Schools/Youth round-up: Strathallan and Watson’s lead way in inspire National Schools Conference

Alan Lorimer reports on the action in the national youth and schools conferences as well as the Border Semi Junior League

Stewart's Melville hosted Merchiston at Inverlieth in the inspire National Schools Conference. Image courtesy: Merchiston Castle School
Stewart's Melville hosted Merchiston at Inverlieth in the inspire National Schools Conference. Image courtesy: Merchiston Castle School

AFTER two rounds of the inspire National Schools Conference at 1st XV level, Strathallan and George Watson’s College occupy joint first place with two wins from two matches. 

Strathallan built on their first round victory over Edinburgh Academy with a home win against Fettes College by 65-17 from a performance described by the school’s director of rugby, Andrew Douglas, as “another step forward”.

Douglas added: “The boys are starting to play as a team and learning from each other. We put a well structured second half performance together against a well drilled and quality Fettes team. We have some very exciting talent in the team this year and good strength and depth to draw down on so competition for places is high”.

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In all, Strathallan scored ten tries (school policy does not allow full names to be given out) to two touchdowns for Fettes by Archie Morris and Jayden Agyie in the first half, that left the Edinburgh school trailing by just five points at the interval only for matters to shift dramatically after the break.

Fettes coach, Duncan Harrison, described the second half as a harsh lesson for his charges, saying: “If we stand off against any team in this conference and let them play, they will put points against us”.

Fellow pace setters, George Watson’s College, continued what has been a successful start to the season with a 40-17 win over Dollar Academy at Myreside, that included a hat-trick of tries from 15-year old wing Daniel Kelly, and one apiece from centre Joshua Loukes and prop David Brown, in addition to  a penalty try. Stand-off Andrew Cameron kicked five conversion goals.

But despite the eventually big win, Watson’s coach Mike Ker conceded that his side had been properly stress-tested. “Dollar counter attacked really well and put us under a lot of pressure in transition,” he said. “They carry hard around the nine channel with some big forwards”.

Ker was impressed by the manner in which his side was still able to be assertive when they were down to 13 following two yellow cards. “Keeping them out in that period was particularly pleasing,” he said.

Dollar’s head coach, Don Caskie, described the game as a“very competitive and entertaining game.” Adding: “Watson’s are a very good side and fully deserved their win, but I didn’t feel the score reflected the competitiveness of the game.”Dollar’s tries came from scrum half Finlay Keath, wing Stuart MacKay and hooker John Hulme, full-back Max Garry kicking one conversion.

The previous weekend, Watson’s just edged out Merchiston but seven days on from that opening round, the Colinton side produced a stronger performance to achieve a 20-15 victory against Stewart’s-Melville College at Inverleith.

“Our set piece was much improved from last week which allowed us more controlled possession to score four tries. We also displayed some grit with our defence at the end to keep them out,” reflected the Merchiston head coach, Roddy Deans, whose side scored tries through Teo Thom (2), Todd Bargerton and Henry Widdowson.

In a very competitive game, Stewart’s-Melville scored two tries, both by full-back Hamish Lamb, the other points coming from a conversion and penalty goal by Howie Offord. “The match went back and forward right until the end.” said Stew-Mel’s head coach, Hayden Lingard. “We had our chances to win the game but ultimately we were not clinical enough at the death”.

In the East/Caledonia Schools Conference at under-18 level, Loretto and Howe of Fife/Bell-Baxter High School share top spot with two wins from two, Loretto having achieved wins over  Morrison’s Academy and Dundee High School and Howe/Bell-Baxter with victories against North Berwick High School and Robert Gordon’s College.

Both schools are also through to the next round of the Schools under-18 Cup – the point at which the top conference sides enter the competition – with Loretto having defeated Glasgow Academy and Howe/Bell-Baxter winning against Hutchesons’ Grammar School. The first round of the under-18 competition also resulted in wins for Marr College (against Glenalmond College) and North Berwick High School (against Robert Gordon’s College).  In another result for state school rugby, Linlithgow Academy achieved a good win over Dundee High School. Also through to the next round are Kelvinside Academy who defeated city rivals St Aloysius College.

Kelvinside Academy then completed a successful week with a 31-7 win over St Columba’s in the West Schools Conference, the other result from that league being a big 61-7 win for Strathendrick/Balfron High School over Hutchesons’.

Meanwhile, in the top club national conference, Ayr/Wellington and Boroughmuir remain unbeaten after three rounds. But it was the Meggetland side which made the biggest statement last weekend after finishing 50-0 winners against Mackie at Meggetland.

“The most pleasing thing about this performance was the way the squad identified where they needed to improve in the second half and did exactly that,” suggested Richie Lockhart, the Boroughmuir coach. “Some great line breaks and support lines were excellent. Defensively and discipline-wise we were a bit off the pace but I’m sure we’ll pick up there for next week,” Boroughmuir’s tries were scored by Hayden Leitch, Murray Armstrong, Aron Jack, Harry Jackaman, Caleb Thomson, Logan Small and Gregor Hoole, the latter converting all of his side’s touchdowns.

