Dalriada School will take on Ballymena Academy in a North Antrim derby Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup tie at the Ballymoney venue on Saturday morning (10.30am).
Having come through two away games in the previous rounds, Dalriada will be looking for some home comfort when they face one of the top ranked side in the fourth round tie.
Coached by Rab Gregg and Benjy Van Der Byl, will be hoping to emulate the success of their 2015/16 colleagues who reached the semi-finals of last season’s competition.
It might seem a tall order for the current team but there is a real work ethic in squad which has a good number of players who bring experience to the team having returned from last season.
Their comprehensive victory against Larne Grammar in the second Round would suggest the Dalriada School squad of players had clearly set their intentions out for the current cup campaign. Their third Round performance in Limavady Grammar more than backed that theory up.
Captained by Dennis Posternak who was part of the successful Ulster U19 squad earlier in the season. Dennis is surrounded by attack minded backs. Full back, Thomas Hunter leads the Dalriada School try scoring charts this season. He ran in four more tries against Larne and one against Limavady.
The Ballymena defence will need to monitor him closely. As well as being the leading try scorer so far this season, Hunter is also a first class place kicker. That applies as well to Paddy Elliott, a second row forward who has effectively displayed his kicking skills in the previous two rounds
Peter Wright is a talented winger and in Ross Fallows the team has a player with pace to burn. Scott Gamble is another Dalriada School player whose attacking skills should not be underestimated by the visitors.
While the main strength of Dalriada would appear to be in their back division there is one young player who seems to be able to adapt to playing in either the forwards or the backs. Conor Clarke is a talented sportsman whose athleticism has seen him play in the second row, in the centre and on the wing in recent times. His father, Darren, was a more than accomplished schoolboy rugby player whilst a pupil at the Royal School, Dungannon during the mid-1980’s and might be an interested spectator at this game.
Ballymena, who enter this campaign for the first time, also reached the semi-finals last season. The lost to eventual winners, RBAI, and some observers believe they could be the side to loose the Belfast side’s grip on the Cup.
Coached by John Andrews and Gavin Murray, Ballymena have had a successful season in terms of results, losing only three games.
However, the coaching staff, who are able to call upon the services of Aaron Moore and former Ulster Rugby player and past pupil, Ricky Andrew, to assist, feel there is a lot more to come from this talented squad of players.
Team captain, Alexander Clarke, has played for two years on the Ireland Schools’ U18 and was a member of the successful Ulster U19 team earlier in the season.
His performance on Saturday against the Dalriada School team will be monitored closely by the Ireland U19 Management team. Clarke’s leadership qualities off the pitch have been recognized with his appointment as Deputy Head Boy in the school.
Angus Kernohan, head boy, is an able vice-captain, and has been involved with the Ulster Schools’ team and has attended Ireland Schools’ U18 Camps in the course of the season. He is also the leading try scorer for team, along with Alan Small, will be hoping to play his 50th game for the school in the course of this Schools’ Cup campaign.
Azur Allison captained the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ team during the Inter-Provincial series and has attended the Ireland Schools’ U18 Camps.
Bruce Houston, leading points scorer on the side has representative honours as well as Stewart Moore. Scott Agnew, Ben Savage, Tim Savoury, Oisin Jordan, Mark Thompson, Tiarnan Martin and Micahel Stronge.
Emerging talents such as Jonathan Browne and Joshua McAuley have had their ability recognised by their inclusion in Ulster Schools’ U17 squads.
Seventeen of the current squad were involved in the campaign last season, with 11 having started in the semi-final.
Scott Agnew and his brother, Conor, are twins and grandsons of Sam Alexander, a former Vice –Principal of Ballymena Academy. In his time at the school Sam coached many teams including the firsts. He was an Ulster and Ireland Schools’ Selector of some repute. Among his progeny emerging from his Ballymena teams is one John Andrews, the current Ballymena Academy coach and Sam is sure to be an interested spectator on Saturday.