AFTER a two season Covid enforced absence, the National Youth Under-18 Boys Cup final returns to the rugby calendar on Sunday at BT Murrayfield where Boroughmuir and West of Scotland will contest for the 2021-22 title.
There is little doubt that Boroughmuir will go into the Cup final as favourites having gone through the current season unbeaten and crucially having demonstrated they can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best schools in Scotland as shown by their performance at the prestigious Merchiston rugby festival where they finished as the top side from north of the Border.
“There is strength and depth across our whole squad and that has made it difficult with the selection of the final 22 players, but a good problem for us to have,” suggested the Boroughmuir head coach, Scott Anderson, adding: “It was great to have the representation we had in both the Edinburgh regional games and to also have three players [back-row Liam McConnell, hooker Jerry Blyth-Lafferty and centre Nick Adler] attending the National U18 Camps over the last two weekends was fantastic for us”.
For clubs to reach the Cup final at Murrayfield is a huge thrill for all the players involved but it means so much, too, for the coaches, who have guided their charges to the destination point. And for Anderson, the Cup final will be an especially poignant occasion following his decision to stand down from his current role at the end of this season.
Anderson, a dedicated and inspirational coach at youth level, and like many in the club game motivated by family involvement, has been a key driver in bringing about what is now an exemplary academy system at Meggetland, but admits that he now needs a change and perhaps a fresh challenge.
Speaking ahead of the Cup final he said: “After coaching and being involved with our Boroughmuir Academy for fourteen years, with five years with the U18’s, and having both my boys in senior rugby next season, I feel it is the right time to move on and take a break. It’s been very enjoyable and rewarding over the years, and I’ve loved every minute.”
For West of Scotland, who last won the Cup in season 1990-91, their appearance in the final will be a reward for what has been in some way a renaissance in which the Burnbrae club has achieved some notable scalps, among them Ayr/Wellington in their Conference.
West survived a difficult trip to the Borders where they drew their Cup semi-final against Hawick Youth but went through on the rather arcane yellow card rule. Crucially in that match, West used their greater physicality to match the more agile Hawick side and certainly that will be needed against Boroughmuir.
West have used the nine week gap between the semi-final and the final profitably and have been helped by regional cup involvement, as their coach, Millan Browne explained. He said: “We have had a couple of tough games in the last two weeks which will stand us in good stead for Murrayfield. Sunday will be about the squad performing at their best so we can compete with Boroughmuir.
“Our young squad has some key players that will have to perform really well for us to get a result this weekend. Charlie Greaves at stand-off and Finn Carden at No 8, who both played for Glasgow Warriors U18, and Kerr Yule who has been training with Scotland U18s, will be key players for us. Overall, I am really pleased with how this young squad has performed and developed this season and whatever the outcome is on Sunday the club and coaches are very proud of them all.”
The under-16 Cup final between GHA and Stirling County is also being played on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield (kick-off 12.45pm), should provide exiting viewing for spectators making the trip to Scottish Rugby headquarters.
GHA increased their Cup winning credentials by defeating Peebles Colts 24-14 in the semi-final, a remarkable result given the Borderers’ sensational 58-7 win against Ayr/Wellington in the quarter-final, which, in some quarters, will make the Braidholm side favourites.
“We had a goal at the start of the season and that was to reach the final of the National, do truly chuffed to be there,” admitted GHA team manager Kevin McGrory, adding: “As for Sunday I wouldn’t say we are favourites as we will be facing a very strong Stirling County team. But it’s a challenge the boys fully accept and look forward to. We are more a team than individual stand-outs but I am sure there will be a few that shine on the day.” .
For their part, Stirling County are rarely without representation on Cup final day and they can point to a system that has produced a string of winners at both u18 and u16 levels over the years. Stirling’s route to the final was with a good 37-19 win over Gala Red Triangle at Netherdale and then, in the semi final, a convincing 36-12 victory against Boroughmuir at Meggetland.
Head coach and director of youth rugby at Bridgehaugh, Stewart Milne, believes the success of his side already this season will be a crucial element on Sunday. He explained: “The U16s boys squad has had a brilliant season and this final is a fantastic way to cap it off. The conference season was a great challenge and set the squad up really well for this cup run. The trip to Gala in the quarter finals was a great experience for the players on the main pitch at Netherdale and the performance against a very tenacious Gala team was excellent.
“The semi-final against Boroughmuir was an incredibly physical and intense match where the players put in a determined and energetic performance to get the result. The final against GHA will be a huge test and the whole squad are looking forward to it,” concluded Milne.
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The two other boys finals are the under-18 and under-16 Shield matches, both being played at the Dam Health Stadium (kick-offs 5pm and 1pm respectively). Both matches are all Borders affairs, the older age-group match bringing together Gala Wanderers and Melrose Wasps and the younger bracket matching Hawick Youth with Kelso.
The under-18 Shield final should be every bit as exciting as the Cup final and is a must-view for spectators attending on Sunday such is the quality of rugby played by Gala Wanderers and Melrose Wasps. Both were disappointed not to make the Cup competition but that should not translate into anything less than an enthralling contest between two teams who have enjoyed historic rivalry and who are separated geographically by just three miles.
