MERCHISTON CASTLE SCHOOL will seek to achieve a successful defence of their Scottish Schools under-18 Cup title when they face Edinburgh Academy on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield tomorrow [Wednesday] evening in what is the showcase event of a now compacted schools season.
The idea behind concluding the important competitions – Conference and Cup – before the end of the first term is all about clearing the decks for representative rugby post Christmas, a decision that was taken some years ago at schools level but not, until this season, for youth rugby, the exception being the Borders Semi Junior League which continues until early February.
It is perhaps appropriate that Merchiston v Edinburgh Academy, the oldest continuous fixture in schools rugby, should take place on the big stage at Murrayfield’s international arena. Playing at this venue could be daunting for young players but for Merchiston a good proportion of their team had the experience of playing in last year’s Cup final that resulted in a 21-7 win over Stewart’s-Melville College.
In lifting the trophy last season, Merchiston reversed the result of their Conference game with Stewart’s-Melville College when the Inverleith side prevailed. Defeat for Merchiston in that match, however, merely hardened their resolve to bounce back. In the event, Merchiston improved significantly, thanks in part to higher level competition against several top English schools during Merchiston’s own rugby Festival, ultimately contributing to Merchiston’s emphatic 2021 Cup final win.
So could this year mirror what happened 12 months ago? This season Merchiston lost 29-26 to Edinburgh Academy at Colinton in the Conference but for that fixture Merchiston were without their outstanding back-row and Scotland under-18 player, Tom Currie. Since returning from injury, Currie has made a big impact and along with stand-off Isaac Coates is likely to be a key figure in this season’s final.
Merchiston’s route to the cup final was via a 33-11 win over the Conference under-18 winners, George Watson’s College, at Myreside, the scoreline misrepresenting what was, for the most part, a very competitive tie. Then in the semi-final at Forgandenny, Strathallan came close to derailing Merchiston’s hopes, only just failing to clinch an equalising score in the last play of the game which ended in a 19-14 win for the defending champions.
Merchiston, who are seeking a record-breaking eighth title, are conscious of how difficult their opponents will be, as head coach, Roddy Deans, confirmed. “We are well aware of the challenges Edinburgh Academy pose and we are all set for a cracking final between two good teams,” he said. “Our preparation and games have gone well during our Cup run.”
“The boys are aware of how privileged they are to play at our national stadium – they can’t wait to get out there.”
For Edinburgh Academy, the final is a first return to the national stadium since season 2011-12 when Chris Dean’s side edged out Watson’s by 12-11. Two year’s earlier, Academy also got their hands on the Cup after defeating Stewart’s-Melville College by the marginally less tight scoreline of 13-11.
This season, under the coaching of Chris Martin, who himself appeared in a Cup final back in season 2006-07 when he played for Bell-Baxter High School in their memorable 20-8 win over Dollar Academy, the Newfield team has experienced a welcome return to form after a few lean years. Much of their current success is down to Edinburgh Academy having fielded a young side last season, meaning there is a wide band of experience in this year’s team.
Academy’s route to the final was not as smooth as they would have wanted and it almost came to grief in the quarter-final when they drew 10-10 with Loretto, but went through on the somewhat cruel ‘away’ team rule. Then in the semi-final Academy reacted much better than opponents Stewart’s-Melville College to the dreadful conditions on the day to win 26-19.
Martin believes that this is the chance for his team to express themselves. ”I’m excited to see what the boys have got in them on Wednesday evening,” he said. “Prior to the semi-final, we spoke about creating memories rather than playing within ourselves and our big players really stepped up, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they bring on the grandest stage of them all.
“They’ve done some amazing things this season and have really bought into connecting the schools past with where we want our future to be. We know how big a challenge this will be and Merchiston will have a point to prove after our game earlier this season, so hopefully this makes for an exciting match.”
If the under-18 final is the showcase event then the under-16 final between Stewart’s-Melville College and Strathallan School, and also played on the international pitch at Murrayfield, is a glimpse of what might be in two years/ time.
The Stewart’s-Melville College path to the final was via a 36-24 win over George Watson’s College in the quarters and then a 21-10 away win against Dollar Academy to secure their place at Murrayfield. For their part, Strathallan defeated Fettes College 14-0 at Forgandenny to progress to the penultimate stage before achieving a last-gasp 20-18 win over Marr College at Troon in the semis.
