RBAI dig deep to deny Methody
Inst secure a hat-trick of titles in hard-fought Ulster Schools final
RBAI’s Rhys O’Donnell scores his side’s try. Photograph: Brian Little/Inpho
RBAI 12 Methodist College 8
Holders Royal Belfast Academical Institution secured a hat-trick of Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup titles in what was a thoroughly dogged affair over old rivals Methodist College at a rain-swept Kingspan Stadium.
It was RBAI’s first three-in-a-row since the 1940s - when they secured six consecutive titles from 1943 to 1948 - but the weather-hit game hung in the balance until the end with Methody putting it up to the holders before the Belfast city centre school could claim their 32nd success in the competition.
First-half tries from scrumhalf Rhys O’Donnell and second row David McCann, and a conversion from centre James Hume, saw favourites Inst lead 12-5 at half-time after having the wind and rain in their favour.
But Methody had kept in the game after winger Chris Larmour got the competition’s most successful school - they have won the cup outright 35 times - right back with a try just before the break.
However, the remainder of the showpiece final turned into a slog for both sides with errors and poor decision-making to the fore. In the end, the only score from the second half was from Methody centre Paul Kerr and his side’s inexperience - this was their first final since 2014 - crept in as they failed to score again even with the deteriorating elements at their backs.
The second period wasn’t helped by both sides being reduced to 14 men shortly after the restart with Kerr being shown yellow for a high tackle on Inst outhalf and skipper Michael Lowry and then Hume going the same way shortly afterwards for a high hit on Methody number 10 Thomas Armstrong.
Inst losing the hugely influential Lowry to injury - he limped off in the 46th minute after preventing a try when Methody were in the ascendency - was also a blow to the holders who had to dig very deep to win this one.
RBAI: J Finnegan; Z Davidson, J Hume, D Lyttle, N Armstrong; M Lowry, R O’Donnell; C Reid, N Saulters, M Nelson; D Wallace, D McCann; P Finnegan, C Cloke, Y Omar. Replacements: S Fryers for Lowry (47 mins), P McLernon for Wallace (48 mins), B Gribben for Nelson (57 mins), A Adair for Cloke (59 mins), E Field for McCann (67mins), R McIlveen for O’Donnell (68 mins). Unused: C McCormick, E Sloan
Tries: R O’Donnell, D McCann Cons: J Hume 1
Yellow card: J Hume (45 mins)
MCB: K Doherty; E McIlroy, J McConnell, P Kerr, C Larmour; T Armstrong, J Jordan; D Morelli, J Trainor, B Crangle; J Bingham, H Gibbons; C Kelly, T Gallagher, M Loane (capt). Replacements: L Millar for McIlroy (67 mins), K McNaboe for Gallagher (68 mins). Unused: C Conn, E Gentry, C Fletcher, C Kelly, M Neill, L Lowry
Tries: C Larmour Pen: P Kerr
Yellow card: P Kerr (42 mins)