limavady Grammar
Group B: Regent House v Bangor Grammar
Group C: Ballyclare HS v Omagh Academy, Cambridge House v Lurgan College
Group D: Dalriada School v Sullivan Upper, Strabane Academy v Grosvenor Grammar
Group E: Banbridge Academy v Coleraine Grammar
Group F: Enniskillen Royal GS v Portadown College, RS Dungannon v Larne Grammar