THE cream of Scotland’s home-based under-18s was again on show in the second round of the FOSROC inter-district series, held for a second successive Sunday at Stirling County’s Bridgehaugh ground and which produced wins for Edinburgh and Glasgow.
After a wet start to the series last weekend the conditions at Bridgehaugh were perfect for the top talent to showcase their skills, and no team grabbed the opportunity more than Edinburgh, who turned on a stylish performance to run amok against Borders & East Lothian with a nine try tally for a 59-5 win.
Playing a game full of flair, outrageous off-loads and skilful passes out the back, Edinburgh were irresistible from a flow of possession provided by a forward pack skilled in the art of winning ball at the contact situation and physical in every aspect of their game. Outstanding for Edinburgh in the forwards were prop Ollie Blyth-Lafferty and flanker Freddy Douglas, who looks likely to follow in the bootsteps of his Stewart’s-Melville College compatriot, Connor Boyle.
Behind the scrum, Edinburgh’s backs made full use of the constant flow of possession to craft some clever scoring moves, and even when they brought on a number of replacements in the second half they still had fire power. Impressive for the capital youngsters in an incisive set of backs were centre Benjamin Roger, winger Oz Canakaivata and replacement Murray McGowan.
The Edinburgh performance certainly was to the liking of head coach Doug Thomson, who said : “We played really well today. We tried to get wide off the ruck. We gave the boys rein to play creatively and it paid off in the good conditions at Bridgehaugh. If it had been raining then it might have been different.
“We have a really powerful pack that gives us go forward ball. It’s exciting to watch. Some brilliant players and encouragingly there’s a good few state school guys coming through like Murray McGowan and Conor Finlay”.
For Borders it was a difficult afternoon for a side that looked slower and less skilful than their city opponents but which nevertheless had several class performers, sadly unable to show their skill through lack of possession and territory. Among these is Hector Patterson, who played for Scotland Under-18s in April and who will certainly have to show his leadership skills when his side faces Glasgow in the final round next Sunday at Galashiels.
Borders head coach Bert Grigg admitted that his side had suffered against a strong Edinburgh outfit, saying: “It was a tough game today. But we showed glimpses of improvement from our game last week against Caledonia but not enough to overturn a pretty good and physical Edinburgh side. They played a fast flowing game which was undoubtedly good to watch”.
Six of Edinburgh’s tries were scored in the first half – by stand-off Isaac Coates, No8 Fergus Wood, flankers Freddy Douglas and Glen Crawford, tighthead prop Blyth-Lafferty and inside centre Benjamin Roger. Coates converted five of his side’s tries for a 40-0 interval lead.
Then in the second half replacement hooker Gordie Stephen, wing Canakaivata and replacement outside back McGowan added to the Edinburgh try tally, the remainder of the points coming from the boot of replacement Jamie Cain.
Borders, if well beaten, at least had the final say with the last try of game scored by lock Rory Anderson.
If the Edinburgh v Borders game had been something of a one-sided contest then the Caledonia v Glasgow match was the perfect antidote for the spectators. In a match of gripping intensity and high skill levels Glasgow came from behind after a slow start to stay in front of Caledonia despite the Reds always threatening to overtake their west coast opponents for a 42-33 win.
Top performers for Glasgow were centres Kerr Yule and John Ventisei, stand-off Matt Urwin and second row Lewis Fergusson, while for Caledonia centre Angus Hunter posted a polished performance in a back line that started strongly and which looked even livelier with the introduction off the bench of Theo Natiri, Logan Williams, Scott Sheddon and Archie Rankin.
Glasgow’s head coach Euan Clark suggested that the win made up for a defeat at an admittedly different age level earlier in the year. He said: ‘We were really happy with the way the players responded after losing to Caledonia at under-17 level earlier in the year. There are in fact a lot of under-17 players in this group and for Lucas Graham and Harry Stewart to play for 70 minutes was excellent. We were trying to keep the ball on the pitch for as much as possible. To be successful at under-18 level we have to be able to move teams around. And I thought we were successful in doing that. Caley really stretched us at times. The game could have gone either way”.
For his part Caledonia’s new head coach James Greenwood was blunt in his assessment. “We were not good enough in terms of our attack and defence structures. We were inaccurate in areas of the game. We’ve got talent in depth but we can’t play excellent rugby just in parts of the game. Glasgow found weaknesses in the defensive line. Lot of missed tackles. The boys are disappointed and quite rightly. We didn’t front up,” he suggested.
Caley were quick out of the blocks, scoring two early tries by wing Ben Morris, and completed their first-half scoring with a touchdown from wing Jake de Jager and two conversions from stand-off Angus Crockett. Glasgow, however, countered a brace of tries each from Ventisei and scrum-half Stewart Black, all converted by stand-off Urwin for a 28-19 half time lead.
