With a lot of noise and colour, the first Schools’ Cup semi-final of 2011 took place at Ravenhill. In what was a ‘battle of the Insts’, Coleraine brought a great wealth of support in order to prove that they were, as one of their own banners put it, “The real Inst”; but at the full-time whistle it was the RBAI team who had the bragging rights, as they marched on to the 53rd final in their history.
From the early moments of the game it became clear that whoever did win this contest would need an improved performance to seize victory in the final – early mistakes from both sides meant that penalties were given away in good positions and both sides were left frustrated by their efforts.
The opening score came after ten minutes when RBAI finally managed to move the ball quickly from right to left, the Coleraine defence being caught out by sheer weight of numbers, allowing no.11, Matthew Madill, to run in over the line unimpeded. Matty McGuigan was successful with the conversion to give Belfast Inst a seven-point lead.
From the subsequent kick-off, Coleraine’s kick did not travel at least ten metres, and this proved to be costly: the RBAI fullback, McGuigan, was the provider again, scoring a delightful drop-goal just inside the 22 to increase his team’s lead.
Coleraine, not wanting the game to run away from them, increased their pressure and, with good work from Stephen Best and Adam Dysart, pushed deep into RBAI territory. They came tantalising close to scoring their opening try, but the ball and player were forced into touch meaning that play was brought back to an earlier penalty. David McIntyre took the opportunity to get some points on the board and reduced the arrears to seven points once again.
The rest of the half saw chances for both sides, but a mixture of good defence and unforced penalties saw that no more points were scored before the whistle and RBAI left the field with only a slight advantage over a Coleraine Inst.
HT: Coleraine AI 3 RBAI 10
It seemed that the break in play favoured the Belfast side, as only seven minutes into the new half Nathan Brown crossed over for the second RBAI try. It came about after McGuigan had missed an earlier penalty kick and, unfortunately for him, the trend continued as his conversion attempt fell short.
Fifteen minutes before the end, both sides made a number of changes, RBAI looking to defend their lead and Coleraine looking for more attacking options. It appeared that Coleraine had made the better choices as they started to control the game, but a number of loose passes and knock-ons broke their rhythm and left captain, Patrick Farrell, looking very frustrated.
Belfast Inst’s final score was perhaps the best moment in a game littered with errors: after moving the ball across field a number of times, the Coleraine defence was stretched and left Matthew Madill one-on-one with the defender. Instead of going alone, he chipped a perfectly weighted kick beyond the line which no. 10, Gareth Lawlor, was only to keen to pounce upon. McGuigan was wide this time with the conversion attempt, but RBAI didn’t care too much as they had a healthy lead.
In a game where Coleraine AI were much more in touch than the scoreline now seemed to suggest, it was good to see their effort finally manifested in the form of a try, albeit a consolation at this stage. With less than five minutes remaining, the kicker, David McIntyre, took advantage of loose RBAI defence to give himself and his team eight points.
The subsequent conversion attempt was missed and no further points were added by either side so that, at the no-side whistle, Belfast claimed the victory 20-8, but they will need a performance that is greatly improved to see them lift the Cup come St. Patrick’s Day.
Coleraine AI: Josh Murdock (sub Conor Sheils), Alan Clarke, Josh McDowell, Peter Murphy, David McIntyre (1 try, 1 pen), Stuart McCaffery, Patrick Farrell (c), Connor Nicholl (sub Joe Livingstone), Adam Dysart, Kyle Markey, Simon McLean, Stephen Best, Robert McCullough, Peter Liken, Ali Ashgar.
RBAI:Matthew McGuigan (1 drop, 1 con), Nathan Brown (1 try), John McClure, Kevin McClean, Matthew Madill (1 try), Gareth Lawlor (1 try), Matthew Taylor, Patrick Anderson (sub James Anderson), Zack Welshman, Patrick Bell, Ben Alexander, Michael Kilpatrick, Andrew Browne (sub Ross Keane), Michael Mairs (sub Daniel Clegg), Conor Neill