Well, would you believe it? 2016 has arrived and with it another competitive season of schools rugby in Ulster. As always the FrontRowUnion’s prediction league makes an appearance alongside round 1 of the Cup competition which also means it must be time for me to make a fool of myself by offering up picks for each round and then landing square on my proverbial face (you can make a fool of yourself HERE); well, here goes nothing…:
Banbridge Academy v Antrim GS
The first head-to-head on our list conjures feelings of déjà vu as this fixture was played at the same stage last season and will also take place at the same venue. Of course Antrim GS will be hoping that’s as far as the coincidences go given their 45-to-nothing defeat in 2015; however, while the result may be much closer than last year it does look to have the same outcome. Yes, both teams have very poor records but Banbridge have played much more rugby and have found ways to win on a couple of occasions which, so far, Antrim haven’t managed to do at all. Couple this with home-field advantage and the County Down side look like they will win through.
MY PICK: Banbridge Academy
Belfast HS v Foyle College
On the face of things, these appear to be two very closely matched teams, Foyle only sitting one place above Belfast High in the latest FRU rankings. However, the evidence may suggest that Foyle College have the right to be one place higher as recent losses against stronger sides such as Ballyclare HS and Portora RS, by a relatively small gap of twelve points, have shown spirit, as indeed did their most recent game: a 36-0 win over City of Derry U19s. This convincing win and clean-sheet should stand them in good stead against a side who struggled to see off Antrim GS and whose defence has been the second-most permeable so far this season (26.67 points per game in case you’re wondering!)
MY PICK: Foyle College
Cambridge House v Limavady GS
EDIT: This match was rescheduled for Friday 7th January in the evening and, therefore, will not be included in the predictions league when calculating scores. For what it’s worth…
MY PICK: Cambridge House
Larne GS v RS Armagh
Back in 2013, RS Armagh were one of the competition’s top-seeds; any thought that they might slip into a first round position by 2016 would probably have been met with incredulous snickering, but that’s exactly the position they find themselves in this weekend with an away trip to Larne. Of course, many will be quick to point out that this has had much to do with a long injury list, and they’d be right to do so as in their most recent game an almost full-strength side produced an emphatic 47-0 victory over fellow round 1 entrants Limavady GS. It’s the sort of result that probably sent an ominous chill down the spine of Larne fans whose fortunes have looked much brighter than in many a previous season; it seems they’ve been very unfortunate to be drawn against a team showing strong signs of resurgence and determination.
MY PICK: RS Armagh
Lurgan College v Portadown College
Given that these are statistically two of the strongest sides at this stage and their geographical proximity to one another, this looks to be the tie of the round and a closely contested match (the uninitiated should note that this means if you’re looking to bet on a draw, take this game!). The very first game of their respective seasons saw Portadown claim a 24-5 victory over Lurgan and, while I expect the scoring to be much closer, I don’t think the home side will have their revenge. Portadown have produced a lot of good rugby this season, most victories being fairly convincing rather than ‘barely just’, and recent form shows four wins from five; Lurgan have had a great season by their standards, indeed they have three wins in the last five, but those victories have been close-run affairs and against weaker opponents on average. Portadown should have just enough to continue their very bright season.
MY PICK: Portadown College
RS Dungannon v Carrickfergus GS
Without wanting to cause offence to Carrick fans, this is probably the easiest fixture to call (yes, you can come back and berate me when it turn out I’m wrong) given that Carrickfergus had to qualify by means of a preliminary match against Strabane GS and only just managed it with a 10-3 victory, their only win before this coming against a Belfast HS ‘SelectXV’. On the other hand, Dungannon have home advantage and a current win ratio of 0.385, one of their victories coming against second round entrants BRA. Any other result than a victory for the Tyrone side would definitely be the upset of the round no matter how else other matches turn out.
MY PICK: RS Dungannon
Wellington College v Friends’ SL
The round ends with another relatively straight forward call as the second-highest ranked team of the round, Friends, take on the second-lowest ranked, Wellington College. Even putting ability aside, the Belfast side’s lack of matches will hinder their endeavours especially against a Lisburn team whose remarkable record of two wins from every three loos to shake of any memories of ranking 29th last season and in last position the season before that. Of course Wellington will be hoping the home advantage does something to ease their hardship, but it may only prove to be a slight comfort as Friends have already shown this season they have more than enough talent to reach round 2 and maybe even beyond.
MY PICK: Friends’ SL
Have a better idea of what to go for now? Get your entry in HERE before the deadline of 10.00am Saturday 9th January