Merchiston sign off their season in style at Rugby School Sevens Festival

Colinton outfit reach semi-final stage of prestigious tournament

The Merchiston squad pose with eventual tournament winners Michaelhouse from South Africa after their pool match at the Rugby Schools festival.
The Merchiston squad pose with eventual tournament winners Michaelhouse from South Africa after their pool match at the Rugby Schools festival.

SCOTTISH SCHOOLS UNDER-18 CUP winners Merchiston signed off their season in style last weekend by reaching the semi-finals of the prestigious Rugby School International U18s Sevens Tournament, part of the celebrations to mark the bi-centenary of the famous Warwickshire seat of learning that gave its name to the oval ball game. 

In a strong international field of 20 top rugby-playing schools, Merchiston acquitted themselves with merit by reaching the Cup stage of the competition, impressing hugely with a quarter-final win over Nelson College from New Zealand before losing to the traditionally strong Leinster school, Blackrock College.

“To get to the last eight and compete against Schools like Nelson College from New Zealand and [in the middle group stage] Michaelhouse, one of the powerhouses of South Africa schools rugby, was incredible,” said Roddy Deans, the Merchiston head coach. “Such was the high standard that none of the English schools in the competition made the last four.

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“For us it was great to move out of our comfort zone and considering that eight  of our squad will be eligible for next season, it was even more of a bonus. The whole squad did exceptionally well,” added Deans, highlighting the contributions of multiple try-scorer Ben Riley, Oliver Gordon, Hamish McArthur and skipper William Tweedie.

Merchiston were without their Scotland under-18 squad players, Isaac Coates and Glen Crawford, as well as the injured Tom Currie. “The absence of this trio gave some younger boys useful experience. We had one under-16 player, Henry Widdowson, in the squad, ” stated Deans.

The Colinton school went into the Rugby Festival on the back of participation a week earlier in the massive circus that is the Rosslyn Park National Schools Sevens where they lost out to Blundells School in a key qualifying match.

“In hindsight it was a good thing we didn’t make it through to the last stage at Rosslyn Park because it meant we were fresher for the Rugby School tournament,” Deans reasoned.


Merchiston finished top of their group on Day One of the Rugby School competition with wins over Whitchurch HS (26-24), Royal Belfast Academical Institution (28-12), Canadian school Shawnigan Lake (38-12) and a narrow defeat to Clifton College (19-21).

Then in the next stage on Day Two they defeated Marlborough College (26-24) but lost to the ultimate tournament winners Michaelhouse (15-29) to qualify for the quarter final of the Cup. There Merchiston defeated Nelson College 24-14 – with tries scored by Cole Mapara, Chris Thomson, Riley and McArthur – to move into the semi-final, ultimately losing to Blackrock College 14-33 after leading at half time.

Also representing Scotland in the Rugby School Festival were Strathallan and Fettes College, both of whom missed out on qualification for the seeded middle stage groups.

In the pool stage on Day one Fettes finished fifth in their group, having achieved a win over The Grange School, Santiago. Strathallan ranked fourth in their group with a win over Campbell College, Belfast. The Forgandenny side, however, had narrow defeats to Mount St Mary’s College (15-17) and Marlborough College (22-26).

Fettes and Strathallan then went into the next phase to decide the places in the Plate competition. In the event neither team qualified although Strathallan came desperately close after finishing on the same match points as the Australia representative, St Kevin’s College, but with a smaller points difference. Strathallan drew 12-12 with St Kevin’s, and achieved a win over Shawnigan Lake (25-14), their one defeat being to the stage winners, Waseda Jitsugyo HS from Japan.

Merchiston: Ben Riley, Oliver Gordon, Oliver Palmer, Thomas Robertson, James Rutherford, Hamish MacArthur, William Tweedie©, Chris Thomson, Isaac Foley, Teo Thom, Cole Mapara, Myles McLaughlin, Yeadon Davie, Henry Widdowson.

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About Alan Lorimer 360 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.


  1. To finish 4th is a phenomenal effort. Higher than any other GB school with a team containing several 16 year old boys. This was a tournament containing some of the best school sides in world rugby. The boys and coaches should be proud of their efforts. They’ve done Merchiston and Scottish schoolboy rugby proud 💪🙌

    • What international level ! If as I did you watched those games, and clearly you didn’t ! Merchiston went toe to toe with some of the biggest schools in the rugby world… and made fourth, and I know they were playing without at least three of their Scotland boys… comments like that are unnecessary and childish… I’ll bet there are English schools who have suddenly taken an interest in Merchiston and Scottish rugby programs, and absolutely sure that the coaches names are being discussed… no English team made the last four incidentally.


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