Bann lads battle to fill Porter’s boots

Ulster Junior player and recent Banbridge signing Scott Nelson will be fighting to take over Ian Porter's shirt.
Ulster Junior player and recent Banbridge signing Scott Nelson will be fighting to take over Ian Porter's shirt.

The battle is on to succeed Banbridge star player Ian Porter.

He accepted a professional contract with Connacht earlier in the summer and Banbridge Head Coach Daniel Soper has challenged one of Porter’s potential successors to make the step up.

He certainly has plenty of options as the boss has this summer signed two new scrum-halves with another duo stepping up from the U19s. Add to that a frustrated back-up who spent last season on the bench, and Soper has a selection headache.

“Ian’s a big loss for us but in saying that, we have a lot of good scrum halves at the club,” he said.

“We’ve got Lee Steenson, who sat on the bench behind Ian for most of last season. That was tough for him because he’s a very good player.

“Then we have Scott Nelson, who has moved back to Banbridge after playing for Ballymoney and Ulster Juniors and has joined the club. Aaron Kennedy has just moved up from the U19s and he’s a very good player as well.

“We’ve also got Josh Coyle, who has finished school and moved back from Belfast Inst and Jason Gribben moving up from the U19s as well.

“There’s no doubting that Ian was our best player last season and arguably the best player in the league as well. That’s why he has got a professional contract.

“So we haven’t got anyone of Ian’s calibre but you’re never going to be able to replace him. We have a lot of strong players there. It’ll be interesting to see who makes the step up.”

Soper will also be without Banbridge stalwart Simon McKinstry, who this summer retired from first team rugby but Soper has made more new additions to make up for the loss.

“We’ve also brought in Ryan Milligan and a South African player called Niko Vorster. He has played in Ireland for the last few years but didn’t play last season. He has played for Boyne and previously with Ballymena.

“Simon will still be about to do some coaching, primarily with the seconds this season. I’m trying to talk him into playing a few games for them as well because there are a lot of good young players coming up from the U19s this year. They could learn a lot from playing alongside him. It would be a great experience for them.

“It’s a big step up for the U19s guys but I have no doubt that over the course of the season, some of them will get their chance in the first team. They’re in pre-season training with us and we’ll see how things progress.”

That pre-season is already well under way as Soper looks to improve on last season’s disappointing start:

“We’ve had four weeks of pre-season now. We started earlier than ever before. We just decided we would start sooner to get our fitness up another level. That’s something that wasn’t as strong as it could have been last season.

“So far, our numbers have been up over 30 every night it’s all really positive at the minute.

“We were away to Murlough beach for training in the sun last week. We’re trying to break training up a bit for the guys and give all the sessions something a bit different.”

The Ulster league season begins on 30 August but before that, the first big day for the local rugby calendar is the opening of their new pitch with a game against Ballynahinch on Saturday 23 August.

“There will be a lot going on that day,” said Soper. “We have mini rugby games, an Ulster representative match and youth and senior rugby all taking part.

“It’s being branded as a pitch for all so this will be a great curtain raiser for us.”