As part of a new exciting partnership between Fifteen Rugby and PSA Academies (more news to follow on that), I’m delighted to be joining the Fifteen Rugby team as a guest contributor to preview and review the best of the Irish Schools Cup action from now through to the Finals around St Patricks Weekend in the middle of March.
For those of you who know little or nothing about Schools Cup Rugby in Ireland, suffice to say it is a bit of an institution over here, being the pinnacle of many players’ careers unless they are lucky enough to progress to the Academy and eventually full professional ranks.
Whilst all four provinces have long established Schoolboy Rugby Cup competitions covering Under 15s (Junior Cup or JCT) and Under 18 (Senior Cup or SCT), Ulster and Leinster were the first to hold the Senior Cup competitions in 1876 and 1887 respectively.
With the advent of professionalism leading to increased investment in and focus on the schools game, Leinster’s main Cup competition has really boomed in profile and impact on the game here. A good reflection of this importance is the fact that Irish & UK broadcaster Freesport (Sky channel 429) will show eight live games from Donnybrook, starting with the clash of 2017 champions Belvedere College versus 2015 winners Cistercian College Roscrea.
In terms of quality and what to expect, the fact that Leinster now boast the strongest Academy set up arguably in world rugby can be directly linked to the coaching work done and standards of rugby delivered in the Senior Competition. That’s not to dismiss the quality of the competitions in all four provinces (Munster, Ulster & Connacht schools all boast representatives in Joe Schmidt’s 6 Nations squad) but the sheer depth of ex-Leinster schoolboy stars currently playing for not only Leinster but across the four provinces and overseas is a testament to the competition’s ability to produce highly skilled and developed players.
There was a recent photograph that did the rounds on social media in Ireland recently showing a combined squad photo of the Leinster Junior and Senior Cup winning squads from Dublin’s St. Michael’s College back in 2012 and it won’t come as a huge surprise to Fifteen Rugby readers that the two captains of those victorious teams were none other than Grand Slam winners James Ryan and Dan Leavy! Indeed, last year their were 10 ex-St Micheal’s pupils in a Leinster senior squad that won both the Champions Cup and Pro14.
But the beauty of the schools competitions, particularly in more recent years, is that the pool of schools who can and have won them has increased. Having said that, Blackrock College, where Brian O’Driscoll, Leo Cullen, Garry Ringrose and even Craig Doyle went to school, are the aristocrats of Leinster Rugby and current holders of the Cup so everyone will be up against it to knock them off the top of the pile this year!
Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup First Round Previews:
St Mary’s College v Terenure (Sunday, 27 January, 3pm, Donnybrook)
As luck would have it, the first game of this year’s competition sees the St Mary’s team that I coach face our historic rivals Terenure in what should be a cracker of a game. We drew 7-7 in a friendly back just before Christmas so suffice to say we’re expecting another tight encounter. We got to the semi finals last year and with a core of 15 players back again this year, we have had a good season to date (starting last May with pre-season!). Having said that, Terenure are a big physical side with a few really smart players (Levi Vaughan at prop, Jack Cooke at openside and Ross McInnes in centre are three to track), who’ll be very well coached by Dan Parkinson and John English. We hopefully have the lads ready for a big performance, so hopefully we get the rub of the green on the day.
Prediction – A tight one that I can’t/won’t call!
Presentation College Bray v Blackrock College (Monday, 28 January, 3pm, Donnybrook)
Pres Bray are a fine side and boast some star quality in the shape of Leinster Schools stars half back Ben Murphy (son of Irish kicking coach Richie Murphy) and wing Josh Pyper but they’re going to be under massive pressure from the off by the cup holders Blackrock. Power and finishing ability were the hallmarks of Blackrock’s cup winning squad last year and with a pack led by Sean O’Brien, you can expect more of the same this time around.
Prediction – can’t see beyond a Rock win
Kilkenny College v St Michael’s College (Tuesday, 29 January, 3pm, Donnybrook)
Personally delighted to see Kilkenny (where PSA Academies holds one of our residential Rugby Academies in August) back in the main draw again but they’ll have their work cut out staying in this match to the closing stages against another very strong St Michael’s College squad, who had nine players in the Leinster Schools squad that won Interprovincial honours back in August. Despite their production list of pro players, no one is more aware than them of the relatively poor return that two Senior Cups in their history represents. They will be smarting from going out at the semi final stage last year so expect a big statement of intent from the off here.
Prediction – St Michael’s to start with a good win
Gonzaga College v Castleknock College (Wednesday, 30 January, 3pm, Castle Avenue)
These are two good sides that met in the Senior League decider back in December when Gonzaga prevailed 19-7. Gonzaga have their own star quality, in particular with Leinster Schools captain and blindside Jack Barry, but will be wary of really well drilled Castleknock squad, coached by ex-London Irish hooker Adrian Flavin and ex-Wasps outhalf Jeremy Staunton, who have progressed noticeably through the season.
Prediction – Castleknock to cause a bit of an upset in a tight affair
Newbridge College v St Gerard’s School (Wednesday, 30, January, 3pm, Templeville Road)
My old school Newbridge (that Jamie Heaslip, Geordan Murphy, & current Leinster hooker James Treacy also attended) faces a dangerous first round tie versus St Gerards. Newbridge have a really progressive young squad, with a lot of 5th years, so they’ll be hoping that squeezing past Gerards will build invaluable experience for the squad. Hard to call this one.
Prediction – Newbridge just to edge it
Wesley College v Clongowes Wood College (Wednesday, 30 January, 3pm, Donnybrook)
Clongowes are perennial contenders for the Cup and this year should be no different, albeit Wesley will keep them honest in this first round clash. Clongowes had five players in the Leinster Schools squad that won the Interpros in Limerick back in August and in outhalf David Wilkinson in particular, they have the quality and experience to go far this year.
Prediction – Clongowes to pull away in the second half
Belvedere College v Cistercian College, Roscrea (Thursday, 31 January, 3pm, Donnybrook, live on Free Sports)
This is a rematch of the 2016 Final, which Belvedere won comfortably, and 2015 winners Roscrea will be hungry for revenge here. Belvedere fell to Blackrock at the final hurdle last year, when hunting a hat trick of Cup wins, so they’ll have their own bitterness to tap into here. This one should be a cracker of a tie, arguably the best in the round, with two traditional forward powerhouses slugging it out. Roscrea had a good league campaign, reaching the semi finals there and will quietly fancy their chances of causing an upset in this one against a Belvedere squad that may not be quite as strong as in recent years.
Prediction – Roscrea to squeeze through in a battle of the Black & White hoops
Catholic University School v CBC Monkstown (Friday, 1 February, 3pm, Templeville Road)
This match doubles up as the final of the Vinny Murray Cup qualifier competition so with silverware plus a place in the quarter finals on the line, this is a really big tie for two similarly matched schools. Both teams were impressive in their respective semi finals (CUS accounting for Temple Carrig 30-7, with CBC beating the traditionally stronger Kings Hospital 39-10) so it really is a coin toss to see which will come out on top here. With the weather potentially worsening at the back end of next week, hopefully that doesn’t have too much of a bearing on a big day out for both schools.
Prediction – CBC to come out on top in another ding dong.
2018 – Blackrock College
2017 – Belvedere College
2016 – Belvedere College
2015 – Cisterian College, Roscrea
2014 – Blackrock College
2013 – Blackrock College
2012 – St Michael’s College
2011 – Clongowes Wood College
2010 – Clongowes Wood College
2009 – Blackrock College
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