MARR COLLEGE face Dollar Academy in the quarter-final of the Scottish Schools’ Under-18 Cup at Dollar tomorrow [Wednesday], buoyed by their 34-12 win over last season’s champions, Strathallan, at Forgandenny in Round 4 last week.
It might be tempting fate, but already comparisons are being made with Bell-Baxter High School, who, a decade ago broke the independent schools’ hold on the competition by becoming the first state school to lift the title since the fee-paying giants of the schools scene all got involved back in 1997.
Nowadays few state schools can even begin to match the independents where rugby is built into the fabric of the institution and which, in some top establishments, is run on near professional lines.
Marr College has always fostered rugby but in the modern era the model has changed from everything being in-house to a programme run in conjunction with Marr Rugby Club. Marr College is helped by being a School of Rugby, which means the game is funded in part by Murrayfield, and in part by the local council and the College itself.
Such is the enthusiasm for the game in Marr College that at under-18 level there is a 40-man squad. “We field two teams at this level.” said head coach and development officer Gregor Ness. “Last year many of the boys in this current team were in the Under-18 Plate Final against Helensburgh.”
Mitigating against Marr success is the level of Conference rugby they play. “We’re in the Barbarian Conference which we won last season. We asked for promotion to the next level as we thought the Barbarian Conference was too easy but Murrayfield refused,” revealed Ness.
Marr, as an approved composite side, will be fielding two Prestwick Academy players. This kind of amalgamation, even if involving just two players, is perhaps the model for state schools, who, in the main, do not have the numbers to field sufficiently strong teams to take on the independents.
Having defeated Strathallan, Marr are now hoping to topple Dollar, but the task facing the Ayrshire school in the quarter-final tie is much tougher. Strathallan are essentially rebuilding after the departure of many quality players from last season’s Cup winning team and were always likely to fall prey to some ‘unknown’ side. Dollar, by contrast, are enjoying a reasonably good season having lost just one match, to Cup favourites Merchiston.
Moreover, Dollar come into this tie after achieving a confidence-boosting 29-26 win over George Watson’s College at Myreside last Saturday, suggesting the Clackmannanshire school is hitting form at the right time in the season.
History, too, shows that Dollar, coached by the former Scotland A and Gloucester centre, Don Caskie, have done well in the Cup over the years, notably winning the title when John Barclay led the side. Dollar were a tad unlucky not to win two seasons ago when a mistake seconds before full time allowed Stewart’s-Melville College to score the winning try.
All of which makes Dollar, who have the additional advantage of playing at home, the favourites to win this intriguing quarter-final tie, but there is always the possibility of an upset in a match where neither side knows anything about their opponents. Whatever the result, this is new ground for both teams and really shows the excitement the Cup can bring to Scottish rugby.