Schools Conferences come out of cold storage

Meanwhile, club (youth) rugby has been shaking off lockdown cobwebs for last three weeks. Report supported by Macron Store Edinburgh (Colin Campbell).

Stewart's Melville are are the most recent Scottish Schools' Cup winners.
Stewart's Melville are are the most recent Scottish Schools' Cup winners.

PERHAPS more than in any other area of the game, what can generate hope that rugby is emerging intact from the Covid crisis is the long-awaited resumption of both Youth and Schools competitions across Scotland after an 18 month hiatus. 

The club sector, in fact, has been up and running in some parts of the country since the last week in August. But for the schools, the conferences officially begins this weekend, several weeks on from the beginning of term for most educational establishments.

The schools resisted the temptation of roaring into full conference mode immediately term started, and that, in the opinion of Stuart Edwards, the head of rugby at Stewart’s-Melville College in Edinburgh, was a sensible move.  “It has given us time to prepare and to play warm-up games,” he says.


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That preparation time has been especially important this season given the long break from competitive rugby, resulting in the normal continuity from year to year simply not happening. Some players who are now in S5 were playing under-15 rugby before Covid called a halt on games, meaning that the coaches of the senior team know less about their charges .“We’ve kept the base large with a pool of 50 players. We don’t know what our best first team is yet,” says Edwards.

“So, over the next three or four weeks, changes will be likely. It’s the problem of trying to combine boys who’ve not played much rugby. We’ve never experienced such a generational gap. We never stopped training during Covid but, of course, there’s nothing like playing. And because of that there is a knowledge gap that we’re having to teach now.”

Last season’s lack of competitive matches, however, allowed the coaches at SMC time to seek out guidance from many sources, such as Andy Friend at Connacht, who willingly offered advice to the Edinburgh school. “We’ve tried to put a lot of what we learned from reaching out to a number of high profile coaches into practice now,” suggests Edwards.

Stewart’s-Melville College are in East Schools Conference A, which will be regarded as the top flight given that it also contains: George Watson’s College, Edinburgh Academy, George Heriot’s School, Merchiston Castle School, Fettes College, Dollar Academy and Strathallan.

On Saturday Stewart’s-Melville, Cup winners in December 2019, take on conference winners of that season, George Watson’s College, at Myreside. Meanwhile, in the north-of-the-Forth battle for honours, Dollar are at home to Strathallan. Merchiston and Fettes played earlier this week resulting in a big win for Merchiston.

This conference is scheduled to be concluded early December and, in a change from previous formats, it will be followed post-Xmas  by the Cup competition.  Eight teams will qualify for the Cup – four from East A, two from West A, and two from Caledonia A.  “This [sequence] is the best structure so far. I think the prospect of playing in the Cup will motivate the boys in conference rugby.” avers Edwards.

 

In youth rugby at under-18 level, many will look with envy at the Borders Semi-Junior League, which this season has brought in four English clubs – Tynedale, Alnwick, Carlisle and Morpeth – to join Hawick Youth, Peebles Colts, Melrose Wasps, Selkirk YC, Kelso Quins, Jed Thistle, Gala Wanderers and Duns. And with home and away fixtures it guarantees week-to-week rugby for the teams involved.

This weekend, the Semi-Junior League is entering its fifth round with Hawick, Peebles and Kelso all unbeaten. The top two fixtures should be Selkirk YC versus Melrose Wasps and Peebles versus Tynedale.

 

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Melrose Wasps and Hawick Youth together with Boroughmuir, Stirling County, Ayr and Marr were scheduled to form a new elite National League at the beginning of last season, only for the intervention of Covid to scupper its inception in 2020-21.

What has risen from the ashes of the original plan are two National Conferences brought together on a regional basis. Pool A groups together: West of Scotland, Ayr/Wellington, GHA, Biggar and Currie Chieftains; while in Pool B consists of: big hitters Stirling County and Boroughmuir, alongside Mackie, Highland and Perthshire. After this weekend’s fourth round games in both pools there will be a break after which two new pools will be formed based on positions from the first tranche of games.

Thus far in Pool A, West of Scotland have been impressing and head the under-18 table with three straight wins from three rounds, suggesting that the efforts put in by the Burnbrae club are now paying off. In Pool B, Boroughmuir are looking equally strong having emulated West’s achievement of three from three.