For their part, Ayr/Wellington came out top at the end of a very competitive game at Bridgehaugh in which Stirling led 26-14 at the break.  “Stirling had possession most of the first half and got four tries. In the second half the Ayr boys went back to the game plan and turned around their performance to get  a very important win,” said the Ayr coach, Colin Duck, currently absorbing rugby at the top level in the south of France but able to view a video of his team’s performance from afar.

For Stirling, Andrew Lawrence, Calum Clayton, Mickey Kesson, Fraser Dempsey and Rory McDonald scored the Bridgehaugh side’s tries, three of them converted by Eoin O Cinneide.

“In the first half we played some excellent rugby but kept Ayr in it with some cheap penalties and territory to allow them in for two short range scores,” commented Stuart Imrie, the Stirling County head coach.  “After the break the team just didn’t look after the ball well enough and Ayr were too good to be given territory and easy possession. We tried hard to chase the game but we gifted Ayr more chances. Disappointing result but one that if the team can learn from it, they will be better later this season.”

Sadly, the Glasgow derby match between GHA and West of Scotland did not go ahead due, somewhat worryingly at this stage in the season, the Braidholm side being short of players. It was particularly disappointing for West, who have steadily been building a head of steam after a narrow loss to Boroughmuir in the opening round. Fortunately, all was not lost for West as their coach, Gavin McGreish, explained:  “We managed to arrange a very competitive friendly against Linlithgow, keeping the momentum going with a good performance across the squad.”

In the second tier national conference, Biggar just edged out Currie Chieftains with a 29-26 home win while Highland won their Caledonia derby match against Ellon by 24-17.

Meanwhile, the pick of the games from the Borders Semi Junior League were the cross-border matches.  At the Volunteer Park, Hawick Youth finally got off the mark much to the satisfaction of their team manager Paul McDonald, who said: “We got our first win of the season with a solid performance against a decent Alnwick side so we’re pleased with the progress we’re making, especially in our back-line.

“The final score was 36-19 with five of our six tries coming from our backs. The one forward on the scoresheet was second-row Ellis Dirom, the rest attributed to stand-off Riley Muir, wingers Mikey Swailes and Jardine Vevers, and centres Luke Scott and Filip Kubicki. Full-back Greig Cartner kicked three conversions.

Meanwhile, at Hexham, Gala Wanderers eked out a 28-26 win over Tynedale Colts with a last minute penalty goal from Ethan Wilson, the other points coming from tries by Jamie Bell, Ainsley Graham, Sam McAneny and Finlay Downie and conversions from Rory Wilson.

“We defended well, showed lots of determination and stayed in the fight against a much bigger side,” stated Wanderers’ coach, Bruce Chalmers, who will be preparing his side this week for this weekend ’s Cup game against Highland in Inverness.  For their part, Hawick travel to Stonehaven to play their Cup game against Mackie, Peebles head in a similar direction to face Ellon, while Melrose Wasps, who play Dunfermline,  complete the quartet of Border sides playing away.

The top Cup game, however, is the clash between Conference joint leaders Boroughmuir and Ayr at Meggetland, but not insignificant is the game at Bridgehaugh where Stirling County face Currie Chieftains in a test of how far the Balerno side have progressed this season in youth rugby.

Elsewhere, ambitious Dumfries Saints, comfortable winners over Melrose Wasps in round one of the Youth under-18 Cup,  will hope that GHA have a full complement of players to fulfil this weekend’s Cup game, while West, having missed out on their conference game last Saturday, will be eager to make a positive return to competitive rugby when they face Perthshire.

RWC23: Scotland v Tonga: ‘I was sad and crying … Glasgow have made me who I am now’ – Sione Vailanu

About Alan Lorimer 370 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. Great to see a significant cluster of State Schools winning first round cup matches against independent schools with a strong tradition for rugby. Marr College beating Glenalmond College, North Berwick High School beating Robert Gordon’s College, Linlithgow Academy beating Dundee High School, Howe/Bell-Baxter beating Hutchesons’ Grammar School and Strathendrick Balfron HS beating St Leonards Madras (64-14) (Not mentioned in this piece). Also in the conference Strathendrick/Balfron High School beating Hutchesons’ Grammar School (61-7). Really these results should be the headliners for this piece not the usual suspects who have been dominating the commentary for 50 years. Some of these state schools have been asset stripped (rugby scholarships) and yet are still getting such positive results. Remarkable.

  2. GHA youth really need to sort it out. Can’t be a case of win everything with a massive all school/club squad one season (to detriment of others who get no opponents) or not compete at all the next due to numbers going back to their schools (to detriment of others). Maybe more a of win some/lose some, consistency and development would be a thought?

  3. This is the point, the age-group in the Scottish game, at which development resources, strategies and systematic support should really be focused for future benefit going forward higher up the Scottish rugby pyramid.

    To leave a concentration of effort & resources any later would see Scotland continuing to struggle alarmingly against the tide at U-20 level, and indeed up at the senior segment as a consequence. Without serious, effective attention to structural & operational domestic development systems allied to competitive shortcomings would simply see the Scottish game continuing to require constant shoring-up by means of foreign imports!

    Good work by TOL and from Alan Lorimer in covering this aspect so professionally.

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