Stirling County 17
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
IT was a fair old contest to which both teams contributed fully, but in the final analysis there was always only ever going to be one winner. Boroughmuir’s impressive physicality allied to an accurately executed game-plan meant that they were in control throughout. Stirling made them work for it – and the young Bridgehaugh side deserve huge credit for battling all the way through to score their third try in the last play – but they were punching above their weight.
Boroughmuir walloped County 50-0 when these two sides met in the Conference at the start of September, so the fact that this game was even tighter than the scoreline suggests is a sign of a development programme at Bridgehaugh which is doing what it says on the tin … and that, as both coaches highlighted, is ultimately what this level of rugby should be all about.
“That was a great game, really physical and proper contest all the way through,” said Boroughmuir head coach Richie Lockhart. “We probably dominated for a spell in the second half which stretched the scoreboard a bit, but Stirling are a very good team. They are much stronger than the team we faced earlier in the season, which we expected because they are well coached and well organised.
“So, I am just delighted that the boys put in the sort of performance they did, especially defensively. We scored some cracking tries but the big thing was that every time Stirling came at us we were able to stop or slow them.”
This is the third consecutive success for Boroughmuir in this competition since Covid and further evidence that the Meggetland masterplan is bearing fruit year-on-year, with Lockhart quick to point out that the performances of the under-18s is a product of a whole club approach.
“I’m lucky, I’ve inherited something here – this isn’t down to me coming in and coaching for the last two years,” he stressed. “We’ve got an ethos and actually some solid process and documentation at the middle of it which the coaches follow and the boys buy into.
“For instance, we don’t go into the season saying ‘we’ve got to win the cup’. That’s not what it is about for us. As head coach of the under-18s, I see my job as: How many boys can we keep involved in rugby when they move out of this age-band into the senior game, ideally at Meggetland? Last year it was 16 with other guys moving away to uni, and this year we are looking at 12, so that’s the real measure of success.”
Meanwhile, Stirling head coach Stuart Imrie was philosophical about the result, generally encouraged by the progress his charges have made in the last few months and generally optimistic about what the future holds.
“We stuck in. The forwards stepped up really well, five of them are under-17 so it is a young pack. The two youngest boys who have only just turned 16 – Daniel Casserly at seven and Layton Bryce at eight – were outstanding. But I think we made three or four mistakes in the first half in terms of missed tackles or missed kicks to touch which let them get a lead which was too much in the end,” he said.
“We got a bit of pressure, got back into it, but we were always chasing the game and tried to go too wide too quickly instead of earning the right, But everyone played really well and is a credit to the club. The better team won. Boroughmuir were phenomenal on their day.
“Forwards-wise it looks good for next season, although we could probably do with some props like everyone else in Scotland,” he added. “Then our under-16s are pretty sharp who were unlucky not to get past Currie and into their final, and they have some game-breakers in their backline, but the issue is keeping them at the club because a few of the private schools go fishing with their scholarships. I think five of the backline have received offers so it is whether they accept it for three months of rugby.
“But getting to Cup Finals like this will help us. Stirling haven’t been in a Cup Final since 2018 so it is great to be back, great experience for these boys going forward, and hopefully the younger ones can be back here next year.”
A shuddering early hit by Stirling centre Robbie Truesdale on Boroughmuir stand-0ff Kyle McMillan served notice that there was going to be no quarter asked or given in this contest, but the real tone setter came a few minutes later when blue and green scrum-half and captain Ossian Hollins-Kirk collected a clearance just outside his own 22, shaped to kick but then stepped inside the onrushing defender to launch a coruscating 30 yard break before releasing a glorious backhanded offload which sent Hugo Stewart over for the opening try.
In truth, the first 10 minutes were more scrappy than either team would have liked, as they acclimatised to the cavernous Murrayfield surroundings and the pressure of the occasion.
That was until Boroughmuir sparked the game into life again with Hollins-Kirk once again the catalyst, turning scrappy possession into an attacking opportunity with an offload round the back of the tackler which sent eventual man-of-the-match Fergus Jones rampaging up the left touchline. Hollins-Kirk was on hand again when his centre was eventually halted five yards from the line, and patted scrappy ball back towards winger Sam Webb, who did well to pick up and power over in for the try, which McMillan converted to make it two from two off the tee.
