Dollar Academy 19
St Aloysius’ College 22
FOR the first time in 23 seasons, the city of Glasgow will be represented in the Scottish Schools’ Under-18 Cup Final after St Aloysius’ demonstrated the importance of discipline, team-work and determination to build a 19-point lead by half-time and then weather a ferocious Dollar fight-back to secure a memorable win.
St Aloysius’ were the last Glasgow school to reach the final, defeating Peebles High School 13-12 at Malleny Park back in March 1996, which was two years before the heavyweight private schools got involved. They had won the trophy five times and reached the final three times during the previous nine years before the competition opened up but have since struggled to compete against the likes of Merchiston Castle (eight final appearances), Dollar, Stewart’s Melville and George Watsons (seven appearances each), Edinburgh Academy (four appearances) and High School of Dundee (three appearances).
Fife state school Bell Baxter – with future Scotland internationalists Peter Horne and Chris Fusaro, plus Premiership regulars Rory Drummond, Michael Fedo and Will Wardlaw in their squad – famously lifted the trophy in 2007, but for any school outside of the elite to go all the way to Murrayfield has become increasingly unlikely.
“It is unbelievable result for a school of our size,” said former Scotland A cap Mark McKenzie, who has been director of rugby at St Aloysius’ since 2011. “Dollar are in the top schools’ rugby conference and they have been doing well in that, so we knew they were a really strong outfit – but we believed we had a good group of boys who would give it their best shot and we were quietly confident.”
“I don’t think we could cope with that level every week, because we don’t have a big enough squad, so injuries and fatigue would take its toll. But 11 of the boys out there were involved in the team which won the Under-16s Cup two years ago, and that’s why they are here again – they’ve got great spirit and they just won’t give up.
“We take our rugby seriously and we’ve had some success, but we face a lot of disadvantages. We don’t have the pitches on our doorstep, so we have to bus out for training; our numbers mean that we only have maybe 45 boys some years; and we don’t see the boys that often. But we have a lot of district players who get extra coaching from Graham Shiel and Jamie Dempsey in the Scottish Rugby Academy so that helps us.”
Weathering and earl storm
The hosts made a promising start, with live-wire scrum-half Richard McIlwraith cutting through the visiting defence on a diagonal run, and second-row Max Williamson taking the game to the opposition with a rather more muscular and direct approach – but St Aloysius’ weathered that early onslaught and then struck back with their first foray into enemy territory, when an old-fashioned tap-penalty move created an opportunity for hooker Patrick Norris to wriggle over.
Dollar’s lack of accuracy continued to cost them, and St Aloysius’ extended their lead when the hosts tried to launch a counter-attack from behind their own line but were chopped down and turned over for John Brawley to score, after stand-off Andrew Lamb and outside-centre Adam Scott had run with real purpose in the middle of the park.
Just before the break, replacement second-row Tino Mudoti capitalised on Dollar’s failure to deal with a chip over the top by galloping home to extend the away team’s lead to 19 points.
Dollar – who had lost powerful inside centre Cameron Purdham to what appeared to be a head knock – grabbed a lifeline at the start of the second half when Williamson rumbled over; but they then gave away a needless penalty straight from the restart for not allowing the tackled man to present on the deck, which the impressive Scott happily turned into three points. That proved to be a decisive moment in the final reckoning.
Dollar struck back with an excellent try from 60-yards out, which was instigated and finished by number eight Jamie Cruikshank, with the tireless Michael Gray putting in 40 excellent yards in between times. And they then turned it into a three-point game when Dougal Sands went over after another sustained period of pressure.
By this point, St Aloysius’ had lost open-side flanker Daniel Sharkey to the sin-bin after a succession of offside and illegal rucking penalties were conceded in the lead-up to that try, but the visitors were gifted another big break when Dollar failed to deal with the restart and ended up conceding a scrum on their five-yard line for carrying over.
St Aloysius recognised this as a golden opportunity and laid siege during the final five minutes, with No 8 Luke McCutcheon – who had been a doubt for this match after suffering a suspected hairline fracture to his collar-bone two weeks ago – monumental for the visitors. They didn’t get over the line but closed the game out brilliantly.
They will play the winner of this afternoon’s second semi-final clash between Merchiston Castle and George Watson’s in the final.
There were no complaints about the outcome from Dollar head coach Don Caskie.
“It is obviously disappointing to lose a semi-final, but we didn’t deserve to win it, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “We lost it in the first half when we made far too many mistakes and left ourselves with a great mountain to climb. We gave them the ball in areas we shouldn’t, and, fair play to them, as soon as they got a sniff of the line they took it.”
Dollar Academy: R Alexander; Z McMorran, M Gray, C Purdham, R McKnight; C Busby, F McIlwraith; A Cheema, G Freathy, C McDermott, M Williamson, D Sands, T Douglas, J Glasgow, J Cruickshank. Subs: A Ferguson, J Kemp, G Smith, J Tait, E Potter, G Johnston.
St Aloysius’ College: L Bardelli; D Subushimike, A Scott, A Hughes, R Jackson; A Lamb, J Brawley; L Patrick, P Norris, B Maclennan-Patton, L Alessandri, S Morrison, F Quail, D Sharkey, L McCutcheon. Subs: J McEntegart, L Coyle, E Darroch, A Thompson, D McCarron, T Mudoti, D Hunter.
Dollar: Tries: Williamson, Cruickshank, Sands; Con: McIlwraith 2.
St Aloysius: Tries: Norris, Brawley, Midoti; Cons: Scott 2; Pen: Scott.
Scoring sequence (Dollar first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-17; 0-19 (h-t) 5-19; 7-19; 7-22; 12-22; 17-22; 19-22.