The rising sons of Regent House look to shine in Schools' Cup opener
As game time has not been plentiful for Regent House Grammar School, they have been putting in plenty of hours on the training paddock ahead of travelling to face Dromore High School in tomorrow's Danske Bank Schools' Cup second round.
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The Newtownards school have not actually played for over a month so they have been putting in hard shifts, some early in the morning, to make sure they hit the ground running.
There have been no games due to having had their home friendly with Lurgan College cancelled by mid-December's weather, while a fixture lined up against Dromore was scrapped after the draw was made.
Another planned outing against Ballyclare High School also had to be culled due to illness.
Still, Regent are ready to give a good account of themselves at Dromore, a side they beat in Newtownards earlier in the season.
However, Regent director of rugby Nick Gamble warned: "It is going to be a totally different situation facing the boys in the Schools' Cup and in Dromore.
"They beat us down there last year and it's a tough place to go."
Results-wise, it's been a bit of a mixed season so far but Regent have, crucially, been competitive and Gamble is in no doubt about their ability and dedication to improving.
"The boys are playing good stuff and I'm pleased with the level we're at in terms of our attitude, commitment and structure," he said.
Regent - whose sole Schools' Cup win came in 1994 with their most recent of four final appearances arriving in 2008, and they were also losing Schools' Bowl finalists in 2017 - will bring a strong set-piece to Dromore.
"Our scrum is strong, our lineouts are good and our driving maul is also a bit of a weapon," said Gamble, who has been in charge of rugby since 2016.
Key to this approach for Regent are skipper Keir Edgar, who can play both loosehead prop and lock, and regular second row Will Hopes.
But Regent also have a useful backline, where out-half Stuart Martin pulls the strings and is a talented sportsman having also won an under-age All-Ireland hurling medal with Down.
"All the players work really hard for the team," added Gamble, who is a PE teacher at the school.
"One of our strengths is having a really good atmosphere, and lots of commitment. We never give up."
As well as Gamble, who looks after the backs, and Mervyn Tweed, who takes the forwards, the coaching structure includes ex-Scotland and Northampton skipper Budge Poutney, who moved to the area in 2017.
Poutney operates as a rugby development officer - he is currently helping to promote the game in the Ards area - and also coaching at primary schools, working with the school's junior teams and assisting the seniors.
Strength and conditioning is provided by Neil Dougan, while ex-Ulster prop John Andress is with the Medallions.
Regent, who also have rugby in their preparatory department, currently field two senior teams and the plan is to return to having a third side as the numbers playing at junior level - they currently have up to 40 Year Eights togging out and are confident that this will continue on, while there are also good numbers in Year 10 - look reasonably robust.
Gamble is also targeting having two Medallion sides on the go and the hope is that links with Ards Rugby Club - Regent's most recently famous rugby-playing former pupils Nigel Carr and Phillip Matthews also represented Ards - will help further build the game in the local area.
Indeed, further down the line, a tour to Canada, encompassing rugby, hockey and netball, will also act as an added incentive while the senior rugby squad were in Bordeaux last Halloween.
Regent's approach is centred around enjoyment and togetherness.
"That's our philosophy and where we want to be," said Gamble.
"Keep the numbers coming, keep the enjoyment going and everything will grow."