Stirling had a period of pressure inside Boroughmuir’s 22, but couldn’t; translate that into points and then gave their opponents an easy out when they conceded a ruck penalty followed by 10 yards of territory for insolently kicking the ball away.
Boroughmuir, in contrast, were deadly when they next got a sniff, bustling through several sharp phases to take play from halfway to five yards from the line before hooker Flynn Mooney got is body position low and propelled himself home.
County finally got a foothold in the match when flanker Casserly provided the finishing touch to a five-metre line-out maul, and Tom Nodes‘ conversion left his team facing a steep – but not insurmountable – hill to climb in the second half.
There was no such profligacy at the start of the second half when Alex Grohmann – who formed a formidable centre partnership with Jones – collected the ball in midfield and motored through two defenders then outpaced the cover defence on his way to the line.
But County weren’t ready to wave the white flag yet and, after again kicking a penalty to the corner, they muscled over for their second try of the night which was finished off by No 8 Bryce.
Stirling huffed and puffed, but struggled to make inroads with ball in hand against their powerful and well-organised opponents, and Boroughmuir delivered the knock-out blow on 56 minutes when replacement winger Hayden Leitch on the left and No 8 Harry Jackaman in the middle both made good ground, before Stewart grabbed the ball from prop Ben Malcolm when he was stopped in his tracks and dived over for his second.
It had been an exhausting contest and there was multiple cases of cramp on both sides during the final 10 minutes, which perhaps impacted the fluidity of the rugby but not the intensity of the game, and a try apiece in the final two minutes provided testament to the unrelenting work-rate, with Leitch muscling over from close range for Boroughmuir following a slaloming run from Luke Whitaker, and Andrew Fleming racing in to score off Baillie McGinley‘s well-judged diagonal.
Boroughmuir: H Stewart; L Whitaker (S McCann 36), F Jones, A Grohmann (L Whitaker 65), S Webb (H Leitch 36); K McMillan, O Hollins-Kirk (K Ritchie 36); B Malcolm, F Mooney (K Ritchie 36), E McAree (L Small 36), W Kurisaru (D Freeborn 51), W Lockhart, O Deane (J Regan 51), L Calder, H Jackaman.
Stirling County: A Banks; A Lawrence, F Dempsey (R Truesdale 62), R Truesdale (L Gova 42), A Pollock (R McDonald 46); B McGinley (E O Cinneide 51), T Nodes (B McGinley 62); M Kesson, L Robertson-Jack (A Cumming 46), J Mitchell (R McKay 27), T Mackin, C Stanners (L Gray 36), K Mooney (C Clayton 36), D Casserly, L Bryce.
Referee: Ciaran Stark
Boroughmuir: Tries: Stewart 2, Webb, Mooney, Grohmann, Leitch; Cons: McMillan 2, Armstrong.
Stirling County: Tries: Casserly, Bryce, Fleming; Con: Nodes.
Scoring sequence (Boroughmuir first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 19-5; 19-7 (h-t) 24-7; 24-12; 29-12; 34-12; 36-12; 36-17.
Player-of-the-Match: Boroughmuir openside Lewis Calder was compared to the Terminator after the match by head coach Richie Lockhart because “he just will not stop”. Full-back Huge Stewart took his tries well, and Alex Grohmann has a bit about him at inside-centre. But powerful outside-centre Fergus Jones was a big contributor in both attack and defence so he gets the nod.
Talking point: Boroughmuir have proven in recent years that it is possible to emulate what the big private schools regularly achieve in terms of developing physicality and skill-sets in young players. An absolute priority in the 10 year plan currently being developed for Scottish Rugby must be the creation of multiple similar programmes at clubs across the country. As Boroughmuir head coach Richie Lockhart says: “Scottish rugby is a numbers game. The more boys and girls you’ve got playing, the wider the base of the pyramid is, and the more people you can push up that pyramid.” It’s as simple as that.