Schools/Youth rugby round-up: big weekend ahead of semi-final rugby in both National Cup competitions

There was some tense and compelling quarter-finals last weekend in tough weather conditions

Stewart's Melville fought out a hard-earned victory over Dollar Academy in dismal conditions in the National Schools U18 Cup. Image: Stewart's Melville
Stewart's Melville fought out a hard-earned victory over Dollar Academy in dismal conditions in the National Schools U18 Cup. Image: Stewart's Melville

IT’S semi-final time in both the Schools and Youth u18 Cup competitions this Saturday with four very tasty matches in store to determine which teams will appear in the showpiece events on 7th December (Schools final) and 10th December (Clubs final).  

The action starts at Inverleith where Stewart’s-Melville College face their near neighbours Edinburgh Academy in a match that is difficult to call, given the closeness of the most recent meeting of the two schools at New Field two weeks ago when Stewart’s-Melville edged out Edinburgh Academy with a 17-10 win in the final round of the Inspiresport National Conference.

Stewart’s-Melville reached the last four with a narrow 15-12  win over Dollar Academy in dismally wet weather last Thursday. “Conditions were extremely difficult,observed the Stewart’s-Melville coach, Hayden Lingard. “Credit to Dollar. They adapted better to the weather, but our organisation on defence was excellent. The players had to work extremely hard to edge a game that to be honest, could have gone either way”.


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For Stewart’s-Melville, flanker Freddy Douglas and prop Eddy McAree scored tries, the other points coming from a conversion and penalty by stand-off Jamie Cain.

For their part, Edinburgh Academy, drew with Loretto 10-10 in their quarter final at Newfield, but went through to the semis on the ‘away’ rule, which deems that in the event of a draw, and both teams scoring the same number of tries, the visiting side will be declared winners. It certainly is not the first time that this has happened in age-grade Cup rugby and it will not be the last. But it is a gutting way for the losers to exit the Cup and perhaps it is time to look again at this rule.

Edinburgh Academy’s coach, Chris Martin, certainly had full sympathy with Loretto. He said: “I was on the pitch at full time with the water bottles ready for extra time when the ref informed us about the ‘away’ team ruling. A very cruel way for the game to finish, but it was out-with our control and we are now fully focussed on the semi-final this weekend at Inverleith,”

The game, played in heavy rain at Newfield, proved to be difficult for both sides. “It was probably the perfect advert for why we should play summer rugby. Neither side could keep hold of the ball for very long and both defences were on top, with a lot of kicking. The conditions dictated the game and the half time score line of 0-0 summed up how difficult it was to play. It was an exciting occasion, particularly with the support Loretto had, but it was never going to be a high scoring game,” reflected Martin, whose side’s points came from a try by Oliver Finlayson-Russell and  the conversion and a penalty goal by Munro Lawrie.

In the other semi-final, Merchiston Castle School travel to Forgandenny for the second time in the space of two weeks for their tie against Strathallan. Having defeated Strath in their last game by 33-12, Merchiston will be confident of a repeat result and more so given their 33-11 win over Conference under-18 champions, George Watson’s College, in the quarter final.

Merchiston’s coach, Roddy Deans, is, however, not allowing any delusions of grandeur to infect his team’s preparations. “Our feet are firmly on the  ground,” declared Deans, who nevertheless thinks his team will take a huge amount from their quarter final win over Watson’s.

“We had to dig really deep, which was a great test of our resilience. In the last 20 minutes we were able tactically to get on top up front and scored some well worked tries,” explained Deans, who gave special mention to his stand-off, Isaac Coates. “He really stepped up  and orchestrated one try from deep and scored an impressive solo effort.”

Merchiston’s other tries were scored by Tom Currie, Yeadon Davie and Ben Riley. All four of the Merchiston tries were converted by Coates, who also added a penalty goal.

For Watson’s, who had defeated Merchiston just over two weeks earlier. the result and the scoreline was a disappointment. Their coach, Mike Ker, however, believes the scoreline did not reflect the game. He said: “It was a close game between two very good teams. It felt like a final. Having been seeded number one and then drawn against a joint second side in the quarters, we feel a bit hard done by. But that’s sport and Merchiston deserved the win overall. Their big players stepped up with fifteen minutes to go and took the game away from us.

