GEORGE WATSON’S COLLEGE and Strathallan remain undefeated in the inspiresport Boys National Schools under-18 Conference after three rounds of the competition, their joint first position underlined by a 14-14 draw between the two sides in last Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash at Forgandenny.
In a physical match that lacked the desired flow, Watson’s had to overcome a deficit before countering Strathallan’s early lead. “We were pleased to show the resilience to come from 14-0 down to draw,” reflected Watson’s coach, Mike Ker, who knows there are a number of issues to sort out before facing Fettes this week.
“We weren’t happy with our decision making and lack of composure in the first half,” explained Ker, whose side scored tries through wing Daniel Kelly and prop David Brown, both touchdowns converted by stand-off Andrew Cameron.
Strathallan’s head coach, Andrew Douglas, echoed Ker’s view of the match, saying: “The game – a really good test for the Strath boys – was very much one of two halves with Strath controlling the majority of the game in the first half and GWC coming back strongly in the second half.
“Physically, we stepped up to the mark after a very physical game against Morrisons in the Cup three days earlier but the boys prepared well during the week and managed their bodies well to ensure that they were in good shape for the game.”
Close behind the two leaders are Merchiston and Stewart’s-Melville College. Merchiston showed their power and pace with a 55-5 away win against Dollar Academy with tries from Hamish McArthur (3), Myles McLaughlin (2), Zander McTaggart, Oliver Gordon, James Rutherford and Adam Kennedy, McArthur converting five of the Merchiston touchdowns.
Merchiston coach, Roddy Deans, believes his side are now making good progress. “We are starting to build momentum which is pleasing for us,” he said. “We were very happy with our disciplined defence and ability to score multi-phase tries. But we still have plenty to develop further.”
Stewart’s-Melville College, meanwhile, moved into top gear with a 42-5 win over Edinburgh Academy at Inverleith following a cup win three days earlier, the double effort much to the satisfaction of their coach, Hayden Lingard. “I was pleased with the performance from our group of players, who had to back up after a midweek cup fixture with North Berwick. Edinburgh Academy’s work-rate in defence in the first half put us under pressure but as the game developed we managed to break them down and gradually took control,” he commented.
Stewart’s-Melville’s tries were scored by flanker Conall Stewart, wing Struan Daly (2), prop Jack Mayer, second row Ollie Anderson and replacement Callum Robertson. Stand-off Howie Offord added the extras to all six tries.
“It was a tough morning for us, but we’ll bounce back,” suggested the Edinburgh Academy coach, Chris Martin, adding: “We had a high number of skill errors at crucial points in the game; SMC were clinical.”
In the West, Marr College had an impressive 57-14 win over Glasgow Academy while Queen Victoria School secured a 26-24 victory against Hutchesons’ Grammar School. Elsewhere in the West A Conference, Strathendrick/Balfron HS confirmed their improvement in recent seasons by running St Aloysius College close before losing 21-28.
In the equivalent East/Caledonia Conference, a resurgent Dundee High School top the table, one point ahead of unbeaten Loretto, who have played one game less. Dundee High were 39-19 winners over Howe of Fife/Bell-Baxter HS, who themselves have made a strong start to the season.
For their part, Loretto were too strong for Robert Gordon’s College, winning 47-14 at Musselburgh, the other match in this Conference resulting in away 17-7 win by North Berwick HS over Glenalmond College.
In the second round of the Schools u18 Cup, Loretto also impressed winning 41-15 against Dollar Academy to confirm that the East Lothian School is regaining previously lost ground.
Speaking after the win over Dollar, Loretto coach Andy Binikos said: “We are a small school and feel privileged to be involved in the Cup competition this year. On this occasion we managed to get a convincing win against a tough Dollar team that had a few injuries. We are all very proud of our boys but don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.
Another notable Cup win was at Cupar where Howe of Fife/Bell-Baxter HS defeated Glasgow High School 41-7.
Aside from Dollar’s defeat, the top Conference sides prevailed over the second tier schools with Merchiston cruising to a second round win over George Heriot’s School by 57-7, Stewart’s-Melville knocking out North Berwick HS with a 57-0 victory, Strathallan defeating Morrison’s Academy 29-8, Fettes College winning by 58-24 against Linlithgow Academy and Edinburgh Academy edging out Kelvinside Academy by 32-26.
Last weekend produced an equal amount of activity in clubland where the inspiresport National Conferences continued to produce some firece competition.
Top marks must go to Ayr/Wellington, who, a week after suffering a massive defeat to the National One leaders Boroughmuir, brushed themselves down sufficiently to give the Meggetland side a competitive match they might have won. The west coast side finally lost 19-31 but that in no way diminishes their gravity-defying bounce back.
“To go from losing by 80 points one week to being frustrated we didn’t beat the same opposition the next week shows huge strength of character from the boys,” declared Colin Duck, the Ayr coach. “They saw the rematch as an opportunity to put things right and they gave it a good crack and did it playing good exciting rugby. Boroughmuir were professional and strong as always and it was a great game of rugby.”
