1st XV Rugby Report 2022/23

The 1st XV had a very enjoyable and successful season reaching the Quarter Final of the Ulster Schools’ Cup. It has been a long time since a 1st XV have managed this with RSD previously exiting the competition in Round 4 against RBAI and twice against Wallace HS. We won our group games away to Rainey and Portadown and at home to Friends before being the only group team to draw a seeded opposition, Ballyclare HS. The victory over Ballyclare HS on the Armstrong Field will be remembered by all the players, coaches, family and friends who were there to support as RSD refused to go behind at any point of the game no matter what Ballyclare HS threw at us. The quarter final against MCB was an exciting moment in the season and the build up was getting a lot of attention as RSD hoped to cause a Schools’ Cup upset. Unfortunately, MCB proved too clinical on the day but anyone present at the match will testify to RSD standing toe to toe with MCB until the final whistle. 

After the final of the Subsidiary Shield last year we started to think about what the team might look like this year and I would have to say it was hard to see how we were going to be as successful as the team who had just finished. It’s always hard to know how things will shape up as the season approaches, but right from the start the 1st XV  showed they were determined to get stuck in and compete with each other at training and the teams they met each week. Parents on the sidelines and opposition coaches often commented that we weren’t the biggest team but produced ‘gutsy’ performances and this was to be the trend for the season. A major influence on this determined approach was Captain James McCammon who led by example week by week and this ‘heart of a lion’ approach became infectious, with fellow back row players like Matthew Burrows and Reuben Gibson dominating collisions and breakdowns. James and Reuben had both started the season after a summer spent training and competing for Ulster U18s and they were keen to input some of their knowledge into the RSD setup. Matthew had a nasty injury which threatened to cause him to miss the Schools’ Cup run but his tenacious approach to getting back matched his usual attitude on the pitch and he made it back for the final game of the season. 

There had been 12 Year 14 leavers from last season’s squad which meant there were lots of opportunities for new players to break through and claim a position on the team. A new front row was being assembled with the experience of Christy Brace being combined by John Carroll and Ben Hazlett. John proved that he could bulldoze his way over the line if the team could get him in to that zone and Ben was proving to be a menace at the breakdown as opposition struggled to shift him once he got leeched on to opposition ball. The second row was competitive throughout the season with Nathan Ewart, Reece Ferguson and Dylan Gilbert all holding their own in the lineout and when carrying ball. With Nathan securing his starting place Dylan and Reece had to also be aware of players like Josh Ferguson who was right on their heels by the end of the season. Last season Joel Dickie had to fight hard to get some 1st XV playing time in both hooker and the back row and saw the 2022-23 season as his opportunity to make his name one of the first names put on the teamsheet. Joel continued to quietly work hard throughout training sessions and became a reliable starter in the back row with a determined work rate in every match. Joel is a player who is extremely coachable and never questioned any decisions around his starting position or roles on the pitch. It was for all of the reasons above that Joel is awarded the 2022-23 1st XV Most Improved Player Award.  

 

A key position in the team is scrum half as a link between the forwards and the backs, but this was a missing link as we started the season. Young Caleb Burke was thrown into the deep end and was relatively inexperienced in this position at such a competitive level. However, we knew from his quietly determined character and ability that he had the potential to grow into a 1st XV scrum half and that is exactly what he did. Each match was a learning experience and Caleb continued to become more confident learning the calls and his role with both the forwards and the backs and therefore Caleb was a major contender for the most improved player of the year. In the back line, Jacob Clarke tapped in to his experience at 15 last season as he took on the central role of out half. This was a difficult position for much of the season with the key centre partnership of Cameron Shaw and Cameron Cummings disrupted with injury for a number of weeks. It was rewarding to see Jacob grow in this position and his kicking game and game management developed throughout the season. Cameron Shaw had already played a season at 13 and this experience when combined with Cameron Cummings’ Ulster experience and eagerness to develop became a force to be reckoned with in the centre as they cut teams open on numerous occasions. The back three was probably an area of the team with most changes throughout the season with Alfie Lewis central to this unit. Alfie has developed over the last couple of seasons into a top finisher within the team and has proved he can be a threat to opposition from anywhere in the field with ball in hand. The other two spots were up for grabs for several players including Ryan Acton, Sam Dougherty, Joshua Sloss, Harry Gray and Alex Welton. In the end Ryan Acton and Harry Gray claimed their place on the wings and both players have proven that they can get their name on the score sheet and prevent opposition from breaking through at the edges. 

I want to say a huge congratulations and thank you to all of our players in senior rugby for making the season both enjoyable and successful. I mentioned earlier that Captain James McCammon led by example in every match and was always in contention for man of the match each week therefore we were delighted to award him the RSD 1st XV Player of the Year award.  

I would like to thank Mr Lucas and Mr Chambers for their unwavering support, commitment and coaching skills week in and week out throughout the season. They have years of rugby knowledge, refereeing expertise and an ability to help calm me down on the sidelines. We also had Ryan Ross join our sessions and this proved to be a great support and hopefully something we can build on moving forward. Another member of the team who quietly got on with a very important role in the background was Humphrey, I would like to thank him for all his work with e-team sheets and his work setting up and recording our matches each week. 

 

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