MERCHISTON CASTLE SCHOOL will stage their inaugural Tri Nations Rugby Festival this weekend featuring schools and clubs from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland in a move that represents innovative thinking by the famous Colinton rugby nursery.
In past years, Merchiston have taken part in the prestigious National Schools Rugby Festival run by St Joseph’s College in Ipswich. But with rumours circulating that this tournament might be in doubt in future years, Merchiston have seized the moment to stage their own version.
“I’m very keen to help grow the school and club game in Scotland.” explained Roddy Deans, Merchiston’s Director of Rugby. “I thought it was about time we ran our own tournament in Edinburgh instead of travelling south of the Border.
“We have eight teams attending this year, but I hope to grow this to twelve next year and ultimately sixteen teams. It’s awesome to have teams from England and Northern Ireland attending as it’s a new experience for our players and takes them out of their weekly comfort zone.
“Traditionally, we attended the St Joseph’s College Festival every October, which was always a huge test for us. I have personally witnessed the benefits this has on our players as individuals and collectively as a team. In the future, I hope to attract more top teams from England, Ireland and Wales.
“I am also very keen to help build the relationships between schools and clubs in Scotland as I firmly believe we can work together, learn from each other and provide more competitive fixtures for all our young rugby players in this country.
“As coaches, we want as many players staying within the game and playing at the highest level possible, whether that be club, Super6, pro even International. I hope this of tournament can inspire players to stay within the game.”
George Watson’s College, who along with Dollar Academy, have also competed at tournaments south of the border, will go into the Merchiston Festival with an unbeaten record this season. Dollar, hit by an extensive injury list, have had a mixed set of results while hosts Merchiston will want to atone for losing to Glasgow High School last week in the Scottish Schools Under-18 Cup.
Of the three non-Scottish sides taking part, Seaford College from Sussex would seem to be the strongest, having lost only one match this season. Also formidable will be Ballymena Academy, ranked in the top six of Ulster Schools.
Schools and clubs working together
Bringing in Stirling County and Boroughmuir is a welcome move by Deans and perhaps points the way to an inclusive conference system in Scotland comprising schools and clubs. Stirling County’s Academy manager, Stewart Milne, appreciates that the Festival will be a step-up for his team and welcomes the concept.
“We certainly know the challenge ahead of us and are looking forward to pitting ourselves against some of the best rugby institutions in the UK,” he said. “It’s an opportunity we welcome. It’s an excellent initiative on Merchiston’s part and we’re glad to be a part of it.”
Boroughmuir’s Academy manager, Scott Anderson, is equally enthusiastic. “It should be a good test for us given the schools and clubs that are attending,” he said. “It will be great to get some very competitive games before the Shogun Conference fixtures start up again.
“We are missing some of our key players because of school holidays but it will still be a good experience for our players and will help greatly with their development.”
The visiting teams will stay at Merchiston and all the participating sides have been invited to a dinner at the Colinton school on Saturday evening. Part of the evening will involve some recent Merchiston pupils discussing their transition in senior rugby.
“Jamie Dobie (Glasgow Warriors), Dan Gamble (Edinburgh/Heriots) and Chris Bell (Watsonians Club Captain) will run a question and answer to help the players with their next stage of development.” explained Deans. “All three players left Merchiston last year and are now on different journeys to try and play at the highest level possible. We hope this can inspire and help support the young players moving forward into the next part of their rugby development.”
Merchiston Rugby Festival Draw –
Pool A: Merchiston Castle School, Bedford School, George Watson’s College, Stirling County
Pool B: Seaford College, Boroughmuir, Dollar Academy, Ballymena Academy
10.00: Merchiston v Bedford School and Seaford College v Boroughmuir
11.00: Stirling County v George Watson’s College and Ballymena Academy v Dollar Academy
12.00: Merchiston v Stirling County and Seaford College v Ballymena Academy
13.30: Bedford School v George Watson’s College and Boroughmuir v Dollar Academy
14.30: Merchiston v George Watson’s College and Seaford College v Dollar Academy
15.30: Bedford School v Stirling County and Boroughmuir v Ballymena Academy
10.00 – 13.00: Cup and Plate semi-finals and finals