BACK in December 2019, Stewart’s-Melville College celebrated their Scottish Schools under-18 Cup win at BT Murrayfield; 27 months on, after a Covid enforced absence of Cup rugby, Stew-Mel return to the international ground at Scottish Rugby’s headquarters to attempt a successful defence of their title against this season’s challengers, Merchiston Castle School [6.30pm kick-off on the international pitch at Murrayfield].
Having gone through their season unbeaten in both Conference and Cup rounds, Stewart’s-Melville go into the final with the not-always-wanted tag of favourites. The consensus is that there might be little difference between the two sides and certainly there is not much that can be extrapolated from their one and only meeting five months ago when Stewart’s-Melville came out on top with a 7-3 result in a close match at Colinton.
Stewart’s-Melville head coach, Stuart Edwards, reckons that was the game that gave his side the steel they needed to win the Conference. “It was a pivotal moment in our season,” reflected Edwards, who is fully aware of Merchiston’s weaponry. “Merchiston have a lot of threats across the pitch. We know that Tom Currie at number 8 is a very strong ball carrier and that Isaac Coates at stand-off can control a game.”
A slight difficulty for both teams is that they have had few games since the turn of the year other than the quarters and semis in the Cup. Edwards, however, has kept his charges at top fitness level and moreover two of his squad have been training with Heriot’s Super6, of which Edwards is the attack coach.
As to the strengths in his team, the Stew-Mel head coach believes his forward pack is a potent force. “In the game last October we took them on up front,” he explained. “I don’t think we have any weaknesses in our pack.” And by any standards it is a formidable eight, led by the Dunbar product Elliot Young at hooker. Like Young, the 6ft 7ins second-row and former Royal High School player, Alfie Maitland, came to Stewart’s-Melville College at the start of S5 and at 120kg he is most definitely a huge asset to the team.
Behind the scrum, play will be organised by the talented James Lewis at stand-off but there is no shortage of skill elsewhere in the back division and especially on the wing where Finn Macfarlane, a useful soccer player, has pace in abundance.
Stewart’s-Melville reached the final by defeating Glenalmond away in the quarters by 41-7 and then in the semi-finals they held off a late challenge by George Watson’s College to take victory by 10-7. For their part, Merchiston ended the Glasgow challenge with a 31-0 away win to St Aloysius College before defeating Dollar Academy 15-5 in the penultimate round.
While Stewart’s-Melville will be defending their under-18 Cup title, Merchiston will be looking to build on the success achieved by their Cup-winning under-16 team in December 2019. “There are quite a few boys in the current under-18 team who won the under-16 Cup but there are a number who are still in Lower Sixth, like Tom Currie and Isaac Coates” explained Merchiston’s head coach, Roddy Deans, who feels that his side have yet to produce their best.
“They’ve not really hit their straps yet. We’re looking to peak at the right time. We played very well against Dollar in the semi-final but we’re hoping to be more clinical on the ball. We know that Stewart’s-Melville are very well coached, have a physical pack and kick well. They’re unbeaten so they’ll be very confident.
“In a way, losing to Stewart’s-Melville in October was a blessing in disguise. You learn more when you lose and it’s good to go through that experience. I think this will be a cracking final decided on small margins,” predicted Deans, who last tasted Cup success back in 2018, when Jamie Dobie collected the man-of-the-match award. It was also the springboard for current Edinburgh Rugby centre Matthew Currie, who will surely be at Murrayfield to support his younger brother, Tom.
As to what will happen out on the field, Deans is looking for his team to be adaptable. “We have the ability to play different styles; we’ll try to play with pace. We’re all excited about the final but it’s important the boys don’t get tense about it. What I’ve said to them is: ‘have fun and express yourselves.”
