IT’S getting a bit congested at the top of the under-18 East Conference table with the top four, Stewart’s-Melville College, Dollar Academy, Merchiston Castle School and George Watson’s College, separated by just four points. And with two rounds remaining a tight finish can be expected.
Leading the race for top spot are Stewart’s-Melville College, who made it five wins from five games after achieving a 34-0 victory over a young Edinburgh Academy side at Inverleith, running in six tries from second-row Alfie Maitland, prop Jamie Limb, back-row Kieran McMillan, centre Louis Le Sueur, wing Rob Henderson and replacement full-back James Gordon, stand-off James Lewis converting two of his side’s touchdowns.
Next up for Stewart’s-Melville will be Dollar Academy in a match that could determine the Conference under-18 champions. Like Stewart’s-Melville, Dollar remain undefeated this season, having won their first four matches and then last weekend having drawn 24-24 with Merchiston at Colinton in, arguably, the best schools match thus far this season.
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“A very good advert for schools conference rugby. Great attacking intent from both sides and strong defences,” enthused Dollar’s head coach, Don Caskie, adding: “This Dollar age group has never come close against Merchiston throughout their time at Dollar, including the U16 cup final [Dec 2019]. So to close the gap in their final year is particularly pleasing and something they can be rightly proud of, especially as there’s still plenty to come from this group. This leaves a very interesting match on 27th [November] against Stewarts Melville with the winners very likely to take the conference title. Once that game is over we’ll start to look where we are in terms of cup games.”
For Dollar prop Zac Jones, replacement flanker Luke Kennedy and wing Lyle Hunter crossed for tries, the other ‘try’ being of the penalty variety. Wilfie Timney added one conversion.
Merchiston’s head coach, Roddy Deans, was equally delighted with the game as a shop window for schools rugby. “Two very well matched teams who were fully committed and going for it on both sides of the ballm” said Deans, who believes his side can become better. “At times we over-played and didn’t control our red zone how we would like. However, fair play to both teams for playing with intent. Our first try was beautifully constructed and an example of what we can do.
‘We have not fully clicked yet this season. Hopefully, we can improve our consistency over the next few fixtures,” added Deans, who had special praise for the match referee. “Both teams felt the referee Graeme Ormiston was outstanding. He has a real feel for the game and allowed the boys to play. An exciting talent.”
Meanwhile George Watson’s College look to be firing more efficiently now as their 42-19 away win against Fettes confirmed, their tries coming from second-row Angus Raitt, back-row Stuart Hunter, stand-off Rory Cockburn and wing Tom Kelly, who had a hat-trick of touchdowns. All six ties were converted, scrum-half Conor McAlpine and full back Jack Brown each with three successes.
“Performance wise I was pleased we scored six converted tries against a well coached and fully committed Fettes side who put us under pressure on a small field. We are a young side who are growing in experience and learning all the time, and with that comes mistakes. We just need to make sure we can keep this to a low number throughout matches,” observed Watson’s coach, Mike Ker.
In the other East Conference game played, George Heriot’s School drew 24-24 with Strathallan School.
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In the west Conference, Hutchesons’ Grammar School clinched the under-18 title with a 22-20 win over St Aloysius College last Wednesday with tries from No 8 Alasdair Wood, prop Finlay Taylor, full-back Robbie Baird and scrum-half and captain Nathan Devenish, with centre Magnus Friel kicking a crucial conversion.
“This was a very physical battle that could have gone either way. Both teams dominated for spells in the game and took their opportunities when they came. I can’t fault the work rate and determination of our players who continued to apply pressure until the final whistle,” said Hutchesons’ coach, Craig Sorbie.
Three days later St Aloysius bounced back to record a 49-3 win over Kelvinside Academy, while in the other game played last Saturday Glasgow Academy defeated their old rivals Glasgow High School 31-12 with tries from Struan Park, Oscar Lai, William Aggleton, Jack Percival and Ruaraidh Hart, plus three conversions from Angus McCorkindale.