Boroughmuir’s results this season reflect the work that has gone into developing a strong academy and the club’s ability to attract youngsters from (mainly) state schools across Edinburgh. Academy director, Scott Anderson, is justifiably satisfied with progress thus far.

He reports: “Our numbers appear to be going up, and there is always a number of new players contacting to join each week across all our age groups

“We have 46 in the under-18 squad so we’re looking for two games each week going forward. We had two teams out last weekend against Stirling County, which was great, and fantastic to give all the boys who were available to play a game.

“We do have friendlies arranged this season with George Watsons and Merchiston Castle, and we are also attending the Merchiston Castle U18 Tournament (16th-17th October). That will give us the opportunity to play against some top teams and that should be good for us.”

  • THE OFFSIDE LINE’s coverage of grassroots, youth and schools rugby is supported by MACRON STORE EDINBURGH (COLIN CAMPBELL SPORTS). Click HERE to contact the team for information on how they can help with your club or school’s kit supply demands.

Scottish Rugby launches ‘Schools Week’ initiative

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We hope you are enjoying our unrivalled coverage of Scottish Rugby. While mainstream media continues to reduce its interest in the rugby family in Scotland, The Offside Line does its very best to make sure all levels of the domestic game are reported.

Our commitment to the game and sharing its stories means that we do not have a paywall, so we would ask you (only if you can!) to support The Offside Line, either with a one off donation, or with a monthly contribution.

We have been keeping Scottish rugby in the news since 2016 and will have 3 million page views this year, making The Offside Line first for Scottish rugby.

 
THE OFFSIDE LINE’S coverage of grassroots, youth and schools rugby is supported by MACRON STORE EDINBURGH (COLIN CAMPBELL SPORTS). Click HERE to contact the team for information on how they can help with your club or school’s kit supply demands.
About Alan Lorimer 174 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.

13 Comments

  1. Despite one relatively unimportant, minor slip of the keyboard (thereby feeding a morsel to the ravenous great unwashed), usual excellent informed article from Alan, making numerous relevant points on matters of moment.

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      • On the high horse? Knickers in a twist? Come on – the author erred by minor oversight, thereby overlooking a single weekend in a far-flung outpost(!) of schools rugby – none of which detracted in substance from the article…

        Mate? WTF!

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  2. Ed – Those rough Weegie and Ayrshire schoolboys are a somewhat scary prospect to the Edinburgh schools.

    I mean, we don’t want Fettesians mixing with riff-raff from TGA, it could be traumatic to innocent young minds.

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    • What I find genuinely bonkers is we have an article which has – completely – ignore circa 1000 boys playing from 10 schools at age s1-s6 last weekend. Pegi point about members is another issue. Some kind of dual registering needs to happen as we see clubs, schools AND universities with too many boys not getting a game vs some with insufficient so no game at all.

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  3. I do hope the schools fair better than the Clubs, but it already looks like Schools entering the conferences are down.

    No doubt those schools that invest significantly in rugby (Stew Mel, George Watson, Merchiston, etc.) will not have an issue with playing numbers, but with the likes of Wellington no longer in schools league (now joint teams with Ayr in Club conference), those further down the pecking order will struggle.

    Over the first few weeks of the Club conferences, West Clubs are running at a fixture fulfilment rate of 58% (93 games played out of 160 scheduled).

    Sure there is Covid, but there is also far greater flexibility in getting games played.

    This weeks schools week initiative from Murrayfield is a start, but it needs to be an ongoing effort if we are to drive up playing numbers.

  4. Wow. You don’t get West that often do you? Schools conference started last weekend in matches between TGA, HSoG, Hutceshons, Kelvinside, Lomond, Lenze, Jordanhill, Ballron, St Columbas, Cummnock and friendly for St Als. How can you write an article and ignore all that. Very odd.

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    • It’s a fair point. But I think it is a bit unfair to accuse TOL of anti-West coast bias. As you know from personal experience, we endeavour to stay connected to all aspects of Scottish rugby, but we have limited resources and this was an oversight. We will endeavour to rectify it next week.

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      • I was not accusing Offside line of anything David don’t worry. Rather specific to the author trying to understand how he could write an article that as its starting factual premise is incorrect and then to continue to pay no regard to the entire West Coast school system thereafter. Clearly an “unconscious bias” or lack of basic research. It is regrettable

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    • Dancing on the head of a pin! Instead of nitpicking, best to focus upon substantive points, i.e. those of genuine relevance.

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