by ALAN LORIMER
IT should be one of the best months for playing rugby but October has become an annual nightmare for schools fixtures as all possible variants of mid-term holidays makes scheduling impossible.
Not only does the length of school holidays vary but, annoyingly, the timing is also asynchronised. A week for a school means two Saturdays ruled out and compound this with different dates for these October breaks and it is easy to comprehend the chaos this brings to arranging schools rugby.
One school escaping from the October fixture vacuum is Merchiston Castle, who will travel south to Ipswich for the annual St Joseph’s Rugby Festival, played over two days this weekend and which brings together some of the best sides in the UK.
Merchiston have been grouped with John Fisher School, Eltham College and Brighton College in what will be a challenging series of matches, as head coach Roddy Deans confirmed.
“Every group in this tournament is tough. It brings together some of the top sixteen teams in the UK, so it’s a chance to test ourselves outside the bubble of Scotland. It’s great to take the boys out of their comfort zone and give them a new challenge,” he said.
“They usually respond in a very positive manner. We’ve come third the last two years, so we’ve gained some respect down south. Our speed and style of rugby can give us the upper hand against some very physical opposition. And it’s great to come in under the radar as underdogs.”
The St Joseph’s tournament will undoubtedly be the ideal preparation for Merchiston’s crucial Scottish Schools Under-18 Cup quarter-final match against the four-time winners, George Watson’s College, at Colinton. This game is to be played by Wednesday 1st November.
Merchiston nailed their place in the last eight of the Cup with a 31-13 win over George Heriot’s School; while Watson’s, unbeaten in Scotland this season, were 40-5 winners against Robert Gordon’s College at Countesswells – although the final scoreline did not fairly represent the balance of the game.
“We had to overcome a stuffy and well-drilled Robert Gordon’s side before breaking their resistance in the second half,” admitted Watsons’ head coach, Ally Donaldson.
In East Lothian, the defending champions, Stewart’s-Melville College, were given an even more testing game by Preston Lodge High School.
“This was a cracking game against a good PL side. At half time they were winning 19-17 playing with a strong wind but in the second half we put in our best attacking effort of the season and scored some great tries,” Stewart’s-Melville coach, Bryn Lockie, revealed.
Stewart’s-Melville’s tries were scored by scrum-half Patrick Ritchie, Scotland under-18 flanker Connor Boyle, centres Nathan Brown and Tom Bald, full-back Nathan Brown, wing Etienne Moule and stand-off Finlay McNeil (2) in their 46-19 win.
Meanwhile, last season’s runners-up, Dollar Academy, made certain of their place in the quarters with a 45-3 win over Loretto at Musselburgh, with tries from Finn McIlwraith (4), Amo Citro (2) and Reece McAllister. Strathallan, one of this season’s high-performing sides, were 50-0 victors over Glasgow Academy.
Another west coast school, St Aloysius College, dropped out of the mix when they lost narrowly (22-19) to Fettes College, but Scotland’s largest city still has a stake in the Cup through Glasgow High School, who grabbed a quarter final place after defeating Morrison’s Academy 20-7.
Under-18 Schools Cup Quarter-Final draw –
Merchiston Castle School v George Watson’s College
Fettes College v Dollar Academy
TBC* v High School of Glasgow
Stewart’s Melville College v Strathallan School
*TBC = winner of outstanding 4th round fixture: Glenalmond College v Edinburgh Academy.