Dollar Academy 37
Marr College 17
DAVID BARNES @ Dollar Academy
FOR the best part of an hour, this was a much tighter contest than the final scoreline suggests. Dollar’s superior fitness and their experience of regularly playing high level rugby against Scotland’s leading private schools ultimately gave them the edge they needed to book their place in this season’s Scottish Schools’ Cup semi-final, with two late tries adding gloss to the home team’s victory.
However, Marr deserve huge credit for recovering from a fairly disastrous start to take a 15-17 lead early in the second half, at which point it really did feel like this was a game which could go either way.
“Marr are a very, very good side,” stressed Dollar coach Don Caskie afterwards. “We didn’t help ourselves by picking up three yellow cards, but fair play to our boys for sticking in despite playing almost half an hour of the match with 14 players.
“It was a massive occasion for both sides, but especially for Marr who had that drive you get from being perceived as the under-dogs, so we knew they were going to throw everything at us – and they did. We managed to get there in the end, but it took us a long time to break them down.”
Scrum-half Finn McIlwraith put the hosts ahead with a penalty in the second minute; and two minutes later, Dollar’s impressive centre partnership combined to score a breakaway try, when Cameron Purdham’s rush defence earned an interception on halfway, and he then got away an awkward pass over his left shoulder for Michael Gray to gallop home unchallenged under the posts.
Gray was a stand-out despite being one of the youngest players on the pitch. He only recently turned 16 and had to do a strength test at the start of the season before being allowed to play at Under-18 level. He ran smart, fast and hard lines all match, and also exhibited a tidy offloading game. Fellow 16-year-olds Max Williamson (second-row), Dougal Sands (number eight) and Ross McKnight (winger) also showed up well for the home side.
McIlwraith added the easy conversion, meaning that Marr found themselves 10 points down with less than five minutes played – but they rallied excellently and struck back through hooker Jamie Drummond after a well-executed line-out drive. Gregor Beckwith added the tricky conversion from wide on the left.
It was slightly bizarre that there was five yellow-cards during the course of this match, because although it was keenly contested by both sides, it was played in an excellent spirit.
Williamson was the first to see yellow, for a no-arms tackle, but despite being a man down it was Dollar who scored next with Zak McMorran going over after McKnight had stretched Marr’s defence out of shape with a forceful run down the left touchline, to make it 15-7 at the break.
Dollar were reduced to 14 men once again at the start of the second half, with Sands being sent to the naughty step for leading with the elbow, and this time Marr managed to take advantage – with Beckwith kicking for the corner, Drummond making the initial dent on a peel round the back of the line-out, and captain Kyle McCulloch burrowing over from close range a few phases later.
Beckwith added the conversion to make it a one-point game, and the centre then coolly stepped forward a few minutes later to edge the visitors into the lead with a successful penalty from in front of the posts, awarded after Purdham became the third Dollar player to see yellow, this time for languishing on the wrong side of a ruck and getting in the way of Marr scrum-half Keir McDougall as he tried to move the ball.
This seemed to be the cattle-prod Dollar needed, and they promptly upped their intensity levels, with Jamie Cruickshank sniffing out the space on the right to motor in for a try after Marr’s defence had been stretched by some slick wide-wide rugby.
Marr second-row Cameron McKenzie was yellow-carded as the visitors battled desperately to keep pace with Dollar, and McIlwraith slotted the penalty. Sands then went over for Dollar’s fourth try of the afternoon; before Marr winger Ryan Brown was carded for a knock-on (which was perhaps more over-optimistic than deliberate), and from the resulting line-out, Cruickshank was driven over for his second try of the match, which finished the day’s scoring.
“We ran out of gas in the last 15 minutes, we just really haven’t played at that tempo for that long before,” reflected Marr head coach Gregor Ness. “Dollar were very, very strong and we gave it everything we had. We’re only training twice a week, doing what we can S&C wise – it is just a private-school, state-school difference when it comes down to it.
“It is tough to come to a place like Dollar and try to match them rugby-wise, so we had a game-plan of doing our basics well, nailing our set-piece and hanging in the game with defence. And we did that for a long period of time – I can’t fault the boys’ effort and heart – but we just came up short.”
Next up for Dollar is St Aloysius College in the Cup semi-final [date TBC], while Marr have two rounds of matches in the Barbarian Conference left, after which it is friendly matches through to the end of the season.
“The focus will be on prepping boys to move into senior rugby, so with our relationship with the club we’ll start looking to get boys game-time with the 2nd XV in January and February, once the school games start tailing off,” explained Ness.
“This has been a two-year project with this group of boys and I think about 15 out of the 20 will be away next year, but the majority are going to stay on and play for the rugby club, and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day – bringing through kids who want to get involved and stay involved in the sport.”
Dollar Academy: R Alexander; Z McMorran, M Gray, C Purdham, R McKnight; C Busby, F McIlwraith; A Cheema, R Citro, C McDermott, M Williamson, D Robins, T Douglas, J Cruickshank, D Sands. Subs: A Ferguson, J Kemp, G Smith, E Potter, S Bracken, G Johnston.
Marr College: M O’Leary; R Brown, S McDonald, G Beckwith, E Light; C Inglis, K MacDougall; S Rodger, J Drummond, I Renucci, C Mackenzie, E Reilly, M Smith, K McCulloch©, M Blair. Subs: B Nicholl, L Morrison, J Bray, J Affleck, S Nicholl, S Toner.
Dollar Academy: Tries: Gray, McMorran, Cruickshank 2, Sands; Cons: McIlwraith 3; Pen: McIlwraith 2.
Marr College: Tries: Drummond, McCulloch; Cons; Beckwith 2; Pen: Beckwith.
Scoring sequence (Dollar first): 3-0; 8-0; 10-0; 10-5; 10-7; 15-7 (h-t) 15-12; 15-14; 15-17; 20-17; 23-17; 28-17; 30-17; 35-17; 37-17.