GEORGE WATSON’S COLLEGE showed their determination to defend the inspiresport Boys National Schools u18 Conference title with a winning start to this year’s competition after edging out last season’s Cup winners, Merchiston Castle School, at Colinton by 27-24.
“All in all, a good start with plenty of positives but we know it’s just the start and we need to keep our standards high every week in training and games” was how Mike Ker, the Watson’s coach, summed up the opening salvo.
For Watson’s, who face Dollar Academy this week, centre Josh Loukes, wing Daniel Kelly (2) and No 8 Harrison Wood (2) scored the Myresiders’ tries, the other points coming from Andrew Cameron. Back-row, Wood, was the pick of the GWC performers, showing a blend of physicality and subtlety while fellow double try scorer Kelly, who is still only 15, is, in the words of his coach: “a natural finisher”.
This was Merchiston’s first real test of the season, as their head coach, Roddy Deans, confirmed. “For our first proper hit-out we are reasonably happy with our performance,” he said. “Postmatch, the boys already identified our easy fixes to allow us to get better. We look forward to a good week of training to prepare for a tough game against Stewart’s-Melville.”
Merchiston’s tries were scored by Oliver Gordon (2), Myles McLaughlin and Ethan Craze with two conversions from stand-off Henry Widdowson, who, along with his half-back partner, Hamish McArthur, represented Edinburgh in the FOSROC series last month.
The other all Edinburgh match was between Fettes College and Stewart’s-Melville College, resulting in a 26-24 win for SMC. Stewart’s-Melville coach, Hayden Lingard, suggested that Fettes had provided a sobering return to reality after his squad’s successful tour to Canada last month, saying: “Fettes exposed a few early season naiveties and stunned us with a couple long range tries. We had to work hard to wrestle back control in the last 10mins of the match.
No 8 Ben Gammie scored a brace of tries for SMC, the other touchdowns coming from second row Ollie Anderson, and replacement Evan MacDonald.
For fast-starting Fettes, who have clearly benefitted from their summer tour to South Africa, Rory Brogan scored twice and there were single tries for Wilfred Tomlyn and Nico Razmilovic. “We showed real patience and confidence both sides of the ball but we’re bitterly disappointed to have let our lead slip. Credit to SMC who kept the pressure on all the way through and forced a few decision-making errors in the last quarter. It’s Certainly something we will learn from,” reflected the Fettes coach, Duncan Harrison.
The third top tier conference game resulted in an away win by 34-21 for Strathallan over last season’s Cup runners-up, Edinburgh Academy, whose coach Chris Martin is working with what is essentially a new squad. “We only have five players who experienced this level of competition from last year, so it was an important learning experience for our younger players,” he said.
Meanwhile, in club rugby last Saturday, it was the first round of the u18 Cup competition, this year adopting a pool structure of four groups of four before progress to the quarter-finals. In the event, the results went mainly with conference status as typified by West of Scotland who were 54-7 winners over Highland at Burnbrae with a brace of tries each from winger Owen Lai and full-back Rory Caldwell, plussingle contributions from centre Christian Ward, No 8 Robbie Dale, prop Finlay MacLaren and flanker Ryan Glen.
“We’v asked the boys to build on the previous week’s performance and they are doing that week on week so far this season” stated a satisfied West coach, Gavin McGreish.
Also going well this season are Cup holders Boroughmuir, who achieved a 41-11 win over the 2023 Cup runners-up, Peebles. Boroughmuir’s coach Richie Lockhart, explained that he had rotated his squad for this game, saying: “We replaced seven of the starting team from last week and they put in a solid performance against a good Peebles side. The boys are enjoying their rugby and working hard for each other which is always our aim” .
Scorers for Boroughmuir were Will Lockhart, Caleb Thomson (2), Hugo Stewart, Harry Jackaman, Jamie Regan and Flynn Mooney, with conversions by Kyle McMillan and Murray Armstrong.
The other tier one powerhouse, Ayr/Wellington, were also comfortable winners in the first round of the group stage, defeating visitors, Ellon 73-20. Meanwhile, fellow west club, GHA, only just scraped past Dunfermline with a 31-27 away win, underlining the Fife club’s growing stature in youth rugby.
The big upset, however, was at Stonehaven where Mackie succumbed to visitors, Currie Chieftains, the National Conference side, losing 12-34 to the Malleny Park under-18s, who are benefitting from a focused effort under new management.
The other club grabbing Cup headlines was Dumfries Saints who added to Melrose Wasps’ woes this season by inflicting a 50-0 victory over the Greenyards side, which is reportedly struggling with numbers, injuries and a lack of experienced players.
Melrose’s near neighbours, Gala Wanderers, however, are enjoying a good season this year evidenced further by their 47-19 away win over Perthshire. The try scorers for Gala Wanderers were Jamie Bell (2), Jacob Moore, Callum Purves, Danny Allison, Sam McAneny and Rowan Chalmers with six conversions from stand-off Rory Wilson.
“The Wanderers forwards fronted up well against a sizeable Perthshire pack and as the game opened up, orchestrated by stand-off Rory Wilson, we were able to take advantage with some impressive offloading and expansive play,” observed Gala’s coach, Bruce Chalmers.
The other Borders club in action was Hawick Youth who ran Stirling County close but eventually lost 21-29 to the Bridgehaugh side. But after a tentative start to the season, Hawick Youth appear to be on an upward trajectory as their team manager, Paul McDonald, suggested, saying: “We’re seeing improvements week on week and played some good rugby in parts against Stirling”.
The Hawick Youth points came from a penalty try and touchdowns from hooker, Jack Brown and stand-off Riley Muir, both converted by full back Greig Cartner.
For Stirling, this was a welcome win, not only for their Cup prospects but for team morale after a difficult game against Boroughmuir the previous weekend. “It was a tough, physical game which I thought on the whole we controlled well. It was nice to see the boys hard work from training transfer onto the pitch, especially after last week’s disappointment,” stated Stuart Imrie, County’s head coach. His side’s tries were scored by Thomas Mackin (2), Ross McKay, Calum Clayton and Arran Pollock, withtwo of the Stirling touchdowns converted by Tom Nodes.
This weekend, clubs will return to conference and league action, the pick of the games in the National One Conference being at Braidholm where GHA take on West of Scotland.
In Schools rugby, it is the second round of the top tier Conference in which Dollar will make their first appearance in this season’s competition when they face Watson’s at Myreside. Merchiston are away to Stewart’s-Melville College at Inverleith while Strathallan are at home to Fettes.