TITLE holders Stewart’s-Melville College take on their Edinburgh rivals George Watson’s College on Saturday in the semi-final of the Scottish Schools U18 Cup at Inverleith, with the psychological advantage of having already defeated the Myreside team earlier in the season.
“We played Watson’s at Myreside in the opening round of the Conference and won with a late score in a close game.” recalls Stuart Edwards, the Stewart’s-Melville head coach, whose team comes into the penultimate round of the Cup with an unbeaten record this season.
Edwards is hoping for a repeat of their final Conference match last month when in front of a packed stand at Inverleith they squeezed past Dollar Academy. “Our under-16s are at home as well in the Cup [v Dundee High School at the quarter-final stage], so it could be a big day at Inverleith,” he added. “We’re wanting another big crowd at the games.”
Watson’s may not have enjoyed the same stellar record this season as their opponents but, given their performances in the Cup in past years, it is unlikely that their desire to reach another final will be diminished. They will, however, be without four key players for Saturday, but even so head coach Mike Ker feels that his charges will rise to the occasion.
“The boys are excited about the opportunity to play in a cup semi-final with a big crowd and I’m sure we can cause an upset if we execute our game-plan and be smart on the day,” he suggested.
The other semi-final is at Colinton where Merchiston Castle School are at home to Dollar Academy. When the two sides met in the East Conference the result was a 24-24 draw: Saturday’s game therefore additionally becomes something of a decider.
“There is a real buzz around the school which we have really missed for the last few years,” said the Merchiston head coach, Roddy Deans. “These boys have watched a few home semi-finals in their time at school so are well aware of the added pressures.”
Dollar travel to Merchiston buoyed by their 61-0 win over Hutchesons’ Grammar School in the quarter finals and having run Stewart’s-Melville College desperately close in their final East Conference game at Inverleith.
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Meanwhile, the National Youth Cup U18 semi-finals are set to produce similarly close matches, notably at Meggetland where Boroughmuir, unbeaten this season, take on Stirling County, a club with a long history of success in this competition.
The two clubs experienced hugely different quarter-finals, Boroughmuir sweeping to a 50-0 win over Ellon and Stirling County only just holding off a gritty Kelso Quins side to achieve a 19-16 result. “We’re expecting a very tough game against Stirling County. We know that we have to be playing at the top of our game, if we are to progress to the final,” were the cautionary words of Scott Anderson, the Boroughmuir head coach.
He added: “The game is on the main stadium pitch prior to the Senior 1st XV game against Ayr, so it should be a great day of rugby at Meggetland and hopefully there’ll be a good crowd along to watch both matches”.
Stirling’s director of youth rugby, Stewart Milne, knows the task facing his charges has not become easier by the absence of several key players. “It’s a shame to have a few players missing but the depth of the squad is showing up really well. I think the effort to win at Kelso has certainly focussed the players’ minds,” he said.
The other semi-final is between Hawick Youth and West of Scotland on the 3G pitch at the Volunteer Park in Hawick. The home side, who have been playing an attractive brand of rugby, are unbeaten in the Borders Semi Junior League and following their quarter-final away win against a tough Biggar side, the young Greens will have gained further confidence, as Hawick’s manager Paul McDonald confirmed.
“There’s a positive feeling in the camp particularly as it’s a home tie for us and we have such a tremendous support,” he said. “We do have a few injury doubts with key players after the hard fought win we had against Peebles last week but we’re monitoring their progress closely and hopefully they will be fit for Saturday’s big match.
“As far as the game is concerned, if we stick to our game plan and maintain our usual tempo then I’m confident our boys can progress to the final.”
West of Scotland reached the last four by defeating Livingston in the quarters, but despite that sumptuous away win the Burnbrae side are are not making rash predictions about their chances on Saturday, articulated by their head coach, Millan Browne. The former Scotland A prop said: “If we win playing Hawick at home we will fully deserve be in the final. It’s a great challenge for the squad.”
Also at the semi-final stage are the Scottish Schools and the National Youth U18 Shields. In the Schools competition, Morrison’s Academy, having achieved a 22-20 away win over St Columba’s in the quarters, make the short trip down the A9 to face Queen Victoria School. When the two schools met in the Caledonia Conference match at Dunblane earlier in the season, Morrison’s finished winners by 22-14. The other U18 Shield semi takes place next Wednesday when Loretto play Preston Lodge High School.
Two Borders sides, Melrose Wasps and Gala Wanderers, have home advantage for their National Youth U18 Shield semi-finals. Wasps take on Whitecraigs, while Gala Wanderers are matched against Dumfries Saints.
This is a big weekend, too, for the U16 Cup and Shield competitions in both the Schools and Clubs sectors. This ag-grade are one stage behind their elders with all the matches this weekend being quarter-finals.
While East Conference Schools dominated the U18 quarters there is less of a likelihood that this will be repeated at U16 level. West hopes will rest with Conference winners Glasgow High School who are at home to Dollar Academy and St Aloysius College who travel to Colinton for their match with Merchiston.
The other quarters are at Inverleith where East Schools Conference winners Stewart’s-Melville College take on Dundee High School, and in Aberdeen where Robert Gordon’s College, the Caledonia U16 champions, face George Watson’s College.
In the Schools U16 Shield this Saturday, St Columba’s are at home to a reinvigorated North Berwick High School, Strathendrick/Balfron High School face Berwick RFC, and Queen Victoria School is matched against Linlithgow Academy. The remaining quarter will be played a week on Saturday when Loretto will be at home to Howe of Fife/Bell Baxter High School.
The stand-out match in the National Youth U16 Cup is at the Gytes where home side Peebles Reds face Ayr/Wellington. The other Borders club in the Cup competition is Gala Red Triangle who have home advantage in their tie against Stirling County. Meanwhile Boroughmuir are at home to Dumfries Saints as are GHA who take on Ellon.
At Shield level in the U16 competition, north-east clubs Deeside/Garioch and Aberdeen Wanderers face long journeys for their quarter-final ties, the former travelling to the south side of Glasgow to play Whitecraigs and the latter heading to Borders for their match with Kelso Quins. The other two quarters in the Shield are Dundee Rugby versus Dunfermline and Hawick Youth versus Cartha QP
All the National Youth U16 Cup and Shield matches will be played on Sunday.