THE ROSSLYN PARK NATIONAL SCHOOLS SEVENS returned to the rugby calendar last week after being dormant for two years during Covid and provided a stage for the Scottish quartet of George Watson’s College, Dollar Academy, Merchiston Castle School and Glenalmond College to showcase the strength of rugby north of the border.
Pride of place went to Watson’s under-14s who finished runners-up in their age group, denied the ultimate prize after losing the Cup final by the thinest of margins to Sedbergh, one of the powerhouses in English schools rugby. Coached by the former Scotland A stand-off, Ally Donaldson (who is also Watsons’ director of rugby), the under-14s came through two days of top competition undefeated and looked to be heading for glory in the final only for Sedbergh to win by 22-21 after scoring in stoppage time.
“It was cruel to lose the final with the last play of the game, but I’m so proud of the boys,” said Donaldson. “For a Scottish team to beat top English schools is a great achievement for these boys. The boys came so close to winning the title but lost out in the last second. It was a real twelve man effort. And there are certainly a few players in that side that we’re excited about.”
Watson’s under-14s progressed through day one with wins over Framlington College, Grey Court School, Waterloo School and Haileybury, then on the second day were too strong for St Paul’s School and Hampton School. In the Cup knock-out stages Watson’s defeated Trinity School, Croydon, in the quarter-finals and Brighton College in the semis before being pipped by Sedbergh in the closest of finals.
Up an age group, the Myreside under-16s finished undefeated from their initial group with wins over Abingdon School, London Oratory School and Brighton College before defeating Scarisbrick Hall School in the elimination round. Then on the second day, Watson’s drew with Warwick School and lost to the south London establishment, Whitgift School, meaning no place in the knock-out rounds.
“I think the under-16s suffered because of lack of preparation due to the Schools Cup final earlier this month,” reasoned Donaldson, whose under-18 side came similarly close to reaching the quarter-finals.
Wins over Mill Hill & Belmont Schools, The Kings School Canterbury, Birkdale School saw Watson’s finish top of their group before victory against Gravesend Grammar School in the elimination round secured their place in day two of the tournament. But on the second day of competition, Watson’s defeated Abingdon School, but drew with Haberdasher’s Monmouth School. The West of England side, however, had a more sizeable win over Abingdon meaning that Watson’s finished second in their day two group on points difference, insufficient to progress to the quarter finals.
Watson’s, like Merchiston, Dollar, and Glenalmond, were all entered in the under-18 Vase, one tier below the elite Cup competition. “The Cup competition is a step too far for Scottish schools because of the number of rugby scholarships being offered now. But it’s interesting that a lot of very good English schools have opted to play in the Vase. What strikes you by being at this competition is the depth of the player base in England. It’s massive,” observed Donaldson.
After winning their own sevens tournament Merchiston Castle School under-18s were confident going into the Rosslyn Park event. And on day one showed why they were Scottish Schools champions in the fifteens game by scorching through their initial group with wins over Bloxham School, Reading School and Taunton School, before defeating St Peters, York, in the elimination round. But on day two, after defeating Tonbridge, Merchistob lost to Queen Ethelburga’s, to exit from the competition.
Meanwhile, Dollar Academy were the only Scottish side to take home a piece of silverware after winning the under-18 Bowl trophy. Dollar looked strong in their initial group, achieving wins against Gower College, Swansea, Birkenhead School and Canford School but lost to a powerful Stowe School side in the elimination round, who would go on to win the Vase final.
That then put Dollar into the Bowl competition, the Clackmananshire school securing their quarter-final place with group wins over St Albans School and Bristol Grammar School. Then, in the knock-out stages Dollar propelled themselves to their title win with victories over Bromsgrove School in the quarter-final, Gordon’s School in the semi-final and then St Peter’s School, York, in the final.
“To put our win in a bit more perspective, every team we encountered on the second day had won their group,” said Don Caskie, the Dollar head coach. “St Peter’s didn’t concede a point in the group stages. Stowe with six under-18 internationals are linked to Northampton Saints, Gower to Ospreys and Gordon’s to Harlequins – we just had one academy player, which no one could believe.”
He added: “It was great to see all the Scottish schools making an impression and GWC under-14s especially … desperately unlucky not to win their final”.
Scotland’s other representative was Glenalmond College, who came through their initial under-18s group with wins St Peter’s Rc High School, Gloucester, Leicester Grammar School and St Cecellia’s CoE School to finish top of their group. In the elimination round on day one, however, the Perthshire school lost to Tonbridge School, putting them into the Bowl stream. Then on day two Glenalmond suffered defeats to Stonyhurst and St Peter’s, York, to end their hopes of joining Dollar in the Bowl knock-out stages.
Meanwhile, Border clubs will be staging their series of under-18 sevens tournaments over the next few weeks. The action starts this weekend at Kelso, then Hawick, Melrose and Selkirk with the circuit finishing at Jed on 30th April.