“My hope is that the whole squad can kick on from here to reach their potential as individuals and as a team in the second half of the season,” stated Glasgow Academy’s 1st XV coach Andrew Jackson.
The result halted a series of reverses for Academy as the school’s Head of Rugby, Jonny Gordon, noted. “Our players certainly enjoyed their first win at 1st XV level against The High School of Glasgow since the 2017-18 season,” he said.
In club rugby, Mackie achieved their second success in the top tier National Club Conference with a narrow 12-8 away win against Ayr/Wellington to make it two victories from two matches, the Stonehaven club’s tries coming from centre Carlos Aija and wing Noah Sakapaji and a conversion from stand-off Craig Strachan. “ Very evenly matched sides in a hugely physical game” was the Mackie coach Andrew Buchanan’s summary.
Ayr’s try was scored by Yeadon Davie, their other points coming from a penalty by Archie Jackson. “It was a really physical game – great rugby played by both sides. Penalty count cost us at the end of the day. All credit to Mackie they stuck in and scored late on in the second half to set up a fantastic last 10 minutes of rugby. We now look forward to travelling to Boroughmuir this weekend,” said Ayr’s coach Bryan Crossan.
In the Borders Semi Junior League, Gala Wanderers produced their highest scoring performance of the season by overrunning Kelso Quins 72-7 at The Croft. The result maintains Wanderers second position (behind Hawick Youth) in the table but Gala will be rueing a rather hesitant start to their league campaign this season which means that their current rich seam of form may count for little in terms of Cup qualification, the complex criteria for which makes for close reading.
In total Gala Wanderers ran in 11 tries, double touchdowns by Ben Young, Ker Johnston and Gregor Collins and one apiece from Douglas Weir, Kieran Cochrane, Jack Niven, Matthew Petrano and James Glendinning. Stand-off Russell Kerr converted seven of his side’s tries in addition to kicking a first half penalty goal. For Kelso, Josh Coulter scored a first half try converted by Archie Barbour.
Elsewhere in the league, there were worrying signs that decreasing player numbers are now beginning to bite. Notable among the matches to be affected in this way was the game between Jed Thistle and Hawick Youth, which could not be played because of Jed’s lack of numbers. It has been known for some time that Jed Grammar School, which accounts for most of the players appearing for Thistle, is experiencing low numbers in a couple of years at the school. For a club that reached the final of National Youth Cup at under-18 level as recently as February 2020, this recent turn of events must be hard to accept but in the face of low numbers there is little that can be done, except of course consider taking the path of amalgamation.
Also suffering are Duns who could not raise sufficient numbers for their games against Earlston HS/Melrose Wasps at The Greenyards.
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Wasn’t there but I believe one of the pre season BSJL meetings did just that and collated playing squad sizes. 3 of the 12 are struggling for players, Jed Duns and Carlisle. Don’t know what you do about it other than maybe take them out of the league table for a year but let them keep their fixtures as friendlies. Only a difference in presentation but would maybe look better?
Low playing numbers aren’t beginning to bite, they have affected both Duns and Jed all season, resulting in them merging to actually get some games for the lads. This Jed/Duns select have fulfilled one of their games each round, including playing and beating a Melrose side last weekend. This obviously isn’t reflected in the league table, as both sides have to routinely concede their matches but is at least indicative of the fine job both Clubs are doing in getting their lads playing in difficult circumstances.
I am aware that Jed Thistle and Duns have fielded combined teams but that is different from club amalgamation. What is needed is accurate information about numbers prior to fixtures being drawn up, and If it seems likely that some clubs will struggle for players then perhaps combined sides could be formalised before the start of the season, otherwise the semi junior league will become devalued because of cancelled matches. It should also be pointed out, however, that a consequence of mergers is the loss of distinct community identity which is so valued in the Borders and which can be a driving force.