CALEDONIA and Borders/East Lothian shared the honours in the FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy District finals at Netherdale yesterday [Sunday] afternoon, with the men from north of the Forth taking the Under-18 title and the Borders/East Lothian side triumphing in the Under-16 match.
Both finals were scheduled to be played on the main pitch at Netherdale but after heavy overnight rain had continued into finals day the decision was taken to play only one match – the Under-16 game – on the grass pitch at the Gala club, with the other four games going ahead on the adjacent 3G pitch, home of Gala Fairydean FC.
In the Under-18 final, Caledonia, who had dominated their three previous FOSROC Academy matches, confirmed their dominance in the competition by defeating Borders/East Lothian 33-17. Caledonia’s superiority in the forward battle, where their height and bulk, particularly in the second-row combination of Alex Samuel and Max Williamson, together with the pace of their back three and the strength of their centres, proved a winning blend.
“It’s been a clean sweep for us,” said the Caledonia coach, Colin Sangster. “The guys got their reward for a number of weeks of hard work. They’ve committed to the programme, they’ve trained really hard. Today we didn’t get off to a great start we were under pressure – but we showed a lot of resilience in difficult conditions. At half-time, we changed the way we normally play and that worked really well. We got two or three scores in the second half.”
Despite a stuttering start, Caledonia led 12-5 at half-time through tries by the Dollar second-row Williamson and Kirkcaldy centre Thomas Glendinning, plus a conversion by Stirling County stand-off Euan Cunningham, to a try for the Borders by Melrose Wasps stand-off Christian Townsend, son of national team head coach Gregor.
Converted tries by Ellon back-row Jack Duncan, the Dollar centre Mike Gray and Dollar wing Ross McKnight completed Caledonia’s scoring; while Borders/East Lothian adding to their total with tries by the Dunbar centre Ben Pickles and the Biggar wing Mason Cullen, plus another conversion by Townsend.
Spectators had little time to decamp from Gala Fairydean to Netherdale in time for the Under-16 final between the same two districts. In the event, any latecomers would have missed a dynamic start from Borders/East Lothian that resulted in tries for wing Finlay Douglas (Hawick) and back-row Matthew Vitrano (Gala) and a conversion by stand-off Finlay Thomson (Dunbar).
Matters became worse for Caledonia when Borders/East Lothian ran in a third try, this time by Patrick Cannon (Peebles), but just before half-time Caledonia clawed back points with a try by Lyle Hunter (Dollar Academy) converted by stand-off Innes Parkin (Huntly).
After the break, Borders regained momentum with a try from their pacy centre, Finn Douglas (Hawick), converted by replacement stand-off Luke Townsend (Melrose) – but two tries in quick succession by full-back Stuart Hutchison (Strathallan) and replacement wing Harris Mitchell (Mackie) brought Caledonia back into the game with the score at 24-19.
Caledonia’s hopes of a successful fightback were dashed, however, when Townsend finished off an excellent Borders/East Lothian attack, with Thomson’s conversion giving his side a 31-19 win.
Earlier in the afternoon, on the 3G pitch at Gala Fairydean, Edinburgh triumphed in the Junior (Under-20) 1872 Cup with an eventually comfortable 23-7 win over Glasgow Warrior, thanks in no small part to the capital’s powerful scrum and their more aggressive back-row, in which man-of-the-match Hari Morris ((Melrose) excelled.
Moreover, Edinburgh made up of players from the capital and from Borders/East Lothian, (Warriors comprised players from Glasgow and Caledonia) had eye-catching performances from the Kelso stand-off Liam Hardman, who is based at Cardiff University, and his half-back partner Kyle McGhee from Musselburgh.
Edinburgh led 13-7 at the break from tries by full-back Callum Pate (Haddington) and wing Scott Robeson (Heriot’s), plus a penalty from McGhee, with Glasgow’s first half points coming from a try by scrum-half Sandy Greig (Glasgow Hawks) and the conversion by full-back Adam Scott (GHA).
Then, in the second half, McGhee added to his points tally with a try converted by centre Paul Cunningham (Watsonians), the latter ensuring an Edinburgh victory with a late penalty goal.
In the other two games, a penalty ten minutes before full-time by the Edinburgh Academy stand-off Daniel Troup gave Edinburgh a narrow 32-31 win over Glasgow in the Under-18 third/fourth play-off; while at Under-16 level Edinburgh again finished winners, this time by 17-15.