by Alan Lorimer
THEY had a handsome win in the 2017 final and this year George Watson’s College will be bidding to secure a second successive title in the Scottish Schools Under-16 Cup, played on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield on Wednesday night [kick-off: 6pm].
No school has ever retained the Under-16 title and it is certain that High School of Dundee will want to thwart Watson’s attempt to write their name in history.
As in the Under-18 final, this will be a clash between two teams from different conferences. Watson’s are in the top tier Colt Conference whereas High School of Dundee play their rugby in the second layer that is the Eclipse Conference.
For the record, Watson’s finished joint top of the Colt Conference table at this age-grade alongside Stewart’s-Melville College and Merchiston, while High School of Dundee were outright winners of the Eclipse Under-16 Conference.
“We haven’t played High School of Dundee for about three years, so this match will be a bit of the unknown,” said Mike Ker, the Watson’s coach, who believes his side will be more attuned to playing on the a bigger pitch than most side.
“As far as I know Myreside was modelled on Murrayfield for size,” he claimed. “But whatever, the Cup final at Murrayfield is still daunting. If we can get into our stride it will settle the players,” he added.
A large crowd is expected to turn up at Murrayfield for what is one of the showcase events of the Scottish rugby calendar. Among what could be a 6,000 attendance will be the Edinburgh head coach, Richard Cockerill, whose son, Stanley, will be at full-back for Watson’s.
Cockerill junior is one of strong backline that includes a talented scrum-half in Brodie Young and two quick wingers Zack Neil and Sam Cavers. Last year’s four-try man of the match, Angus Hoffie, is still eligible to play at under-16 but it will be some relief to High School of Dundee that he is playing regularly for Watson’s Under-18s.
Among the forwards, number eight Mike Cantle, who has captained Edinburgh Under-16s, is in a back-row trio that has physical strength in the shape of Archie Watters and dynamism in open-side Chris Hardie.
Watson’s came through the rounds with wins over Balfron High School, Shawlands Academy, St Aloysius College and then Merchiston. “The Merchiston semi-final was a quality match and a good win for us considering we had lost to them two weeks earlier,” said Ker.
High School of Dundee have been in Schools Cup Finals three times previously but this will be the first occasion at Under-16 level. What makes the Mayfield side’s appearance so welcome is that the school has had a difficult couple of seasons at 1st XV level.
“It’s been a tough two seasons for the under-18s but I think the under-16s have the potential to get us back up there,” explained director of rugby, Phil Godman.
“We know Watson’s will be very strong but we’ve got a lot of boys involved in Caley rugby,” the former Scotland stand-off added. “Getting to the final has been a real boost for rugby at the school. There’s a real buzz about the school.”
Coached by Colin Sangster and Christie O’Donnell, High School of Dundee, have enjoyed a good season, winning the Eclipse Conference at Under-16 with an unbeaten run. In their Cup progression, they have registered wins over Preston Lodge, Linlithgow Academy, Edinburgh Academy and Fettes College.
They will field the Findlay brothers at half-back, younger sibling Hamish captaining the side from scrum half and his elder, Callum, controlling matters from stand-off. Among the forwards, prop Angus Flynn could be a candidate for the Scotland Under-16 squad, Angus Neville is a promising second-row and in the back-row Dougray Smith has been a stand-out throughout the campaign.
Watson’s will start as favourites but expect High School of Dundee to invoke the spirit of previous teams that appeared in the final launching the careers of Richie Vernon and Alasdair Dickinson.
High School of Dundee: R Clark; S Hargreaves, A Lothian, Z Boyd, R Harrower; C Findlay, H Findlay; C Lyall, C Todd, A Flynn, J Hutcheon, A Neville, M Curnyn, D Smith, M Keough Subs E Henderson, R Tauro, K Zaidi, M Joss, H Chohan, I Chalmers, C Gunn
George Watson’s College: S Cockerill; Z Neil, S Ambrose, E Maguire, S Cavens; M McMillan, B Young; C Robertson, B Lynes, C Myles, B Gale, J Aspinall, A Watters, C Hardie, M Cantle Subs C Lister, J Murdoch, M Curnow, J Clark, J Sandland, S Logan, C Elmslie.