“We were 11-10 up with 18 minutes to go. We scored what we thought was a good try but the ref gave a knock-on and if that had gone our way I would have backed us to win the match. From us thinking we had scored that try to go 18-10 up, Merchiston scored from deep in our half and then scored twice in the last five minutes to make it look more comfortable. It certainly wasn’t a 20 point game by any stretch of the imagination,” suggested Ker.

Merchiston will want to carry their current form into Saturday’s game against Strathallan, who reached the semis by defeating Hutchesons’ Grammar School, one of two schools in the quarters from second tier conferences. The 17-13 scoreline together with Loretto’s draw with Edinburgh Academy suggests that there is not much difference between the better teams in the West and East Conferences and lower ranked sides in the National Conference.

Indeed, Hutchie’s coach, Craig Sorbie, reckoned his side was good enough to reach the last four. He said: “We controlled the first half well and went into the break 13-0 up but credit to Strathallan who came out the blocks in the second half and scored two well worked tries.

“We created opportunities in attack and our defensive effort against a very strong and physical side was tremendous. We thought we had clinched it with a try at the end of the game but this was ruled to be held up. It was a disappointing result but full credit to my players who battled hard for 70 minutes.”

For Hutchesons’, second-row Jamie Wilson scored his side’s try, converted by scrum-half and skipper Robbie Baird, who also kicked two penalties.

Strathallan’s tries were scored by Archie Rankin, Sean Norza and Joe Townshend, who also kicked a conversion goal.  “Hutchesons’ came out the blocks very strong, and, compounded with our errors, went into a well deserved 13-0 lead inside 18 minutes,” said coach, Nick Hill.

“Our boys showed great courage and determination to pull things around. The comeback started with a Rankin try in the corner just before half-time. We played the territory game in the second half with the wind to build pressure and score our tries. We then hung on at the death to keep Hutcheson’s from scoring in the final minutes of the match. It was a very competitive game. We’re now very excited about the unique opportunity on Saturday morning to be playing Merchiston Castle in a home semi-final Cup match”.

At under-16 level in the Schools Cup, Marr College carry the flag for state school rugby having reached the last four with a 25-10 win over Merchiston. The Troon school now face Strathallan in the semis in a match rescheduled for next Tuesday due to Strath’s weather delayed quarter-final against Fettes which Strath won by 14-0. The other under-16 Cup semi is between Dollar Academy and Stewart’s-Melville College.

 

In the National Youth under-18 Cup semi-finals, Boroughmuir are at home to Stirling County while Peebles take on West of Scotland at The Gytes.

Last season’s Cup winners, Boroughmuir, unbeaten in Conference rugby, had planned to fit in a match last week against a visiting Argentinian side, but their hopes were dashed by the intervention of some particularly foul weather last week. “The game, scheduled for Stirling, was cancelled due to excessive rain,” explained coach Richie Lockhart. “Alternative venues, Glenrothes and Dunfermline, were also too wet. No availability at the Dam Health Stadium or back pitch at Murrayfield and Meggetland also off. Nothing available in Edinburgh. Scottish rugby needs more all weather pitches.”

Boroughmuir’s unblemished Conference record this season and their strong showing at the Merchiston Rugby Festival last month will make the Meggetland side favourites to win the match against Stirling County.  The Bridgehaugh team, however, have shown a marked improvement since they lost 8-26 at home to Boroughmuir, achieving sizeable wins over Ayr/Wellington and Mackie in the final two Conference matches.

Also thwarted by too much H2O descending from the sky were Peebles Colts , whose Borders Semi Junior League match against Gala Wanderers last Friday night fell victim to water-logging of the pitch at The Gytes. Peebles remain undefeated in their league, having played excellent rugby this season but will be tested to the limit in their semi-final by West of Scotland, who also enjoyed a good run in the National Conference, finishing second to Boroughmuir.

Three Border Semi Junior clubs, Kelso Quins, Melrose Wasps and Hawick Youth are involved in the under-18 Shield semis. Quins are at home to Wasps while Hawick Youth travel to the other side of the country for their semi-final tie against Ayr/Wellington.

At under-16 level, the Cup semi-finals see Dumfries Saints taking on GHA and Ellon facing Hawick Youth; while in the under-16 Shield, Currie Chieftains are drawn against Stirling Country and Gala Red Triangle face Peebles Colts.

Meanwhile, in the Girl’s u18 National Cup, Edinburgh Harlequins play Tayside Girls and Stirling County take on Biggar, the losers of which will contest the u18 Shield.


Opinion: urgent review of schools and youth conference system required

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About Alan Lorimer 266 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.

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