Schools Cup Finals Day preview: Stewart’s Melville and George Watson’s top the bill

Seven matches scheduled in climax to Bowl, Plate, Shield and Bowl competitions

Stewart's Melville and George Watson's Colleges meet in both the U16 and U18 Schools Cup Finals. Images: X
Stewart's Melville and George Watson's Colleges meet in both the U16 and U18 Schools Cup Finals. Images from X

THE schools rugby season will reach its apotheosis at Scottish Gas Murrayfield tomorrow [Wednesday] when George Watson’s College and their close Edinburgh rivals, Stewart’s-Melville College, compete for the 2023-24 Scottish Schools U18 Cup title, taking over from the two-times champions, Merchiston Castle School. 

Always a glamour event in the schools rugby calendar, and likely to attract a sizeable crowd at the international ground, the U18 Cup looks set to be an intensely competitive match between two teams that share similar qualities and which have rugby written into their DNA, such is the heritage of each school.

Both have large numbers from which to choose – it being once said of George Watson’s College that is was not so much a large school as a small country – and that in turn brings about a competitive and high quality rugby culture honed by expertise in coaching at all ages.


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Watson’s coach, Mike Ker, agrees that the numbers game certainly counts for both the finalists. “Schools our size certainly have an advantage. At Watson’s we have 85 senior [u18] players wanting to play competitive rugby and that creates a really good environment. And we have these same strong numbers across the whole school,” he pointed out.

If Watson’s, like their opponents, have the playing numbers then when it comes to the number of matches played the Myresiders might be at a bit of a disadvantage as Ker points out: “This will be only our eighth game of the season, because of weather-related call-offs and double header Cup/Conference matches. Even the Cup final will double as a Conference game.

“I’ve never known our 1st XV to play so few games in the season. Fortunately, we went on tour to Cape Town in the summer and that made a massive difference. And it showed when we beat Merchiston early in the season.”

Watson’s go into the Cup final unbeaten this season and with a team that Ker thinks is “well-balanced” with strong forwards and pace out wide. Winger Dan Kelly, who only turned 16 in October, is the leading try scorer with 14 touchdowns in seven games. “Dan is a natural finisher but we’ve worked on making space in midfield to give him chances,” observes Ker.

The Myreside team reached the final with a quarter-final win over Strathallan by 21-17 before defeating Edinburgh Academy in the semis by 36-7. For their part, Stewart’s-Melville burnished their Cup-winning credentials by knocking out the title holders Merchiston with a 41-29 win in the semi-final following their 34-5 victory over Fettes in the quarters.

 

The Inverleith side will come to Murrayfield with a degree of confidence gained from a steady improvement in performance levels since the start of the season. Head coach, Hayden Lingard, who is in his second season coaching 1st XV rugby, believes that his charges have stepped up their game in response to the quality of rugby experienced in the top tier schools conference.

“The boys have got better and better through hard work that has produced a consistent run in the conference,” he explained. “Every game has been challenging”.

And Lingard recognises that the Cup final will be no different, stating:  “There will be lots of unknowns in the final as we have not played Watson’s this season, albeit the boys know each other from previous years.”

Stewart’s-Melville will field a team that has a 50/50 split of S6/S5 boys, the younger group drawn from last season’s under-16 Cup winning side. Amongst the older cohort, skipper Ben Gammie at No 8 and hooker Dan Smith are in Lingard’s view “natural leaders”.

The Inverleith team were unfortunate to lose three big performers in Ollie Anderson, Gregor Allan and Nairn Moncrieff to long-term injury but, like their opponents, they have the numbers to combat such set-backs.

And also like their opponents, Stewart’s-Melville have pace on the wing in Struan Daly who has been in exceptional try-scoring form, helped by the talent of stand-off Howie Offord, who Lingard describes as “young and cavalier but a leader” and who complements his attacking flair with skilful kicking off the tee. And as he showed in last year’s under-16 final goal kicking could be crucial.

 

Teams for Schools U18 Cup Final which kicks-off at 6pm –

George Watson’s College: J Thomson; D Kelly, J Loukes, H Clark, F Ferguson; A Cameron, A Thomson; D Brown, M Connor©, C O’Reilly, N Chapple, L Kinnear, I McLaren, M McAndrew, H Wood. Replacements: S Power, R Hamilton, F Black, S Bundulis, J Sinclair, D Maguire, B Sharman

Stewart’s-Melville College: H Limb; J Bennett, A Munro, R Cavin, S Daly; H Offord, L MacLeod; P Gilroy, D Smith, J Page, A Urmson, S Allan, C Stewart, C Robertson, B Gammie©. Replacements: J Mayer, T Gray, C Burns, E McDonald, M Berroya, F Percy-Robb, C Mayer.

 

While the U18 Cup is the centre-piece of Finals Day at Murrayfield, there are in total seven matches being played –three on the international pitch and four at the Hive. The main international pitch will also host the u16 Cup final, which replicates the U18 game with Watson’s taking on Stewart’s-Melville, and also the U18 Shield final between Dollar Academy and High School of Dundee.

The U16 Shield final between Hutchesons’ Grammar School and Fettes College will go ahead at the Hive which will also be the venue for the U16 Plate final featuring Dunbar Grammar School and Lomond & Helensburgh, as well as the two Bowl finals consisting of Dalkeith RFC versus Musselburgh Youth at U18 level and the U16 game between Queen Victoria School and Lenzie Academy.

