Alex Foster holds special place in Schools’ Cup history with Foyle College

Alexander Roulston Foster is the only British and Irish Lion to coach an Ulster Schools’ Cup-winning team.

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 2:00 pm

Foster masterminded Foyle College’s success in the tournament in 1915, which was the last time the North West school lifted the trophy.

Foyle begin their quest to end that 106-year drought at home to Belfast High School on Saturday in the second round of this season’s competition.

Foster was born on June 22, 1890 at William Street in Londonderry to John and Chrissie Bell Foster, his mother’s maiden name was Roulston and both his parents hailed from Co Donegal.

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Foyle College won the Schools' Cup in 1915. Pic courtesy of Foyle College Archive.

He attended Foyle College as a pupil, excelling in several sports, plus captained the school on the rugby pitch and also played golf and cricket.

After leaving Foyle in 1908, Foster went to Queen’s to read Classics, graduating with a first-class honours degree.

Foster’s Ireland career spanned both sides of the Great War and he made his international debut against England at Twickenham in 1910.

It was Ireland’s first visit to Twickenham, which had opened the previous October, although the match won’t live long in the memory as it finished scoreless.

Foster was one of six Irish players selected to go on the 26-man Lions squad that set sail for South Africa from Southampton aboard the Edinburgh Castle.

The side was captained by Belfast doctor Tommy Smyth, the prop played his club rugby at Malone and Newport after taking up a post at the Royal Gwent Hospital.

Foster scored two tries on his Lions debut in the 11-3 win over Western Province Colleges.

He became the third youngest Ireland player to represent the Lions and the seventh youngest of all time when he made his test debut aged 20 years and four days against South Africa at the Wanderers Ground in Johannesburg on August 6.

Foster, normally a centre, started on the wing and, despite scoring a try, the Lions went down 14-10.

Foster kept his place for the second test as the Lions won 8-3 to tie the series but then sat out the deciding test, which the Boks won 21-5.

Foster played in 17 out of 24 of the Lions games on tour, scoring nine tries for a personal points tally of 27.

He captained Ireland for the first time on February 10, 1912 against England at Twickenham but the hosts won 15-0.

Foster would captain his country in their last two games before the First World War, against Scotland and Wales.

After a stint in London, Foster returned to take up a teaching post at Foyle College in 1913.

In his first year teaching at Foyle, they reached the Schools’ Cup final but lost 10-3 to Campbell College Belfast.

Foster became rugby master at the school after the incumbent teacher tragically died on holiday that summer.

In his first year at the helm Foyle reached another Schools’ Cup final.

The game against Methodist College Belfast was scheduled for St Patrick’s Day at Balmoral but had to be put back to the following Saturday.

Ireland had played Wales at the Belfast venue three days earlier - a game in which Foster scored a try - but the turf had been cut up so much by the international the Schools’ Cup final was deemed unplayable.

Foyle started brightly but the influential Matthews snapped his collar-bone and although the first half was scoreless, Methody scored 13 unanswered points after the break.

Foyle were hoping to make it third time lucky in 1915 after having lost the previous two finals.

Foster’s charges started the campaign with a win over north-west rivals Coleraine. Ballymena Academy were defeated in the quarter-finals before victory over Methody in the last four set up a St Patrick’s Day final with Royal School Armagh at Ormeau.

A huge crowd turned out at the south Belfast venue as Foster’s side won the cup for the first time in 15 years, prevailing 5-3.

As the First World War raged through Europe, 13 of the 16 Foyle squad that won the cup swapped the rugby pitch for the battlefield.

J A Williams was killed in action during fierce fighting around Guillemont in France on September 6, 1916. Williams was a 2nd Lieutenant 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, attached to the 7th Battalion of same Regiment when he died.

Four of the Williams brothers went to war and only one came back. J A Williams’ sacrifice is commemorated on Pier Face 15A/15B on the Thiepval Memorial which commemorates over 72,000 British and South African servicemen that died during the battles on the Somme with no known grave. R Young, a 2nd Lieutenant Royal Irish Rifles, was awarded the Military Cross for his exploits during battle.

Foster’s 17th and final Ireland cap came in a 6-0 defeat by Wales at Balmoral in 1921.

Foster scored four tries for his country, he captained Ireland on three occasions and Ulster 10 times.

Foster, while teaching at Foyle, played rugby for City of Derry and excelled at a number of other sports.

He was a keen cricketer, turning out for City of Derry, he rowed for the City eight and was a champion swimmer.

In 1927, Foster won the Captain’s Prize at Fortwilliam Golf Club.

Foster was part of the Ireland selectors’ panel from 1922-25 and was president of the Ulster Branch of the IRFU in 1926.

A good singer, shortly before his death in 1972 he featured on an album released that same year entitled Folk Ballads from Donegal and Derry. Foster sings two songs on the album, Stock And Wall (Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship) and The Creel (The Ketch In The Creel).

He died at Banty in Co Cork on August 24, 1972.

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