Schools/Youth Rugby: Merchiston triumph over Stewart’s Melville in cup final re-run

West of Scotland dig deep against Mackie at Stonehaven to achieve third straight win in Boys Conference

Mackie in attack versus West of Scotland at Stonehaven
Mackie in attack versus West of Scotland at Stonehaven

LAST season’s Cup finalists, Merchiston Castle School and Stewart’s-Melville College, opened their Inspiresport National 1 Schools Conference campaigns with a rematch of their Murrayfield meeting to produce a thrilling game of rugby that went down to the wire. 

In the end Merchiston just managed to edge out Stewart’s-Melville to win 31-28 with a try just seconds from full time after responding to the Inverleith side’s quick start. “Firstly, this was a high quality exciting game of rugby, with both teams producing some outstanding attacking tries,” observed Merchiston’s coach, Roddy Deans. “Credit to Stewart’s-Melville, who came out the blocks fast and played with real tempo and accuracy.”

He continued: “We were hanging on and found a way to weather the storm and stay in touch by scoring some high quality tries through Isaac Coates‘ ability to line break and Ben Reilly’s finishing power. We showed composure and guts to get a grip of the game in the last ten minutes which allowed us to build momentum and pressure which led to us scoring with the final play.  This season is going to be extremely competitive across the whole conference which is exciting for the boys.”

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Reilly finished top scorer for Merchiston with two tries, the other touchdowns coming from Yeadon Davie, Glen Crawford and Olly Gordon. Three of the five tries were converted by Coates.

The Stewart’s-Melville head coach, Hayden Lingard, agreed with Deans’ overall assessment of the game saying: “It was a really high quality game of school boy rugby, contested by two very evenly matched teams. We led on the scoreboard for the whole game until the last play, when Merchie crashed over from close range”.

Lingard picked out flanker Freddy Douglas and No 8 Ben Gammie as his side’s stand-out players. Each shared in the try scoring along with wing Struan Daly and centre Thomas Russell.

Also showing good early season form on Saturday was George Watson’s College, who achieved a 29-0 away win over Dollar Academy.  “This was a good day for us, built around an excellent defence and then some good scores,” declared Mike Ker, the Watson’s coach.

He continued: “We were really pleased with the boys work ethic and understanding of our defensive systems and principles, and in attack we clicked at the right times but were a bit disappointed we went into the break only 7-0 ahead. All in all, it was a great start to the conference, but we know it will be very competitive this season.”

In all, Watson’s scored four tries, a first half effort by flanker Henry Teall and second half scores from prop David Brown, hooker Cormac O’Brien and full-back Jack Brown, who also kicked three conversions and a penalty goal.

In the other National One Conference games, Strathallan defeated Fettes College 10-0 in a match that Andy Henderson, the Strathallan Academy director of rugby, reckoned was affected by “early season mistakes” resulting in a disjointed contest. “The game lacked continuity,” stated Henderson, who was impressed by much of the Fettes play.  “Fettes had the upper hand in the second half and without some last effort tackles by Strath they would have scored some tries,” suggested Henderson.

Having absorbed a lot of pressure from the home side, Stathallan put together an attack that resulted in a try for Archie Rankin, converted by Adam Anderson, who had earlier kicked a first half penalty.


In the West Conference, two matches were played resulting in wins for Hutchesons’ Grammar School (45-14 v Glasgow High School) and Kelvinside Academy (48-5 v Glasgow Academy).

Meanwhile in the Inspiresport Boy’s National Club Conference, West of Scotland achieved their third straight win with a 24-17 victory over Mackie at Stonehaven. As the scoreline suggests this was a hard battle for the Burnbrae side as their coach Steven Meeghan acknowledged, saying: “The boys really dug in to get the win against a very physical Mackie team. I’m really proud of our defence as we managed to hold off the hard running Mackie players and we showed great patience to break down their defence”.

West led 17-5 at the break with tries from full-back Ruaridh Cowan and wing Jaheem Thomas, both converted by stand-off Charlie Greaves who also kicked a penalty goal. Then in the second half, replacement prop Jonathan Taiwo’s converted try proved to be the decisive points.

For Mackie, whose points came from tries by Hugo Freeman, Tate James and Fergus Robertson, and a conversion by Rory Buchanan, this was further proof that they are able to live with the established teams in the Conference, but perhaps the Stonehaven side accorded too much recognition to their opponents as their coach Andrew Buchanan conceded.

He said: “West came out hard and are a very good physical side. We pulled it back in the second half but ran out of time. Again injuries hit us this week ahead of selection but we’re pleased with the overall performance of our squad.  We are getting close to these sides and relish the chance of a rematch.”

Also unbeaten in this conference are Boroughmuir but there was frustration for the Meggetland side from not having to play a match to collect their ‘winning’ points after GHA had to concede the game because of insufficient players, a somewhat worrying situation for a club competing in a conference of this high level.