There should have been eight matches played on finals day but the U18 Plate suffered a weather enforced delay at the semi-final stage resulting in the final, which will be between the winners of St Columba’s versus  Strathendrick/Balfron HS delayed semi-final (being played this coming Saturday) and Queen Victoria School being postponed until a later date.

 

Schools’ Cup Finals Day schedule and teams 

  • 11.30am – U16 Shield Final – Hutchesons’ Grammar School versus Fettes College – Hive Stadium

Hutcheson’s Grammar School: F Neilson; F Taylor, M Waugh, G Sloan, Z Summerhill; O Brown, B McCracken; E Hendry, Z Ronald, Z Mohammad, H Gilmour, R McQuilken, S Finlayson ©, H Cornell, I Ashraf. Replacements: A Dollewatta, M Tait, R Datta, M Lenagh, L Yeates, R Biswas.

Fettes College: A Mo; H Agius, R Wood, G Gammell ©, A Williams; G Muddiman, H Lynch, Y Kotov, J Bruce,L Robertson, I Buchanan, E MacKay, S Jenkins, B Taylor-Smith, H Johnston. Replacements: W Clark, R Russell, A Strachan, J Wilson, T Burnett of Leys, O Armstrong, T Masson.

  • 1.30pm – U16 Bowl Final – Queen Victoria School versus Lenzie Academy – Hive Stadium

Queen Victoria School: D Stephen; M Charlesworth-Smith, C Leonard, L Rees, L Melville; P Qalobulawasaikabara, R Gurung; N Bainitabua, Z Gordon, S Gurung, A Mcculloch, R Rennie, O Hobern, T Morrison-Smith, P Draunidalo. Replacements: L Ferguson, T Campbell, R Andrews, Z Wilson, C Meikle, M Haigh, E Clarke.

Lenzie Academy: C Murray; J Borland, L McGhee, J Hardie, C Alexander; B Forrest, T Choudhrey; M Morrison, S Home, A Price, A Lang, L McAdam, C MacInnes, H Preston ©, R Traynor. Replacements: F Sinclair, L Burns, D Mydlowski.

  • 1.30pm – U18 Shield Final – High School of Dundee versus Dollar Academy – international pitch

High School of Dundee: O Martins De Silva; E Clarke, F Hargreaves, J Smith, J Westwood; D Barrie, E Waddel; G Byers©, H Lowrie, K Chalmers, A Samson, C Gray, F Doig, M Fryer, B Harris. Replacements: J Wallace A Whitton, J Layton, R van der Kuyl, A Lowdon, J Leslie-Melville, A Brown.

Dollar Academy: A Crockett; M Garry, R Arbuckle, A Howat, J Lawrence; R Powell, F Keatch; A Wright, J Hulme, J Ritchie, B Smallwood, J Emslie, R Purvis©, K Pritchard, D Riley. Replacements: M Haston, A Lumsden, E Moore, O Felton, B Shearer, S MacKay, T Allchin.

  • 4pm – U16 Plate Final – Dunbar Grammar School versus Lomond/Helensburgh – Hive Stadium

Dunbar Grammar School: S Russell, I McNally, C Ross, A Smith, M Ramage; C Pettet©, I Anderson; H Mainstone, A McNelis, T Foster, A Leckie, P Davie, A Rettie, A Millar, L Divers. Replacements: A Pawlowski, F Paterson, M Calder, L Thomson, L Courtney.

Lomond/Helensburgh: S Devlin; J Atterbury, L Gibrat, T Mclearn, S Wight; A Reaney, W Doyle©; L Matthew, P Low, A Hameed Mohammed, C Ward, J van Impe, O Fury-Harland, C Boswell, T Smith. Replacements: W Mackay, A Caldwell, C Hall, E Bakker, T Matthews, J Gonzaga, H Mclean.

  • 4pm – U16 Cup Final – Stewart’s Melville College versus George Watson’s College – international pitch

Stewart’s Melville College: G Hamilton; J Penny, Z Mathieson, C Jessop, L Munro; J Healy, A Le Sueur; R Ferguson, C Cameron©, F McLean, C Geddes, J Dalrymple, C Edwards, R Tierney, A Abel. Replacements: G Rhodes, A Terrell, G Bailey, R Kretzschmar, C McCallum, H Welsh, O Forrest.

George Watson’s College: E Johnston; O Beresford-Jones, R Dall, L Anderson, C Lee; A Robson, H Charman; R Tait, B Kinghorn, A Loudon, A Loukes, T Dixon, D Sutherland, L  King, R Philp©. Replacements: D Milligan, O Stones, B Wright, R White, M Finlay, G Simon, H Turner.

  • 6pm – U18 Bowl Final – Dalkeith RFC versus Musselburgh Youth – Hive Stadium

Dalkeith: K Burnett; L Bourke, R Smith, F Donnelly, O Reid; F Maclure; B Smith; H Mitchell, S McIntosh, C Thomson, B Inglis, C Gordon, L Rose, J Davie, A Ferguson©. Replacements: R Chapman, L Sharp, K Doctor, B Newton, N Orsi, C Scott, A Cummings.

Musselburgh Youth: C McLeod, G Horgan, R Reid, C Docherty, R Finlayson; B Buchan, C Prentice; G Fisher, J Talac©, J Marr, A Dunn, W Murray, L Kerr, C Devine, J Skinner. Replacements: Z Lumsden, M Anderson, J Taylor, S Hill.

  • 6pm – U18 Cup Final –  George Watson’s College versus Stewart’s Melville College on international pitch

Teams listed earlier in article.

 

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About Alan Lorimer 339 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.

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