Streetwise Watson’s squeeze out Merchiston in Under-18 Schools’ Cup

Image courtesy: Graham Gaw

Merchiston Castle School 7

George Watson’s College 10


GEORGE WATSON’S COLLEGE will face Strathallan in the semi-final of the Scottish Schools Under-18 Cup after defeating Merchiston in an enthrallingly tight quarter-final game at Colinton on Saturday morning.

In a match that showcased schools rugby at its best, Watson’s outscored Merchiston by two tries to one despite having a minority share of both possession and territory.

What produced victory for Watson’s was their determination to tackle and tackle again, denying Merchiston the chance to build momentum into their attack.

“That was a game between two very evenly matched teams. It was a great advert for schools rugby. We rode our luck a bit and sneaked it at the end,” admitted Ally Donaldson, the George Watson’s coach.

“I thought our defence was outstanding. They had more possession than we did and so we had to defend for long periods. We coped with their attack tremendously well.”

Outstanding for Watson’s was Paul Cunningham, who showed the full range of inside centre skills, in particular his vision and awareness to open up the game with a long pass, and his ability to make the half break.

Another to impress was full-back Corann Henderson. The last man in defence showed himself to be just that when he chopped down the Merchstion wing Cameron Hobson in full flight to save an almost certain try.

But Watson’s team as a whole deserve plaudits for creating the situations from which they scored their two tries.

Image courtesy: Graham Gaw
 For Merchiston this was a second successive year of bowing out of the Schools Cup earlier than they had both hoped and expected.  Last season, the eventual Cup winners Stewart’s-Melville College ended Merchiston’s hopes. Twelve months on, it was Watson’s turn to inflict misery on the Colinton side.

“It was a disappointing result for us but if you look at the bigger picture it was an outstanding game of schoolboy rugby, the best this season,” suggested the Merchiston coach, Roddy Deans.

“Fair play to Watson’s, they’re the masters of keeping hold of the ball. And to be fair they’re very streetwise. They hung in there and took their chances.”

“We had an off-day with the ball in hand. We gave them a lot of possession through forced errors. If we had kept hold of the ball better then things might have been a bit different. But that’s cup rugby. If you don’t get it right you’re out.”

“I’m proud of what our boys are trying to do. We were good enough to get over the line, but were just a bit inaccurate. Their defence was very well organised. They’ve got a bit of bite about them. They work hard when they’ve got the ball and they work equally hard off the ball,” added Deans.

Image courtesy: Graham Gaw
Merchiston’s forward pack had the edge for much of the game, prop Dan Gamble and flanker Tyler Taylor making eye-catching contributions. The home team threatened on a number of occasions but never close enough to the Watson’s line to be effective.

Behind the scrum, Merchiston were thwarted in their attempts to break clear in midfield by effective tackling and the visitors’ skill in reorganising their defence.  Watson’s had done their homework and their close marking of danger men Rufus McLean and Matthew Currie reflected that preparation.

Merchiston looked in control in the early stages of the match and only a desperate tackle on Currie prevented a score. Encouraged by their work in defence, Watson’s worked their way into the Merchiston half and came close to scoring when they drove a penalty-created line-out.

Unable to break the Merchiston defence on their line, Watson’s then whipped the ball left for Cunningham, angling his run perfectly,  to score wide out.

Cunningham missed the conversion but Watson’s still had a handy 5-0 lead at half-time, soon wiped, however, as Merchiston, in a near mirror-image of the Watson’s try in the first half, with a line-out in the corner used to set up a series of pick-and-drive phases, which ended with Tyler Thomas touching down and McLean converting.

Watson’s, however, found inner core strength to advance up field and after good approach work and dogged ball retention, second-row Ben Marshall squeezed over for the winning score.

Teams –

Merchiston Castle School: R Stewart-Cox;  C Hobson, R McLean, M Currie, D Anderson; C Bell, J Dobie; G Kyriazi, D Tidy, D Gamble, D McTurk, S McCann, S Yuille, T Thomas, F Stewart. Subs: W Harper, H Chapple, A Warner, J Laing, R Thain, J Armstrong.

George Watson’s College: C Henderson; B Grant, C Hoffie, P Cunningham, J Stephen; A Harley, T Urquhart; E Craig, R O’Brien, J Cantle, R Aitchison, B Marshall, H Morris,  M Tink, J Millgan Subs F Mealyou, A Hoggarth, D Ryan, G Jackson, F Kinloch, B Clark.

Referee:  Sam Grove-White

Scorers –

Merchiston: Try: Thomas;  Con: McLean.

George Watson’s College: Tries: Cunningham, Marshall.

Scoring Sequence (Merchiston first): 0-5 (h-t) 5-5, 7-5, 7-10

Man-of-the-Match: The Watson’s centre Paul Cunningham showed creativity and vision in midfield and complemented a quality display in attack with accurate tackling.

Talking point: This was always going to be a clash of the titans in Scottish schools rugby and it did not disappoint. Merchiston will be disappointed to lose this quarter final having competed with distinction at the St Joseph’s Festival last month. For Watson’s, it opens the possibility of returning to Cup-winning ways.

Image courtesy: Graham Gaw
About Alan Lorimer 352 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.