THOSE two traditional Edinburgh rivals, Stewart’s-Melville College and George Watson’s College, will contest the final of the Scottish Schools under-18 Cup at Scottish Gas Murrayfield on 6th December, while in the equivalent Youth Cup, title holders Boroughmuir return to Scottish Rugby’s headquarters on 17th December for their final against the winners of this weekend’s delayed semi-final between West of Scotland and Stirling County.
Stewart’s-Melville booked their place in the final after defeating the defending champions, Merchiston Castle School, 41-29 in the penultimate round in front of a big crowd at Inverleith.
“There’s never a dull game between these two sides,” averred Hayden Lingard, the Stew-Mel coach, who added: “The game was a great advert for schoolboy rugby with both teams playing their part in an entertaining match. We managed to put Merchie under a bit of scoreboard pressure and controlled a big chunk of the game, but in true schoolboy fashion, Merchie came back at us, giving the large crowd a tense finish!
“We’ve lost a few big players to season-ending injuries, so this performance was testament to the depth of our squad. Forwards coaches Jason Hill and Grant Gilchrist have got our forward pack firing, which our young backline are thriving off,” enthused Lingard.
Winger Struan Daly headed the try-scoring with two touchdowns and there were single contributions from hooker Dan Smith, prop James Paige and centres Adam Munro and Ruaridh Cavin, four of the tries converted by stand-off Howie Offord, who also kicked one penalty goal.
Merchiston’s head coach, Roddy Deans, described the semi-final as: “A cracking game with both sides fully committed to attacking rugby.”
“SMC deserved their win with the relentless pressure they applied defensively; they were also tactically smarter and took their tries very well,” he added. “That pressure meant we lost the collisions and momentum of the game. We stayed alive right up to the last minute but I felt we were always chasing the game.”
Describing the post match feelings in the Merchiston squad, Deans said: “We are all hurting, but that’s rugby”. Merchiston’s tries came from Hamish MacArthur, Euan Robertson, Henry Widdowson and Myles McLaughlin. MacArthur converted three of the scores and kicked a penalty.
The other semi-final between George Watson’s College and last season’s Cup runners-up, Edinburgh Academy, at Myreside was played on Tuesday after weather conditions last Saturday forced a postponement. In the event, Watson’s won comfortably by 36-7.
Mike Ker, the Watson’s u18 coach, was pleased that his side were able to raise their performance level even after a paucity of competitive activity. “For only our second game in seven weeks due to the nature of the season, I was extremely pleased with our display and ability to put EA under pressure with the pace in our game,” he said.
“We started well, scoring early, and then defended solidly when EA had the majority of the ball. I felt we were always in control and managed the game well through our attack structure and composure when on ball. We learnt a lot from the previous game against Strathallan, and our key decision-makers won that battle for us all afternoon.
“It was pleasing that not only was this a cup semi but a conference double header so we have put ourselves in a great position in the conference also. We move towards next week’s final with hard work ahead of us. SMC are a well coached team with some excellent players who had a great win over Merchiston,” added Ker.
Pacy winger Daniel Kelly was top scorer with four tries for Watson’s, the other try coming from full-back Jamie Thomson. Stand-off Andrew Cameron kicked four conversions and one penalty.
For Edinburgh Academy, Toby Santry scored his side’s only try, converted by Munro Lawrie. “Watson’s were deserved winners,” acknowledged Chris Martin, the Edinburgh Academy coach. “We were a bit slow out of the blocks and then lost Angus Larkin, who is a fantastic player, early on in the game, so it was a big test of our resilience. We built a lot of pressure and then Watson’s scored an interception try that really burst our balloon.
“Our boys didn’t give up, though. I’m really pleased with how this group keep improving. They epitomise everything that’s good about the game and how we’re continuing to get better as a school,” added Martin.
By something of a statistical fluke, the under-18 Cup semi-finals were replicated exactly at under-16 level meaning that in this age category it will also be a Stewart’s-Melville versus George Watson’s Cup final.
