RARING TO GO

Banbridge and Ireland's Rory Best and France Pascal Pape during Saturday's Guinness Summer Series match at the Aviva Stadium Dublin. Best has been named in Ireland's squad for September's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Banbridge and Ireland's Rory Best and France Pascal Pape during Saturday's Guinness Summer Series match at the Aviva Stadium Dublin. Best has been named in Ireland's squad for September's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

THE heartache of missing out on promotion to Division Two of the All-Ireland League last year will spur Banbridge on to bigger and better things this year, according to Daniel Soper.

The Banbridge coach has been busy preparing his squad for the beginning of the new season, which gets underway on Saturday with a Ulster League game away to City of Derry.

Bann lost in their promotion playoff at the end of last season by the narrowest of margains, going down 16-15 to Old Crescent.

“You always remember your last game and it’s important that we do that, but at the same time move on and progress as a team,” said the Banbridge head coach.

“The one thing we could take out of that game was that we showed we were capable of playing at that level and now that we have a little bit more experience we should be looking to push on.”

And that experience will come in the form of some familiar faces.

“We’ve got guys like Stuart Wilson, Claude Crawford and Steven Irvine all back with us after playing at other clubs,”Soper said.

“They are all Banbridge people and I take that as a positive that local people want to play for the club.

“We have been luck in that we are doing a good job of producing young players and that they have a good understanding of each other. The nucleus is there.

He added, “I’m really looking forward to the new season. We struck some form and that is something we will be looking to build on, even though we didn’t finish on a positive note,” he said.

“We have a few new things in place for this season and hopefully they will be key to us pusing on for a promotion place.

“We start off away to City of Derry. They had a tremendous season last year so the game should be an interesting marker as to where we are this term.”

The aims for this season have been set very high, but it’s a target the Kiwi believes Banbridge can meet.

He said, “Last year we finished fifth in the table with the same number of wins as the team who won the league.

“I think we have to look at being in the top two this year. It’s a big, bold statement to make but if we set out and develop the way we play the way I want us to then there is no reason why it can’t be achieved.

“However if we are not prepared then it won’t happen so that has to be key for us.

“It’s going to be tough.”

Meanwhile the Rifle Park club received a boost on Monday afternoon when it was announced that clubman Rory Best was named in the Irish squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup.

The competition gets underway in September in the Banbridge coach’s native New Zealand.

Soper, who recently was on away on duty with the Ulster U20 squad, was delighted for the hooker, and predicts that there could be a few more full Irish internationals from Banbridge in the near future.

“It’s gtreat for us to have links to someone in the Irish squad, especially when you see Rory’s name in the paper and it has his club listed as Banbridge,” he said.

“But for me it’s just as rewarding to see the likes of Andy Morrison and Jonathan Murphy in the Ulster U20 team because it shows the progress they’re making.

“Andy has crept his way into the squad and has a real chance of making the starting XV, while Jonny has an ankle injury which will keep him out of action until September.”