A home draw was just what Down High wanted in the fourth round of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup, although they may have preferred not to be facing cup experts Methodist College, Belfast on Saturday morning at Downpatrick (kick-off 11am).
Coach Charlie Knox, who is assisted by John Gunson as well as Ulster Academy player, Aaron Cairns, will be keen to remind his Year 14 players of the great win they had against the same opposition in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Medallion Shield competition three years ago.
James McBriar, the Ballynahinch 1st XV player, looks after the Strength and Conditioning aspects for the Downsquad. His attention to detail will ensure the players are physically, as well as mentally, conditioned for this tie.
Team captain, Claytan Milligan, has led his team with great distinction this season. He missed a number of games following the Inter-Provincial games but, since his return, he has seen his team overcome a number of leading schools, including three who are entering Schools’ Cup competition at the same stage.
Vice-Captains, Thomas Martin and Marcus Graham have given good support.
Martin is one of the unsung heroes of the team. He is a player who goes quietly and effectively about his duties but can produce great leadership skills when the situation requires something special. Graham is the leading point’s scorer for the team. His place kicking ability is legendary-he rarely misses.
Lewis Finlay and Robin Wilson, the Down half back pairing, have had their talents recognized with their selection in the Schools’ U18 squad. Zac Ward, their all-action forward, is a son of former Ulster flanker and current sports pundit, Andy Ward.
Year 12 backrow player, Matthew Leathem, has risen to the challenges of senior rugby with great distinction. His performances will be monitored closely by the Ulster Rugby Talent ID Department. Harry Hitchens, William Annett, Jack Carlisle, Alex Martin, Aaron Haslett and Harris McConnell are other players MCB will need to monitor closely.
Methodist College, Belfast team has had a somewhat indifferent season in terms of results until now. However, there will be a total re-focusing of efforts to ensure the players are suitably well prepared, both mentally and physically, for their encounter against Down.
When it comes to winning Schools’ Cup games few teams have coaches in charge with more experience than Nick Wells and Stephen Lindsay. They receive great assistance from Andrew Willis who has given freely of his time to develop his level of expertise in dealing with talented schoolboy players.
Team captain, Matty Loane, is an all action player who leads his team by example, setting high standards for himself in terms of what he does both on and off the pitch. He forms a very effective break away trio with Cameron Kelly and Thomas Gallagher.
It has been a difficult season at times for MCB but things seem to have turned around somewhat since their trip to Portugal for a training camp prior to Christmas. While in camp the Methodist College team played against the Portugal National U19 team and recorded a well-deserved victory. On their return a successful outing to Dublin and a win against a much vaunted Terenure College team would suggest Methody might just be hitting a bit of form at just the right time.
Players such as Paul Kerr, Conor Scollan, Jonny Jordan and Chris Larmour have been regular try scorers. Chris is a young emerging talent who has adapted well to the demands of senior rugby. Thomas Armstrong is another young player to have done likewise.
Paul Kerr is not only a threat with the ball in his hands but he is also accurate off the kicking tee. He will be only too happy to punish any Down indiscretions.
Ben Crangle is a hard working prop who was involved with the Ulster Schools’ U18 team earlier in the season. His interactions with his opposite number at scrum time in the course of this tie could have a great bearing on the eventual outcome.
James McConnell, Samuel Bernard, Ethan McIlroy and Thomas Fletcher are other Methodist College players who will be hoping to impress.