In the under-18 Shield competition, the three times Cup runners-up, Dundee High School, defeated St Aloysius College 24-14 at Millerston, and will face the winners of the delayed match between Dollar Academy and Kelvinside Academy in next week’s final.
Meanwhile Boroughmuir have given themselves the chance to win a fourth consecutive under-18 Youth Cup title after qualifying for the last stage at the end of what head coach Richard Lockhart described as “a fantastic hard fought semi-final” against Dumfries Saints which ended 26-8 for the Meggetland men.
“Both teams were excellent with work-rate and physicality top-notch throughout. I was immensely proud of the way we defended in particular and the way we took our scores. We still need to be a bit more composed at times and remove some silly penalties, but overall it was an excellent performance,” was Lockhart’s assessment.
The Boroughmuir head coach also praised Dumfries for making the match a big occasion. “A big thanks to Dumfries for bringing such a big support, sticking around for a good while after, and giving us such a hard test,” he said.
For Boroughmuir, Fergus Jones scored a brace of tries and there was a further touchdown from Harry Jackaman, the other points coming from a penalty try and two conversions by Kyle McMillan.
The Dumfries points came from a Callum Howat try and a penalty from Fergus McEwan. Head coach Euan Mack felt his charges put in a good performance against at team that has dominated the club under-18 competitions over the last few seasons, saying: “The boys acquitted themselves well, and played some good stuff in attack and defence. It was a really tight game for 60 minutes but ultimately Boroughmuir’s power was a bit too much for us and their quality from the bench was crucial as well. Overall, we’re disappointed but the boys can hold their heads high.”
The other semi-final between West of Scotland and Stirling County, which will double as a Conference fixture, will be played this Saturday at Burnbrae.
In the under-16 Youth Cup, Hawick achieved a 30-5 win over Ayr at Millbrae and will face Currie Chieftains in the final, the Malleny Park side scoring a 45-3 home win over Peebles
Hawick Youth will be doubly represented on finals day at Murrayfield after the under-18 side defeated their Border rivals, Melrose Wasps, by 43-5 at The Greenyards in their delayed Shield semi-final clash. Hawick’s tries were scored by Ellis Dirom, Luke Scott, Mikey Swailes, Riley Muir, Boyd Hughes, Jordan Wood and Connor Crawley with four conversions from Greig Cartner. For Wasps, JJ Burgess scored a second half try.
Gary Douglas, the Hawick under-18 head coach, however, suggested that the his side’s victory was not as easy as it seemed. “Right from the start it was a really competitive game,” he stressed. “Melrose were really up for the game, but we kept our structure. I’m really pleased for the boys to get to a final. We were under a bit of pressure to match the under-16s!”
Nick Alston, the Melrose Wasps’ coach, was satisfied that his players had reacted to the league defeat by Hawick two weeks earlier, saying: “We asked the boys to make themselves proud, the team proud and the club proud, and their effort definitely did that.”
The young Greens will face Ayr/Wellington, who outgunned Highland by 46-12 at Millbrae, in the under-18 Shield final. “That game was a harder fight than the scoreline suggests. It was our best performance of the season so far and we were really pleased, particularly with our defence and discipline,” was the view of Colin Duck, the victorious coach.
For Highland, Lochlan Hodge and Cameron Gordon scored their side’s tries. Although disappointed, Highland’s head coach, John Maclennan, took positives from his side’s defeat, saying: “We created some early pressure in the Ayr 22 for the first ten minutes but didn’t manage to get points on the board.
“Ayr defended well and with some poor Highland tackling were able to hit us on the break too many times, racking up a big score advantage by half-time. I was happy with our set-piece, and we had good possession and territory, but just couldn’t make the final pass count”.
You have to feel for Highland whose road miles for rugby are huge. Last Saturday’s trip to Ayr was no different and coming on top of a combined total of 1500 miles for the team’s previous four fixtures, they deserve a break; surely their two home games in December will be the perfect Christmas present.