ALWAYS one of the glamour events on the Scottish rugby calendar, tonight’s [Wednesday] Schools Under-18 Cup Final on the international pitch at Murrayfield between Stewart’s-Melville College and their Edinburgh rivals George Watson’s College is expected to be yet another gripping spectacle in front of a large and vocal crowd.
Both schools come into the final with excellent credentials, Watson’s having finished top of the Under-18 table in the Colt Conference and having won the Merchiston Festival of Rugby in October. Stewart’s-Melville, however, hold the trump tag, with their penultimate round Colt Conference win over Watson’s by a whopping 44-19 score.
“We were second best to Stew-Mel by a long shot in the Conference match,” conceded Watsons’ head coach and director of rugby Ally Donaldson. “So we’ll go into the Cup final as underdogs. Stew-Mel are an excellent team and have lots of very good players. But I’ve got every faith in our group of players. There’s a good balance in the team.”
History would suggest that no team should be written off in the Schools’ Cup final, which has its own dynamic. Watson’s have pedigree as the only school to have won the title four times in a row, and although they have not been in the Murrayfield showcase event for four seasons, having lost three successive semi-finals, their form this season, other than the blip against Stewart’s-Melville, would suggest they will be hard to beat.
They will, however, be without their pacy wing Angus Hoffie, who has a torn hamstring, stand-off Matt McMillan, who broke his leg early season and prop Luke Hutchison, who broke his wrist in the semi-final against Edinburgh Academy.
“It’s a real shame for these boys to miss out, I really feel desperately sorry for them,” confessed Donaldson, who believes that his charges are capable of delivering on the day in spite of that 44-19 defeat. “The forwards are strong and we’ve got an exciting back three. The Cup final is a real occasion but most of these boys played at Murrayfield in the Under-16 Cup Finals in the last two years.”
Watsons’ route to the final was via a 31-0 win over Strathallan in the quarters and then a 44-8 victory against Edinburgh Academy at Myreside in the semi-final.
For their part, Stewart’s-Melville go to Murrayfield aware that after their big win over Watson’s in the Colt Conference match last month they are favourites to lift the trophy. “We can certainly take confidence from that victory but what we really gained from that match is knowledge of the Watson’s team,” said head coach Stuart Edwards.
Edwards has endeavoured to strike a balance between suppressing over-confidence and trying to encourage boldness in his side’s approach to the game. “It’s a big occasion and it’s easy to get carried away, but the message going out to the boys – and this has been the case all season – is to trust in the preparation and the hard work that has been put in,” he explained.
“I hope the big pitch and the conditions at Murrayfield will suit us. The boys really want to express themselves. I’ve challenged them to be ambitious.”
Ambition could be interpreted as using the big pitch at Murrayfield to put width into their game and certainly if they can win a fair share of possession Stewart’s-Melville have the players to exploit space, among them Christian Townsend at stand-off and the centre pairing of Matt Russell and Aidan Boyle.
Edwards, however, insists that his side’s attacking prowess is only half of the equation. “In many ways our biggest strength this season has been defence,” he said. “We have a good back-row, all S5 boys. In fact, half of our squad of 22 are S5.”
Preceding the Under-18 Cup Final (6pm) on the international pitch will be the Under-16 Cup final between Dollar Academy and Merchiston castle (4.15pm), while on the back pitches at Scottish Rugby HQ, Heriot’s play Merchiston in the final of the Under-18 Shield (2pm) and Queen Victoria School play The Royal High School (1.30pm) in the Under-16 Plate final.
The other four finals are being played at The Oriam centre –
U16 Bowl Final: Morrison’s Academy v Hawick High School (11.00am)
U16 Shield Final: Hutchesons’ Grammar School v Dunbar Grammar School (11.45am),
U18 Bowl Final: Hawick High/Jed Grammar v Hutcheson’s Grammar School (12.45pm)
U18 Plate Final: Gordonstoun School v Earlston High School (1.30pm)
Under-18 Final Teams –
Stewart’s-Melville College: J Thompson; B McNulty, A Boyle, M Russell, A Cross; C Townsend, F Campbell; M Jones, D Hood, K Davidson, A Robertson, D Gray, J Mather, L McGrigor, R Gordon Replacements T Marcus, C Affleck, M Robertson, R Chisholm, J Burns, D King, A Morris.
George Watson’s College: D Brown; C Milligan, A Cousin, E Maguire, R Daley; R Stephen, B Young; C Myles, M Cantle, G Scougall, M Raitt, A Watters, T Holmes, C Hardie, E Henderson Replacements B Lynes, J Ryan, B Gale, L Musat, C Scullion, A Hastings, Z Neil.
Under-16 Final Teams –
Dollar Academy: R Disborough; A Peden, L Hunter, A Kelly, L Cheng; J McKillop, E Rennie; J Bery G Garcia, A Licence, R Walker, B Forshaw, C Sharpe, S Wallace, B Shearer Replacements G Lumsden, J Weir, Z Jones, T Smith, A Tilsey, J Walker, O Williams.
Merchiston Castle School: D McCall Smith; A Coyne, L McCarroll, A Callaway, A Raza; F Connolly, M de Villiers; A Scanlan, J Sibbald, R Evans, G Crawford, F McLean, L Ferguson, T Currie, R Brown Replacements J Warner, M Gray, J Hay, E Hunter, M Brown, J Napier, G Tasoren.