Gala Wanderers team manager Ewan Doyle sees his side’s presence in the Shield final as the result of an evolving system within the Netherdale club. He said: “It is a great achievement for the Gala Wanderers players to reach the final after progressing through a strong league and cup knock-out competition. Gala Rugby and the town are immensely proud of the team and with the guidance of the five coaches they have created an environment to bring out the best in every player, based on a culture that is built on enjoyment, inclusivity, respect and hard work”.
Wanderers, who have key players in centre Kerr Johnstone, stand-off Russell Kerr, second row Fraser Wilson and hooker James Glendinning, came through the rounds with a 50-0 quarter-final win over Dunfermline and then a 44-7 semi-final victory against Dumfries Saints.
Melrose Wasps achieved an almost identical scoreline in their semi-final, defeating Whitecraigs 43-7, following their 40-17 away win over Deeside/Garioch in the quarters. But in the final, this Sunday, the expectation will be of a much closer contest that is already generating much anticipation at The Greenyards.
“We are incredibly excited about Sunday, especially to be playing our closest rivals at the new Edinburgh DAM stadium. So far this season we’ve had two very tight games against a good Gala side. Added spice is that the squads and coaches know each other really well so we will be going all out to get one over on them,” said Wasps coach, Jerry Brett, whose side contains a number of stand-out players, among them prop Robbie Robinson, second-row Ben Weir, back-row Dylan Cockburn and skipper and stand-off Luke Townsend.
Down an age group, the under-16 Shield final can be expected to be a similarly tight contest between Hawick Youth and Kelso. Both finished on the same number of points in the Town v Town Conference and both look equally matched. Both also had to work hard in negotiating the semi-finals, Hawick scraping through against Dundee Rugby with a 17-15 away win and Kelso edging out Whitecraigs for a 24-17 victory in Glasgow. A difficult call.
Cup and Shield Final Teams –
- Under-18 Cup Final, 6.30pm @ BT Murrayfield
Boroughmuir: F Hollins-Kirk; L Bisset, N Adler, B Somerville, O Canakaivata; G Lockhart, G Anderson; F Gillgrass, J Blyth-Lafferty, R Moloney, C Burns, M McKay, L McConnell, E Smart, L Habib©. Subs: J Brooks, M Small, J Sobey, F Gray, B Clark, R Campbell, L Veitch.
West of Scotland from: Backs: S Black, P Spence, A Dunford, H Mitchell, G Piccione, K Yule©, R Darroch, C Greaves, B Buchanan, L Howick. Forwards: R Dale, A Cameron, S Sing, A Young, L Kearney (VC), R Burke, E Thaqi, C Godber, C McKay, Y Shaheen, C Rutherford, F Carden
- Under-16 Cup Final, 12.45pm @ BT Murrayfield
GHA: J Geddes; A Campbell, O McKenna, N Thompson, K Robinson; E Jack, M Inglis; F Wheeler, B Carson, L McCusker, J Collins, C Todd, M Darroch, A Wilson, F Lonergan-Black. Subs: C Douglas, R Muir, J Mcgrory, O Heaney, J Brown, J Pollock, E Spence.
Stirling County: F Dempsey; A Lawrence, E Anderson, H McKay, R McDonald; B McGinley, T Nodes; J Shelvock, M Wicks, M Kesson, T McCulloch, S MacCallum, H Blackie, K Mooney, L Gray. Subs: R McKay, F Appleby, D Morrison, F Cadell, A Crivelli, A Banks, E O’Cinneide
- Under-18 Shield Final, 5pm @ DAM Health Stadium
Melrose Wasps: M Gaston; C Carter, C Robertson, M Flannigan, M Oliver; L Townsend, O Duguid; R Robinson, A Kirk, H Derrick, A Kennedy, B Weir, R Gunn, C Clarke, D Cockburn. Subs: D Oliver, R Litser, T Shiel, O Scott, L Rowley, M Power, J Wilson.
Gala Wanderers: R Mitchell; G Collins, K Johnstone, J Niven, C Corcoran; R Kerr, L Marshall-Arrandale; B Young, J Glendinning, A Robertson, J Corry, F Wilson, S Smith, M Vitrano, D Weir. Subs: D Turner, C Marshall, K Korlaga, J McLean, A McLaren, D Seggie, L Kerr
- Under-16 Shield Final, 1pm @ DAM Health Stadium
Kelso: M Jackson; B Macrae, A Lawson, F Murray©, L Malone; B Burton, B Patterson; L Ashby, K Jackson, D Adams, C Gibb, R Morgan, A Milne, J Stewart, J Utterson. Subs: S Dalgliesh, J Duncan, D Borland, F Walker, M Stewart, S Mcglasson.
Hawick Youth: R Muir; R Jack, B Hughes, F Kubicki, J Vevers; S Delaney, R Landles; A Cannon, J Brown, C Crawley, H Bryson, R Muir, A Common, F Casson, D Wargacki. Subs: J Ross, S Hardie, J Casson, D McGuinness, K Wilson, Z Stewart, C McLeod, J Wood