Edinburgh Academy 7
Merchiston Castle School 19
ALAN LORIMER @ BT Murrayfield
MERCHISTON CASTLE SCHOOL successfully defended their Scottish Schools under-18 Cup title after defeating their city rivals Edinburgh Academy at BT Murrayfield with a performance that was first-half loaded then tailed off after the break but not enough to affect the outcome of the final.
It is the memory of Merchiston’s first half performance, one of high pace rugby, accurate passing and a strong kicking game, that will remain as the hallmark of the Colinton school’s win as head coach Roddy Deans acknowledged.
“We got some real go-forward and real tempo and scored some lovely tries,” he said. “We were absolutely delighted to get a fast start and get ahead. We didn’t score any tries in the second half; we got a little bit stuck on the ball, but to be fair to Accies they defended very well and put us under pressure.
“To win back-to-back titles is a very difficult thing to do. Over the past couple of years we’ve had a really good group of boys and some real star-dust players. Isaac Coates and Tom Currie are two players who will surely go on to play at a higher level and I thought Ben Riley was outstanding today,” Deans added.
The only consolation for Edinburgh Academy, who started slowly before mounting a serious challenge later in the game, was winning the second half by 7-0, but by then Merchiston had done the damage with their high-tempo brand of rugby.
Academy’s coach Chris Martin thought that Merchiston had benefitted from playing in the final last year. “The big difference is that they’ve had experience of playing on this stage at this level whereas in the first 15 minutes we were quite panicky on ball and I think the occasion got to our players a bit,” he said. “We didn’t take opportunities, we had two really good ones, which could have changed the flow of the game.”
Merchiston’s dynamic start to the game spelt constant danger for Academy, whose defence was tested to near breaking point against waves of attacks, but which managed to hold out on the Colinton school for an impressive period of time. Inevitably, however, Merchiston’s accurate game proved irresistible and when co-skipper Coates created space, centre Callum Brown was on hand to take the scoring pass.
Coates then added the conversion from wide out before Merchiston continued their blitz offensive with dazzling attacking rugby that had its reward in a try by the lively Riley.
Having been confined to their own 22 for the opening quarter Academy finally extricated themselves from this prison and looked like they might register their first points after several sorties to the opposition line, but just as life looked propitious, Merchiston effected an interception close to their own line and five seconds later, via a Coates kick downfield, they were again encamped in Academy’s five metre zone.
Then, smelling more blood Merchiston moved the ball sweetly along the backline to engineer room for winger Lorne Wright to dive over in the corner, Coates succeeding with the difficult touchline conversion.
Just before half time, Academy seemed to have staged a revival, but when they did lunge at the Merchiston line the ball was adjudged to be held up, leaving the Newfield side trailing 0-19 at the break.
If the first half had been a tad one-sided then the second period of play developed into a contest of mutual cancellation with the middle third of the pitch suffering the greatest wear and tear. Academy’s defensive system looked more secure and their share of possession became greater while, simultaneously and understandably, some of the high pace of Merchiston’s first half game seem to have dissipated.
Then in the last ten minutes of the match, Academy found their rhythm and when back-row Ollie Duncan, their best ball carrier, made ground, there was a sense that the Newfield side were beginning to find their mojo, and with this new-found confidence they scored a thrilling try from a solo run by replacement Angus Larkin, converted by stand-off Will Hodgson for the final points of the game.
Edinburgh Academy: E Murray; C Welch, M Lawrie, C Lamond, T Santry; W Hodgson, T Whyte; M Khurana, S Ghiradello, F Baggaley, O Finlayson-Russell, M Cunningham, J Playfair, T Edwin, O Duncan Replacements: D Barrie, C Khunapramot, H Bennett, C Swanson, A Larkin, H Rintoul.
Merchiston: I Foley; L Wright, B Riley, C Brown, Y Davie; I Coates, W Tweedie; A McGregor, G Stephen, M Napier, O Palmer, E Robertson, O Gordon, G Crawford, T Currie Replacements: S Singh, A Bamberry, C Nilsson, T Swift, H Macarthur, M McLaughlin, T Robertson.
Referee: Johnny Perriam
Edinburgh Academy: Try: Larkin; Con: Hodgson.
Merchiston Castle School: TriesL Brown, Riley, Wright; Cons: Coates 2.
Scoring Sequence (Edinburgh Accies first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-17; 0-19 (h-t) 5-19; 7-19.
Man-of-the-Match: Good teams have good playmakers and in this respect Isaac Coates at stand-off fitted the bill. His passing, his running and his kicking both from hand and off the tee were of the highest quality, and for these qualities and his leadership he fully deserves the man-of-the-match award.
Talking point: As Roddy Deans said, it is not easy to win back-to-back titles, but Merchiston achieved that after a season that was almost identical to last year when they lost to Stewart’s-Melville College in the Conference but then defeated the Inverleith side in the Cup final. Deans is adamant that losing to Accies early this term was a motivation for his team but he also suggested the importance of the Merchiston Rugby Festival in October which exposed his side to the might of several top English Schools and which undoubtedly took them out of their comfort zone.