EAST SCHOOLS CONFERENCE A leaders Stewart’s-Melville College and second-placed Dollar Academy go head to head on Saturday at Inverleith in a match that quite apart from its intrinsic attraction could be the under-18 title decider.
Both sides are unbeaten in Conference rugby this season, Stewart’s-Melville having won five from five while Dollar have won four and drawn one, the playing records of each school suggesting that this match promises to be classic of the schools rugby genre. As such, the hosts are working hard to ensure a large crowd to fill the former international ground for this game. Kick-0ff is at 11.30am.
Certainly, any neutral wanting to watch the best in schools rugby will not be short changed. In common with the clutch of top sides at the apogee of schools rugby, both teams exist in what is a mini professional environment that embraces daily training, video analysis and strength and conditioning all delivered by top coaches.
Stewart’s-Melville head coach, Stuart Edwards, who was a Scotland under-20 cap and who won youth honours with Stirling County, thinks that such games miss the limelight they deserve. “We should celebrate schools rugby,” he says. “I’ve been in New Zealand and they really build it up over there.”
Edwards knows his side could be on the verge of a big prize but is mindful that there is still a final round of the Conference to be played on 4th December. “We’re away to Strathallan in the last round but we’ll just think about this weekend,” he explained.
Stewart’s-Melville will field a side that is mainly S6 boys but Edwards has regularly fielded three S5 players, flanker Freddy Douglas, scrum-half Cameron Ross and centre Benjamin Roger. Of the older cohort, prop Jamie Limb is rated by Edwards as “very very good” and in a swift backline, wing Finn MacFarlane, who has returned to rugby from football after being part of the Hibs set-up, is a prolific scorer. Others to impress this season are the No 8 Gregor Thomson and second row Charlie Burns.
Dollar will come to Inverleith on the back of an outstanding performance against Merchiston that resulted in a 24-24 draw and will be able to field what head coach, Don Caskie, reckons is “pretty much a full strength complement” that is two thirds S6 and one third S5. Caskie, who played over 200 times for Gloucester during which time he was capped at Scotland A level as a centre, and coached Georgia alongside Richie Dixon for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, believes his side is potent in each position.
“Our strength is the sum of all the parts,” he avers, adding: “We have stand-out players throughout the team and have line-breakers across the board. We have a strong senior squad, so the boys have had to fight for their places.” Dollar field one FOSROC Academy player in flanker Sam Wallace.
Caskie knows that the task on Saturday will be formidable. “Stewart’s-Melville are very well coached and have some fantastic players so I’m expecting an incredibly good game,” he added.
The teams will be competing for the Grant Mackenzie Cup, while the Jamie Frost Award will made to the man of the match. Mackenzie, who sadly passed away, was a Dollar Academy former pupil and also a much liked teacher at Stewart’s-Melville College, where he coached rugby. Frost, a Stewart’s-Melville former pupil, died a year ago. At Dollar he was an outstanding coach of both cricket and rugby.
If Dollar were to lose and Merchiston were to beat Heriot’s then the Colinton school would rise to joint second in the table. Elsewhere in East Conference A, George Watson’s College will want to consolidate their fourth position or even advance into third place when they take on Edinburgh Academy. In the other match, Fettes, without a win, travel to Perthshire to play Strathallan, who still have a chance of qualifying for the Cup.
In club rugby at under-18 level, the focal match in the top National Conference is at Stonehaven where second placed Boroughmuir face league leaders, Mackie. Boroughmuir, who have played one game less, make the journey north fresh from their 26-6 win over Ayr at Meggetland last Saturday, their tries coming from centre Nick Adler, full-back Gavin Lockhart, hooker Jerry Blyth-Lafferty and stand-off Ben Somerville, three of the touchdowns converted by centre Greg Anderson.
That victory was extra pleasing for Boroughmuir because it was achieved despite fielding a below full strength team. “With six regular starters missing, the boys that came in certainly stepped up and it’s great to have this depth to select from,” said Scott Anderson, Muir’s head coach. He added: “We should have most of these players back for this week’s game against Mackie. It promises to be a difficult game for us up there, with Mackie going really well this season”.
Mackie, having defeated Ayr at Millbrae earlier this month, will enjoy home advantage this Saturday. “It will be good to play at home against Boroughmuir,” said Alan Buchanan, the Mackie coach. “We have noted Boroughmuir’s results and the way they have maintained their great form throughout the season”.
“Our squad has been learning from every game and has improved since our first outing against them. The players are looking forward to a physical encounter and know it will be a big ask against such a good team. We are the new boys and have relished the challenges of the National Conference.”
In the other Conference match on Saturday, Ayr/Wellington play host to Stirling County in a match that has huge significance, with the winners securing a place in the quarter finals of the National Youth Under-18 Cup to be played in January.
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Meanwhile, in the Borders, the top billing is the Semi Junior League match between Hawick Youth and Gala Wanderers at the Volunteer Park, where a large crowd is expected to watch a much anticipated clash.
Hawick Youth, undefeated thus far in this season’s Semi Junior League, emerged winners against Wanderers at Netherdale by 26-17 earlier in the season but since then the Gala under-18s have improved considerably, building momentum with wins over Peebles Colts, Melrose Wasps and Kelso Quins on successive weekends.
The 3G pitch at the Volunteer Park has encouraged Hawick Youth to play a fast style of rugby resulting in some stylish performances and a shed load of tries from winger Finlay Douglas. The key for Hawick Youth will be the control at stand-off by Owain Gray, who will be opposite the fast improving Gala Wanderers outside half Russell Kerr.
Hawick Youth will be aware that Gala field a forward pack that has height, weight and mobility, and outstanding players in dynamic hooker James Glendinning and second-row Fraser Wilson, an under-17 player, who appears to have a bright future.
The other Semi Junior League matches are all cross-border fixtures. Peebles Colts, Melrose Wasps and Kelso Quins are at home to Alnwick, Carlisle Colts and Carlisle, respectively. Selkirk, meanwhile will travel to Hexham for their match with Tynedale.
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