Schools/Youth rugby round-up: Watson’s claim Schools Conference title

Victories over Merchiston and Fettes during the last week see Myreside side finish campaign with 100 percent record

George Watson's got the better of Merchiston Castle last Saturday. Image courtesy: @GWC_Sport Twitter
George Watson's got the better of Merchiston Castle last Saturday. Image courtesy: @GWC_Sport Twitter

GEORGE WATSON’S COLLEGE are this season’s winners of the under-18 Inspire National 1 Schools Conference after achieving a remarkable 100 per cent record in the competition. Their overall top standing was confirmed after their 19-14 victory over Merchiston Castle School at Myreside last weekend backed up by their 33-29 win against Fettes College three days later. 

This means that Watson’s will have a home fixture in the quarter-final of the Schools Cup competition but who they will be play in the last eight has yet to be determined and will depend on the results of several Conference fixtures being played this week and of course the draw. The top six schools from the National 1 Conference will go into the Cup along with West winners, Hutchesons’ Grammar School, and their East counterparts, Loretto School.

Watson’s versus Merchiston was always going to be a close contest as the home coach, Mike Ker, acknowledged. “It was an attritional tussle, played in poor conditions,” he said. “Both teams’ defences were well on top but we took our chances when they arose.

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“I’m really pleased with our team performance – full of heart and desire but also about cool heads and a smart and mature display with some excellent kicking to apply pressure. Merchiston are an excellent team with some outstanding players, no more so than Tom Currie. He has missed all the season to date but he is a class act and will make them stronger over the next month.

“The game as ever between Merchiston and ourselves was well respected and hard fought – credit to the referee, Finlay Brown.  He let the game flow and his communication was excellent with the boys and that makes such a difference for the boys learning and understanding.

“For our boys it’s a massive win. To be unbeaten is testament to their work on and off the field. They have thoroughly deserved to win the National conference and can take great pride in doing so. The cup will be what it will be, knock-out rugby is like that and they are still just 16 and 17 year old kids who are learning all the time. But to finish top of the pile after the regular season is an outstanding achievement and one the whole school is exceptionally proud of. The final placings show more consistency in a team than a one-off game.

“This season is the most competitive I have seen across 1st XV rugby in a long time with, in my view, six teams that can win the Cup on any given day. We will clearly hope to be in the mix and the focus turns to that,” concluded Ker.

Against Merchiston, Watson’s ran in three tries by No 8 Finn Hall and wings Matthew Cingel and Fergus Ferguson, with full-back Jack Brown kicking two conversions.

For Merchiston, Ben Riley and Yeadon Davie scored tries both converted by Isaac Coates in a match that enthused their coach, Roddy Deans. “Awesome to see another high quality competitive schoolboy game of rugby. Overall Watson’s played a very mature, smart and tactical game to which we didn’t adapt well.  Some valuable lessons for us to go away and work on,” suggested Deans.

At New Field, Edinburgh Academy continued their recovery winning sequence by defeating their near neighbours, Fettes College 38-19. Academy scored six tries over the piece, that included a hat-trick for Ollie Duncan, and one each from Toby Edwin, Munro Lawrie and Cameron Welch. Thomas Whyte kicked three conversions and Lawrie one.

“On the whole, it was a good performance against a fired up Fettes side who came out of the blocks fast,” observed the Edinburgh Academy coach, Chris Martin.

“The conditions were difficult but I thought we played some superb rugby and scored some brilliant team tries on the back of disciplined defence after a shaky start. If anything, our desperation to play well clouded our decision-making at times but it was good for the players to put in a good performance ahead of our final conference match [v Stewart’s-Melville College] this Thursday”.

Fettes coach Duncan Harrison was pleased with the way his side performed in the early stages of the game. “We started very well with speed and tempo moving the big EA pack and not giving them any targets,” he said. “Unfortunately a couple of costly errors either side of half time took the game away from us but we fought all the way through. For us this was the best performance of the season so far. Fettes scored three tries, one apiece by Fraser McDonald, Alan Rouf and Peter Wilson.”

In the other top conference game played last weekend, Stewart’s-Melville College ran out winners by 42-14 against Strathallan, the Inverleith side scoring tries through wing Struan Daly, scrum-half Hugo Alderson, replacement Dan Burgess, No 8 Ben Gammie, stand-off Jamie Cain, and a brace from flanker Freddy Douglas. The other points came from two conversions and a penalty by Cain.

“We kept the tempo high, applied pressure without the ball and tried to play in the right areas, which lead to us eventually overcoming a physical Strathallan team,” stated Stewart’s-Melville coach, Hayden Lingard, who singled out back-row Freddy Douglas for an excellent performance. “Freddy was a dominant figure on both sides of the ball,” he observed.