On Conference form Stewart’s-Melville College will be favourites, having finished with six wins from six to secure top place. Strathallan, however, were just one place behind having won five from six of their games, but that one defeat, by 38-3, was to Stewart’s-Melville, a fact that Strath’s director of rugby, Nick Hill, recognises.
“The boys face a very strong Stewart’s Melville side that beat us in the Conference match a few weeks ago, so they will have to be at their best and take their opportunities when they arise,” he said. “It is going to be a great display of schoolboy rugby on this special occasion at the home of Scottish Rugby.”
While the Cup finals are inevitably the headline-grabbing glamour events, there are six other finals being played that will provide their own interest. Kicking off just before the under-18 Cup final is the Shield under-18 final on the international pitch between west rivals Glasgow High School and St Aloysius College, both of whom played in the West Conference. As runners up in the West Conference, St Aloysius will be favourites to lift this particular silverware.
The under-16 Shield final, being played at 11am on the international pitch brings together two state school sides, Howe/Bell-Baxter High School and North Berwick High School. Both showed that, with the right support and input, state schools can more than match their private school peers as the results through the rounds showed. Howe/Bell-Baxter HS reached the final with wins over Robert Gordon’s College (36-7) and then Edinburgh Academy (39-25), while North Berwick did equally well by defeating Glasgow High School (42-19) and George Heriot’s School (33-12).
Down a tier, in the Plate competition, George Heriot’s School face Marr College at under-18 level while in the under-16 final it’s Linlithgow Academy versus Loretto.
The fourth level Bowl competition completes the line-up for finals day with Lomond/Helensburgh taking on Morrison’s Academy at under-18 level and Berwick playing Knox Academy/Haddington in the under-16 final.
Schools’ Cup Under-18 Final teams –
Edinburgh Academy: E Murray; C Welch, M Lawrie, C Lamond, T Santry; W Hodgson, T Whyte; M Khurana, S Ghiradello, F Baggaley, O Finlayson-Russell, M Cunningham, J Playfair, T Edwin, O Duncan. Replacements: D Barrie, C Khunapramot, H Bennett, C Swanson, A Larkin, H Rintoul.
Merchiston Castle School: I Foley; L Wright, B Riley, C Brown, Y Davie; I Coates, W Tweedie; A McGregor, G Stephen, M Napier, O Palmer, E Robertson, O Gordon, G Crawford, T Currie. Replacements: S Singh, A Bamberry, C Nilsson, T Swift, H Macarthur, M McLaughlin, T Robertson.
Schools’ Cup Under-16 Final teams –
Stewart’s-Melville: C Jessop; J Kane, A Munro, R Cavin, J Bennett; H Offord, L MacLeod; F McLean, T Gray, J Page, D Anderson, C Geddes, C Robertson, B Rosevear, E McDonald. Replacements: J Jarvis, A O’Hara, R Ktrezschmar, A Abel, F Percy-Robb, Z Mathieson, J Penny.
Strathallan: R Piper; T Smith, D Mickel, J Langley, F Todd; A Williamson, C Ferry; M Clark, M Erasmus, R Scott, A McMichael, DS Goodman, F Thomson, A Mackenzie, E Anderson Replacements: O Poutney, F Murray, T Christie, O Mowat, F Sherlock, E Anderson, F Trotter.
Full timetable for finals day –
- U18 Cup: Edinburgh Academy v Merchiston Castle – 6.30pm on the international pitch
- U16 Cup: Strathallan v Stewart’s Melville – 1.45pm on the international pitch
- U18 Shield: St Aloysius v The High School of Glasgow – 3.45pm on the international pitch
- U16 Shield: Howe/Bell Baxter v North Berwick – 11am on the international pitch
- U18 Plate: George Heriot’s v Marr College – 6.30pm at the DAM Health Stadium
- U16 Plate: Loretto v Linlithgow – 4.30pm at the DAM Health Stadium
- U18 Bowl: Lomond(High School) & Helensburgh v Morrison’s Academy – 1.15pm on Murrayfield’s pack pitch No 1
- U16 Bowl: Berwick v Knox/Haddington – 11.15am on Murrayfield’s pack pitch No 1
Entry to finals day is free, too find to more click HERE.