Defence could be key to Royal Belfast Academical Institution final win
ROYAL Belfast Academical Institution director of rugby Dan Soper believes a strong defence could hold the key to his team's chances of making it a hat-trick of Danske Bank Schools' Cup titles against arch rivals Methodist College at the Kingspan Stadium this afternoon.
Inst ran in seven tries in their 41-8 semi-final win over Ballymena Academy but were pushed much harder in the previous round when they edged out Campbell College 10-3.
And in last year's decider against Campbell, there was a similar case for the defence as RBAI withstood a second-half onslaught to emerge with a 13-3 victory, a last minute converted try adding some gloss to the scoreline.
"Defence is half of the game of rugby after all and I can see us having to work hard at it against what is always a very well-organised Methody side in the final." said Soper.
"They have a good set-piece and some very good backs behind it so we're expecting a very tough game and a there will be lot of hard work for our guys.
"It was backs against the wall in last year's final and, again, against Campbell in the last round when we had to dig deep to grind out the win.
Soper also believes that the experience that a dozen of his players enjoyed in being part of last year's cup winning squad could well work in RBAI's favour today.
Indeed, this afternoon's entire starting back-line played in the 2016 decider, including winger Niall Armstrong, who came off the bench last year and, now as a regular, scored a hat-trick of tries in the semi-final win over Ballymena.
"You would like to think that the previous experience of the big occasion will stand to the players who were there last year and the year before but it doesn't always work out that way." Soper added.
Methody go into the match as underdogs against an Inst side littered with boys who have played representative rugby at under-age level but head coach Nicky Wells says his squad won't be fazed by the magnitude of the occasion.
"There's no doubt Inst are the favourites going into the game and they have strengths all round the park, from their pack to their back-line but our players are up for the challenge." he said.
"We've been preparing hard for the Schools' Cup for months now and we had a warm-weather training camp back in December when we went to Portugal and stayed at the Brown's complex in Vilamoura where Ulster are frequent visitors.
"Not only did we manage three good sessions a day with the favourable climate but we beat the Portugal Under 19 team and it was also useful trip in terms of team bonding."
Methody, who beat Inst on the way to their last Schools' Cup treble from 2012-2014 under Wells' supervision, were in imperious form in the semi-final running in six tries in a 37-21 win over Belfast Royal Academy, three of them coming from centre Paul Kerr.
However, the Methody coach insists there is a need for improvement against their city rivals this afternoon if they are to stop the Inst juggernaut from emulating their own achievement of three years ago.
"I was happy with the way we stuck to our game-plan in the main but we were a bit sloppy at times and let them back into the game when we thought we had it won." Wells added.
"We can't afford any such carelessness against Inst and it'll require an 80-minute performance if we are to have a chance of getting the win I think we are capable of."