In the equivalent club conference, league winners, Boroughmuir flexed their muscles to achieve a 45-7 win over last season’s Cup runners-up, West of Scotland, at Meggetland. Despite the final scoreline, West looked strong in the opening part of the game as Boroughmuir’s coach, Richard Lockhart acknowledged.

“The pressure and physicality from West was intense and we were a bit off the pace in defence with line speed and a couple of first up tackles were not where they needed to be,” he said.

“But we then started closing West down and putting points on the board, with a couple of really pleasing continuity based scores.  I thought our handling was excellent given the slightly slippy conditions.  In the second half our fitness and some superb positional kicking really started to make the difference and we pulled away for a good win.

“The lads who came off the bench made big contributions too, so a real squad effort.  Overall we’re delighted with the way the boys have played, and to go through the conference unbeaten is credit to their hard work and attitude” declared Lockhart.

Boroughmuir’s tries were scored by Zak Griffiths, Aidan Barry, Jared Visser, Euan McGeoch, Luke Whitaker (2) and Joe SobeyJamie McCrae kicked two conversions and Gavin Lockhart three.

West of Scotland’s try was scored by No 8 Elliot Weir and converted by stand-off Stewart Black, with coach Steven Meenagh was fulsome in his praise of the Meggetland side.

“Well done to Boroughmuir on a fantastic campaign in the conference,” he said. “Our boys put in an incredible effort for large parts of the game and the intensity in the first quarter of the match put a lot of pressure on Boroughmuir. Unfortunately we just fell short and missed our opportunities to take scores. We look forward now to the national cup and a new challenge.”

At Bridgehaugh, Stirling County signed off their conference season in style with a 57-0 win over an understrength Mackie team. “This was a good game played in some surprisingly decent weather. Both teams were missing a few front-line players but we played reasonably well in patches through the afternoon and, overall, came away pleased with our progress but with lots of areas still to improve on. We’ll need to be better on the road against Dumfries in the cup this coming Saturday,” cautioned County’s director of youth rugby Stewart Milne

County’s tries were scored by centre Stirling Haddow (2), prop Jaymie Shelvock, second-row Gregor McKinnon, wing Scott Shedden (3), centre Dan Malcolm and prop Mickey Kesson. Scrum-half Tom Nodes kicked four conversion and his replacement Eoin O’Cinneide two.


In the Borders Semi Junior League, Peebles Colts continued their unbeaten run after defeating Carlisle Colts 32-0 to make it seven wins from seven matches in the competition.  Robbie Smellie and Liam Forsyth each bagged a brace of touchdowns, the other tries coming from Ruaridh Smith and Dylan Greens.

“We had a good few missing because of the international at Murrayfield,” stated team manager Jamie Lawson, who described his team’s win as “a solid performance”. Peebles will now focus on the National Cup in which they have a home quarter-final tie against Mackie this Saturday.

Also priming themselves ahead of the Cup quarters were Gala Wanderers, who achieved a 33-13 victory over Kelso Quins under the lights at Netherdale last Friday. Gala’s tries were scored by Russell Kerr, Ritchie Mitchell, Aaron McLaren, Luke Scott and Cameron Brydon, four of them converted by Ethan Wilson.

“In a very competitive match played under the Netherdale lights both teams produced some exciting rugby in front of a large crowd in the home stand,” observed Gala’s team manager, Mark Moncrieff. Kelso Quins’ points came from tries by Harris Ross and Harry Grant plus a penalty goal by Angus Utterson.

As a result of this win Gala Wanderers have secured the second of the two Borders Semi Junior League places in the National Youth Under-18 Cup.

Meanwhile close neighbours Melrose Wasps will be in the National Youth Under-18 Shield after being ranked third in the Borders Semi Junior League at the cut-off point for Cup/Shield/Bowl placings. Wasps showed their try-scoring ability against Duns Colts to win 47-17 with touchdowns from Chris Carter (3), Cameron Kirk, Robbie Gunn, Ali Renton and Hamish Derrick.

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About Alan Lorimer 366 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. How about a mention for north Berwick? U18s undefeated in their conference, 240pts for, 14 against. Similar story for u16s…both through the shield quarter finals….worth a mention I think!

  2. Great to see that state school Balfron/Strathendrick have made it into the plate quarter finals again after their convincing win against Lomond School. They meet Dundee High School next Wednesday in the quarters. Shame no mention of such progress just the usual top 6 schools. To be fair the SRU website doesn’t even have the school cup/plate/bowl listed properly, so you can’t even search their results or see such competitions in play. As I’ve always said, if you don’t focus properly on grass roots rugby, then you are less likely to achieve the growth, interest and participation that is hoped. I’ve suggested to the SRU on numerous occasions that they should televise all levels of the schools competition (like Wales and Ireland do) to increase school interest and focus. We seem to have gone backwards where we can’t even list the fixtures and results in a dedicated section on the SRU website like they have the past 5 years.

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