The try scorers for Ayr were Sandy Hay, Dan McKinlay and Jamie McIlroy while Cole Graham kicked two conversions. For Boroughmuir, Luke Whitaker (2), Alex Grohmann, Fergus Jones and Harry Jackaman crossed for tries and there were conversions from Kyle McMillan and Murray Armstrong.
“It was a real test for the boys from a very physical Ayr side,” was the Boroughmuir coach Richie Lockhart’s post match summation. “I’m really pleased with the way the boys held their nerve and transitioned to score some great breakaway tries. Plenty lessons as ever but a positive outcome.”
Boroughmuir remain undefeated this season but close on their heels are West of Scotland, who achieved a 34-22 win over Stirling County at Burnbrae.
“A much tougher outing for West 18s this week, against a very strong Stirling county side. The squad played well and dug in for the 70 minutes, holding their nerve, after being down 5- 10 in the first 25 minutes,” stated Gavin McGreish, the West coach.
“It was very encouraging to see a strong set-piece, as we were trying out new combinations within the pack. We have strength in depth across all positions; a great position to be in at this stage in the season.”
Christian Ward scored two of the West tries, before departing at half time to attend a wedding, the other touchdowns coming from flanker Ben Keeley, prop Daniel Pittom and centre Ethan Reilly. Cameron Louden kicked three conversions and Euan Russell a penalty goal.
For visitors Stirling County, Archie Cumming, Calum Clayton, Mickey Kesson and Robbie Truesdale scored tries. Lewis Roskilly kicked a conversion goal.
After the match, County’s coach Stuart Imrie articulated his team’s thoughts, saying: “The overall feeling is one of disappointment. It was great to see some of our younger players stepping up as a group. However, we gave away far too many penalties and gave a strong West team too much possession in dangerous areas of the field.”
The other match in the top tier club conference was at Stonehaven where GHA achieved a 43-36 win over Mackie. Flanker Ben Hughes, scrum-half Matt Inglis, centres Matthew Murphy and Jamie Henderson (2), prop Findlay Wheeler and second-row Zach Meechan scored tries for GHA, four of them converted by Ben MacDougall.
“Both teams were quite evenly matched in terms of size and age with both squads made up of predominantly S5 age group,” noted Shane McElhinney, the GHA coach. “We were able to secure our own set- piece ball which gave us a better attacking platform, compared to previous fixtures.
“The game was played in good conditions, so we were able to keep the ball in hand and we hit some good lines and scored a few good tries as a result. We got a few scores up but Mackie came back strongly against us and it turned out to be a closely fought match,” concluded McElhinney.
There was broadly a concurrence of thought from the opposite camp. “Really tight match as the scoreline suggests.” said the Mackie coach, Ross Foubster. “The defence on both teams was a bit porous. We didn’t take full advantage of a couple of yellow cards in the second half which ultimately cost us.”
For Mackie, Daniel Duncan scored a brace of tries and there was one apiece by Lee Officer, Gregor Veitch and Hugo Freeman.
In the National 2 under-18 Conference, Dumfries Saints and Currie Chieftains are continuing to set a strong pace. Currie achieved a 50-0 win over Perthshire last weekend while Dumfries, who have played one game less, remain unbeaten, following their 57-7 away win over Dunfermline, and sit just one point behind the Balerno club in the conference table.
The other game in the National 2 Conference was in the north east where Biggar took the spoils from their match with Ellon with a 36-19 win.
Meanwhile, in the Borders Semi Junior League, Peebles Colts’ 33-12 win over Morpeth keeps the Hay Lodge Park team in joint first position alongside Kelso Quins who had a default win over Jed Thistle, currently struggling for numbers at under-18 level.
Both sides are unbeaten, each with three wins. Also with an unbeaten record is Gala Wanderers who drew with Hawick Youth at Netherdale after the most bizarre finish to a match in the whole history of rugby.
Hawick were leading 35-28 going into the final minute of the game only for Gala to score out wide. Paul McDonald, the Hawick team manager describes what unfolded: “As Gala were taking a conversion from the touchline to try to get a draw the ball dropped short but before it hit the ground our scrum-half who was charging out volleyed it over our own posts. Therefore the conversion was good!!”
A video of the incident went viral and no doubt it will be the subject of pub quizzes all round the world.
“Apart from that it was a good game of rugby with both sides showing real promise in attack and defence” suggested McDonald. For Hawick, full-back Jardine Vevers and winger Filip Kubick each scored a brace of tries, the other points coming from winger Greig Cartner with a try and four conversions.
Gala Wanderers’ coach, Bruce Chalmers conceded the obvious, saying: “We’re extremely lucky to have drawn that game! But credit to our players for their efforts in a hard fought contest. We stayed in the fight to the very end – scoring with the last play. However, the way the conversion played out, we are very fortunate to come away with a draw!”
Absolute scenes in the Borders! https://t.co/eXsyCHQI5b
— THE OFFSIDE LINE (@theoffsideline) September 30, 2023