In the other top tier club match, Stirling County edged out Ayr/Wellington with a 28-21 win at Bridgehaugh thanks to a strong first half. “We had a really positive start to the game and in the first half played some excellent rugby married with some excellent defence,” observed Stewart Milne, the club’s director of youth rugby.

He added: “In the second half, Ayr came back strongly and with some silly penalties at the breakdown we gave away too much field position and allowed Ayr into the game.  That we blew a 21 point lead and still managed to come away with a hard fought win is testament to the players’ attitudes”.

Winger Scott Shedden scored two of County’s four tries and there was one apiece by the other wing, Lewis Deakin, and prop Jay Robert. All four touchdowns were converted by scrum-half Tom Nodes.

“It was close, an entertaining one too,” observed Colin Duck, the Ayr coach, whose side’s tries were scored by prop Jake Shearer (2) and wing Max McCorkindale , all three covered by Jack Craig. He added: ‘It’s a good sign that after a heavy defeat to West last game then giving away two soft early tries in this game that the boys had the spirit to fight back and we came away feeling we really should have won this one. Stirling kept going though and took their winning try well so well done to them”.


In the Border Semi Junior League, the good news this season is the return to strength of Jed Thistle, who, last season, had a torrid time because of lack of numbers at under-18 level. Against a strong Melrose Wasps side, Jed played impressively, albeit ultimately losing to the Greenyards side by 14-28.

For Jed, whose tries were scored by Mark Glen and Robbie Duff both converted by Aaron Weatherhead, there was satisfaction for their coach, Michael Harshaw, even in defeat.  “It was a tight match where our boys put in a lot of effort but some poor decision making in attack cost us. It was only our second match, the players are still learning the systems and they’ll get sharper in those decisions as they get more games,” he predicted.

Melrose coach, Jerry Brett, who has more than the interest of his own team at heart, commented: “Jed have some very good players and if they avoid injuries will be tough opponent for pretty much anyone. They had the better of a stop-start first half but we then began to enjoy a bit more possession and played some good rugby towards the end. Mark Glen was outstanding for them.”

Try scorers for Melrose were Hamish Derrick, Andrew Kirk, Robbie Gunn and Rio Volpe, all four converted by Mathew Gaston.

In one of a number of cross-borders matches in the BSJL, Kelso Quins had a comfortable 36-7 win over the Northumberland side, Alnwick, with tries from Josh Coulter, Harris Ross, Mackenzie Shaw, Roan Morgan and Ben Stewart. Angus Utterson kicked four conversions and a penalty. This latest result for Quins leaves the Kelso side undefeated with three wins from three rounds.

There were also encouraging wins against English opposition for Hawick Youth and Duns RFC. At Volunteer Park, Hawick Youth ran in tries by centre Eli Hamilton and stand-off Owain Gray (2), who also kicked two conversions and a penalty for a 17 points tally. “Tynedale were bigger and stronger upfront but all our guys dug in and weathered the initial onslaught in the first half to grow in confidence, and thanks to our superior fitness levels we kept the tempo up and stretched the game beyond the opposition in the second half,” said the Hawick manager, Paul McDonald. “The coaches’ big ask this week was for our senior players to lead by example and they certainly delivered with hooker and captain Fergus Bell, prop Finlay Turnbull and No 8 Crobin Cumming all playing a crucial role, as did No 10 Owain Gray.”

For their part, Duns recorded a 42-19 win over Carlisle Colts, while at Philiphaugh, Selkirk’s lack of resources this season was cruelly evident against what is a very strong Peebles side, who had a five try contribution from Louis Whyte in their 51-0 victory to maintain their unbeaten run.

Meanwhile, at Netherdale, Gala Wanderers went down 21-27 to Morpeth, with Ethan Wilson, Aaron McLaren and Jamie Bell scoring for the home side.

In the Caledonia Conference, Dundee Rugby maintained their high scoring season with a 52-17 away win over Aberdeen Wanderers, while Perthshire were equally impressive with a 55-5 victory against Moray/Huntly.

In the West Conference, unbeaten Dunfries Saints continue to impress following their 50-0 win over Dalziel and there is also a perfect record for Dunfermline who made it three from three with a hard fought 24-19 win against East Kilbride.

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About Alan Lorimer 360 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.


  1. just keep the participation and fun levels high. balanced games. Fair officials. Play to enjoy. Social after games esp at U18. If U18’s think it is win and pathways or quit we will continue to see decline in the adult game. Regional representation and identification the key and dual registration clubs and clubs/achools.

  2. Merchiston and Stew Mel looking like the two best schools in the country at the moment, closely followed by Watson’s. Expecting to see all 3 at the business end of the cup this year. Also expecting things to be tight in the West, with Hutchesons’ and St Als battling it out for top spot.

    In the club game, West and Boroughmuir are a class above the rest- expecting a repeat of last year’s final. Mackie have been impressive, as have Peebles in the Borders.

    • Edinburgh Academy are also up there. 3 conference wins against Dollar, Strathallan and Merchiston puts them joint top of the conference with Watsons.

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