Schools' Cup semi-final: Campbell can reap benefit of hard work, insists Cupitt
RS Armagh v Campbell Coll, Danske Bank Schools' Cup Semi-Final, Kingspan Stadium, Today, 2.30pm
Ahead of taking on Wallace in tomorrow's semi-final, it feels as if Methody have been talked of as the likely winners of the Danske Bank Schools' Cup all season long, but there is no lack of pedigree in today's last-four clash.
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In a repeat of last year's final, champions Campbell College will be taking on runners-up Royal School Armagh at Kingspan Stadium (2.30pm kick-off) with the holders looking to reach the St Patrick's Day show-piece for the third time in four years.
Johnny Cupitt, one of the side's coaches, said: "It's definitely a great time for rugby at the school.
"This competition, it has such a massive tradition in the school and I think each player knows what's expected of them when they get that jersey.
"As a school we can't wait for it, and as coaches and players it's a great setting and environment to be playing in.
"There's no pressure on the players at all, it's just a case of them backing themselves at this stage of the season. All the hard work has been done really."
For Campbell, that meant an intensive January fixture list that saw them play three prominent southern schools, while their victories in previous rounds, away to Sullivan and home to Enniskillen, were good tests for a squad containing seven members of last year's victorious panel.
"The way we align our fixtures, January is a massive month for us," said Cuppitt. "It's the catalyst of our season.
"We don't look at results really before Christmas, it's all looking at the performances and tailoring things accordingly.
"When we come into January, Rockwell College, Clongowes Wood, Glenstal Abbey, those were massively competitive games and three good wins.
"We're battle-hardened. To go to Sullivan, a difficult place to go and win, and then play Enniskillen, who were highly competitive too, those kind of games will all stand to the players.
"We pride ourselves on tapering at the right time and we're happy with where we currently are."
In Rex Tinsley, Conor Rankin and Paddy McAlpine, Campbell can boast three of the Ulster Under-19 panel who beat their Australian counterparts back in December, while No.8 Tobi Olaniyan and scrum-half Dara Gaskin, both starters last year, are also key figures for the school who also count former Ireland back-rower Brian Robinson among their coaches.
Armagh, though, will be formidable opponents who were winning the last game between these two before injury saw it blown up ahead of time.
"We've a lot of respect for them, the players and the staff," added Cupitt. "We know Armagh are massively competitive and Willie (Faloon) has done a great job there.
"We know what to expect - a really tough game."
Indeed, Armagh had to negotiate a tricky away quarter-final at Ballymena Academy to be at Kingspan Stadium this afternoon and have a healthy number of last year's squad back for another go at the school's first title since the late John McCall lifted the trophy way back in 2004.
Assistant coach Chris Parker has already spoken about his own side's desire to go one better than a year ago.
"Ultimately we didn't get the result we wanted last year, but that has made the boys (who were involved) come back, work harder and be hungrier this year," he said.
"We have lower sixth boys (too) who've stepped up from when they were fifth years being on the seconds, and they have helped drive standards on.
"They watched on from afar last year and wished they were part of the 23 and they really want to try and experience that."
Armagh will enter the contest as underdogs but have a healthy contingent boasting Ulster representative honours.
Sam Rainey, Jude Roberts and Jonny Agnew have been involved with the Ulster Under-18 Schools' squad while Josh King and Ryan Finlay have featured for the Ulster Schools' Under-17 squad.
Both today's game, and tomorrow's other semi between Methodist College and Wallace High, will be broadcast live on the Ulster Rugby Facebook page in conjunction with tournament sponsors Danske Bank.
CAMPBELL COLLEGE: C Rankin; D Williamson, R Tinsley (captain), H Owens, F Parks; O Ralston, D Gaskin; J Gildea, J Boal, P McAlpine; C McCauley, J Stinson; J Johnston, B Rainey, T Olaniyan.
Replacements: J Massey, L Collins, M Poor, K Gill, J Brennan, H Bell, K Robertson, H Minford.
ROYAL SCHOOL ARMAGH: M Campbell; B Boyd, N Jennings, C Worth, B Lavery; R Morrow, A Johnston; A Edgar, S Rainey, J Roberts; J Denley, R Finlay; A Woods (captain), J Agnew, P Taylor.
Replacements: J Brown, D Poyntz, N Carville, J Agnew, J King, J Allen, E McAtarsney, C Whiteside.