THE North East of Scotland has, over the years, produced many talented rugby players, including former Scotland and Glasgow Warriors’ stand-off/full-back Ruaridh Jackson, former Scotland and Lions scrum-half Chris Cusiter, ex-Scotland captain Jason White and scrum-half Ian McCrae. Moreover, in the Schools Cup, Robert Gordon’s College have, in the past, contested the under-18 final.
This season in youth rugby, Mackie RFC will fly the North East flag when they join Boroughmuir, Stirling County, Ayr and GHA in an elite national conference formed from the best of the two regional groupings prior to the October break. For Mackie the action starts this Saturday when they face a tough test against Stirling County.
If the Mackie brand had not previously registered on the youth rugby radar then the club’s performance in the Youth League Under-16 Cup semi-final at Oriam in February 2020, when they defeated Peebles Colts, only to miss out (because of Covid) on the final at Murrayfield, should certainly have sent signals that the Stonehaven outfit means business.
Last year’s under-16s success was no one-off according to the current under-18 coach Andrew Buchanan. “We really started working on building a structure some ten years ago and the result a decade later is a strong youth section,” he explains. “The under-18s this season are from both the under-15s and under-16s of two years ago.
“The good thing is that most of our players are home grown although we have had two or three new players from other clubs” Buchanan adds. “The strength of Mackie’s under-18s was reflected in the club providing ten players for the recent Caledonia trials, held in Dundee.”
One reason for Mackie’s promotion to the top layer conference is the relatively high number of players available. “We have a big squad which means a strong back-up and it keeps the intensity up in training,” observes Buchanan, who sees his club in a different light to many of the city-based teams.
“We’re a little town club in the North East of Scotland. We’ve worked hard and we’ve grown. We’re lucky to have a very good development officer in James Sadio, who is very influential. James goes into a number of local schools – Mackie Academy, Portlethen Academy, Mearns Academy in Laurencekirk and the independent school, Lathallan, the latter supplying three players to the under-18 squad.”
The under-18 squad is, of course, the result of hard work that starts at a very young age. “We deliver rugby to all ages from P1/P2 (the Tots) right through to under-18,” says Buchanan, adding: “We try to have two coaches for each age group”.
Buchanan, who co-coaches the under-18s alongside Andrew Mitchell, and who has moved up through the age groups in a pattern that is familiar in club rugby, believes that a continuity in the way the teams play is important. “We try and use the same style throughout the club,” he states.
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As for the always difficult matter of funding, Mackie receive considerable help both from local sponsorship and from parents, but the club cannot match the playing and training facilities that others in Scotland enjoy. “We struggle with outdoor areas but we’ve been helped by a local plant hire company to put up lights,” says Buchanan.
“However, we’ve got plans for two new pitches and clubhouse in an area of Stonehaven. And for younger groups we’ve got access to local school facilities. What we do have at present is an academy for excellence and so are able to provide proper strength and conditioning programmes for our elite players.”
Mackie’s ambitious plans have brought results in younger age groups as well, notably their under-14s defeating Boroughmuir this season. As for the players in the under-18s side, watch out for flanker James Brown, skipper Finlay Wynne and outside-centre Conon Adams.
Meanwhile in the Borders Semi Junior League, Hawick Youth made it seven from seven to remain top of the table after defeating Peebles Colts 23-17 in a tight game that could have gone either way. Pacy winger Finlay Douglas continued his high strike rate with two tries, the other Hawick touchdown coming from centre Justin Tait. Arguably, what made the difference was two penalty goals and a conversion from stand-off Owain Gray. Peebles scored twi tries through Patrick Cannon and one through Robbie Weir.
On Friday night Hawick Youth face a shoot-out with second-placed Melrose Wasps whose match against Jed Thistle last weekend was unable to be played because of lack of numbers in the Jed side. Wasps, however, were able to have a training match against Ayr. Also missing out were Kelso Quins whose match against Tynedale was called off because their Northumberland opponents had an English Cup match last weekend. Primacy, it seems, still operates.
In schools rugby, St Aloysius College again flexed their muscles in defeating an injury-ravaged Marr College side 72-0. This Saturday St Aloysius play Glasgow High School, while Hutchesons face Glasgow Academy, and Marr take on Kelvinside Academy.
Over in the East Conference, George Heriot’s School play Edinburgh Academy and Dollar Academy are matched against George Watson’s College.
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