Schools' Cup final - Captains' Raven-thrill

IF the lynchpin of any successful side is a good captain, then Ballymena Academy are doubly blessed in that department.

The return after injury and illness of first choice captain George Dennison for the quarter-final and semi-final of the Schools' Cup has been a major boost to the Galgorm Road school.

But in his absence, vice-captain Charlie Simpson has steered the Academy through most of the campaign and the earlier rounds of the competition and his contribution will be recognised when he leads the team out at Ravenhill.

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"George is a forward and I play in the backs so it helps us to look after our own area of the team and it seems to work well," Charlie told Times Sport.

"The whole team works well and there is respect for everyone. The spirit of the side is what gets us through. There are no outstanding individuals like Luke Marshall last year, it's just a really good all round team which works well together."

For George, the opportunity to play in the final at all is a bonus after a season ravaged by injury and illness.

"I pulled my hamstring with Ulster under-19s and was ruled out for a good part of the season. Just as I was coming back to fitness we went on tour and I caught pneumonia so I was in hospital for a couple of weeks.

"I was told I wasn't allowed to play again this season but I felt better and started the second match against Friends in the quarter-final and, just my luck, I got concussed!

"Somehow I got a note allowing me to play against Methody in the semi-final and managed to play the whole match.

"It's a dream come true to play in the final. I was in the team which got beat in the semi-final by one point so it means everything to me," added George.

Charlie agrees: "You come into school as a first year and every year there's a buzz around Schools Cup time.

"You're maybe hitting drop goals after training pretending you're kicking a drop goal to win the Schools Cup. Now we're here we have the chance but you can't let it overtake your focus.

"You have spent seven years in the classroom and seven years on the rugby pitch with most of these guys so we know each other inside out.

"BRA have beaten Inst and Wallace, two very good sides, so it's all about who wants it more on the day. No-one should under-estimate BRA because they have got there in the first place."

George hopes the remarkable improvement shown by the side as the season has progressed can culminate in Ravenhill glory.

"At times before Christmas we felt there were different groups within the team, with some of the young boys coming through but the tour to France definitely brought us together.

"From where we were last summer, particularly in parts of the game like lineouts, to where we are now is like chalk and cheese but we're not kidding ourselves - we know how hard it will be to win."

Charlie adds: "We've had so much helps from the teachers the coaching staff and also the people behind the scenes and we want to repay that support on Wednesday."