Stewart’s-Melville College: M Dunlap; R Henderson, L Le Sueur, B Roger, G Macfarlane; J Lewis, J Burns; A Symes, E Young, J Limb, R Pratt, A Maitland, C Burns, F Douglas, G Thomson. Subs E Waugh, C Harte, J Spencer, K McMillan, C Ross, J Gordon, I Johnston
Merchiston Castle School: B Riley; A Callaway, L McCarroll, L Ferguson, J Farquhar; I Coates, M de Villiers; A McGregor, J Sibbald, R Deans, O Palmer, J Blair, T McGregor, G Crawford, T Currie Subs M Gray, G Stephen, C Macdonald, M Brown, J Wight, A Raza, D McCall Smith.
PRIOR to the showcase event, the under-16 Cup final also being played in the main amphitheatre at Murrayfield [kick-off 4.15pm]. Dollar Academy will face George Watson’s College in the younger age Cup final, both schools having been not infrequent players on this stage.
Watson’s, having defeated Merchiston 45-12 in the first of the semi-finals, will be favourites to lift the title this season. But Dollar, who defeated East A Conference winners, Stewart’s-Melville, by 22-19 with a late score in their semi-Final played at The Oriam centre last Friday, showed that they have the mettle required for Cup matches.
Both the Shield matches are being played at the Dam Health Stadium, home of Edinburgh Rugby. At under-18 level Loretto take on Queen Victoria School [4.45pm kick-off], whose stand-off Aminio Bogidrau is of interest to the Scotland under-18 selectors. For Loretto, prop Ross Brown, who played for Edinburgh in the recent Junior 1872 Cup at The Greenyard, will be a bulwark for the Musselburgh school.
It should have been the same line-up for the under-16 Shield [2.30pm kick-off] final only for Loretto to have been disqualified after violating competition rules by fielding an ineligible player. In the event, North Berwick High School, who lost to Loretto in the semi-final have had the result reversed and will take their place in the final to provide regular state schools rugby with a presence on finals day.
Under-16 Schools Cup Final –
Dollar Academy: F Disborough; G McKie, J Morton, R Arbuckle, T Hunter; A Crockett, F Keatch; G Tachtatzis, K Pritchard, R Purvis, H Staples, B Smallwood, J Hulme, A Dayman, A Jaffrey-Smith Subs: J Ritchie, A Lumsden, M Ross, F Cadell, S MacKay, A Pettigrew.
George Watson’s College: F Ferguson; M Cingel, J Thomson, J Loukes, L White; A Cameron, E Walker; D Brown, M Connor, C O’Reilly, M Fyffe, A Moran, C Geddes, H Wood, F McIntosh Subs: E Stewart, C Balfour, N Reid, R Lynes, P Sneen, D Maguire, D McKinnon.
Under-16 Schools Shield Final –
North Berwick High School: F Mitchell; H Dunkinson, C McIntyre, J Hunter, T MacKay; F Ryan, L Sinclair; JJ Wallace, T Finlayson-McCarthy, A Waddell, P Angel, M Barbour, A MacAskill, C Perry, W Martin Subs: M Seaton, C Masson, H Green, J Perry, A Gray, L Felton, A Smith.
Queen Victoria School: A Paterson; J Halofaki, J Osie-Bonsu, S Qalo, L Lewis-Bannis; S Leweni, C Scott; D Evans, J Pearson, S Limbu, J Knock, W Kurisaru, J Ferrier, D Rae, H Vono Subs: J Douglas, L Louden, D Young ,S Golea, F Jones, J Thapa, E Sim.
Under-18 Schools Shield Final –
Queen Victoria School: M Draunidalo; J Thomas, A Caqusau, T Natiri, R Gurung; A Bogidrau, B Main; S Gurung, R Gurung, M Pratt, A Skinner, J Ruickbie, E Lee, S Gurung, A Horsburgh Subs R Cordiner, E Jones, M Gothard-Olver, C Brown, L Andrews, J Long.
Loretto School: J Hastie; C Arthur, H Kerr, H Thomas, J Ferguson; H Edwardson, H Bone; R Brown, F Duraj, S Seenan, A Lang, J Arnold, M Ballantyne, J Lindsay, J Davis-Edwards Subs: G Pearce, T Shanks, R Day.