A try in the second half by replacement Angus Rankin and the conversion by full-back Sam Leweni brought Caledonia back into the game, only for Glasgow replacement Kwesi O’Hare and Urwin’s conversion to restore the Blues’ advantage. Then in an exciting final few minutes of the game replacement centre Natiri’s try converted by Leweni made the scores 35-33 in favour of Glasgow, who sealed the match with a try from wing Fergus Clannachan, the trusty boot of Urwin providing the final points in Glasgow’s 42-33 win.
Edinburgh U18s: 15. Jack Brown (George Watson’s College), 14. Oz Canakaivata (Boroughmuir RFC), 13. Dara Falope (Rugby School), 12. Benjamin Roger (Stewart’s Melville College) (C), 11. Cole Mapara (Edinburgh Academy), 10. Isaac Coates (Merchiston Castle), 9. Hugo Alderson (Stewart’s Melville College), 8. Fergus Wood (George Heriot’s School), 7. Freddy Douglas (Stewart’s Melville College), 6. Glen Crawford (Merchiston Castle), 5. Euan Robertson (Merchiston Castle), 4. Ollie Duncan (Edinburgh Academy) (C), 3. Ollie Blyth-Lafferty (Boroughmuir RFC), 2. Euan McGeoch (Boroughmuir RFC), 1. Finlay Gilgrass (George Heriot’s School/ Boroughmuir RFC). Replacements: 16. Gordie Stephen (Merchiston Castle), 17. Finlay McIntosh (George Watson’s College), 18. Michael Rice (George Watson’s College), 19. Harrison Wood (George Watson’s College), 20. Toby Edwin (Edinburgh Academy), 21. Jake Burns (Stewart’s Melville College), 22. Jamie Cain (Stewart’s Melville College), 23. Conor Findlay (Linlithgow RFC), 24. Murray McGowan (NE Vikings).
Borders & East Lothian U18s: 15. Russell Kerr (Gala Academy/Gala Rugby), 14. Cameron Boak (Peebles HS/Peebles RFC), 13. Fraser Falgate (Preston Lodge HS/Preston Lodge RFC), 12. Henry Thomas (Loretto School), 11. Ritchie Mitchell (Gala Academy/Gala Rugby), 10. Rory Wilson (Gala Academy/Gala Rugby), 9. Hector Patterson (Hawick RFC), 8. Dylan Cockburn (Earlston HS/Melrose RFC), 7. Lachlan Graham (Preston Lodge HS/Preston Lodge RFC), 6. Fraser Wilson (Gala Academy/Gala Rugby), 5. Rory Anderson (Borders College/Melrose RFC), 4. Joss Arnold (Loretto School/Haddington RFC), 3. Jay Johnston (Ross High School/Melrose RFC), 2. Jason Talac (Musselburgh Grammar/Musselburgh RFC), 1. Ben White (Peebles RFC). Replacements: 16. Craig Cochrane (Selkirk HS/Selkirk Youth Club), 17. Gavin Fisher (Preston Lodge HS/Preston Lodge RFC), 18. Hamish Derrick (Borders College/Melrose RFC), 19. Oliver Furness (Peebles HS/Peebles RFC), 20. Daniel Martin(Dunbar Grammar School/Dunbar RFC), 21. Finlay Yule (Preston Lodge HS/Preston Lodge RFC), 22. Mark Glenn (Jed Thistle), 23. Ethan Wilson (Borders College/Gala Rugby), 24. Joe Townshend (Strathallan School), 25. Ollie Craig (Knox Academy/Haddington RFC).
Caledonia U18s: 15. Sam Leweni (Queen Victoria School), 14. Ben Morriss (Deeside RFC), 13 Angus Hunter (Dollar Academy), 12. Wilfie Timney (Dollar Academy), 11. Jake De Jager (Mackie RFC), 10. Angus Crockett (Dollar Academy), 9. Hamish Chisholm (Kirkcaldy RFC), 8. Finn Spurway (Glenalmond), 7. Alfie Kinsella (Highland), 6. Nick Torkington (Stirling County), 5. Murray Oliver (Kirkcaldy RFC), 4. Ben Marshall (Perthshire RFC), 3. Rob Cromar (SLM Blues), 2. Archie Inglis (Dollar Academy), 1. Mickey Kesson (Stirling County). Replacements: 16. Jay Richards (Stirling County), 17. Euan Lee (Queen Victoria School), 18. Alex Hough (High School of Dundee), 19. Archie Bell (Dollar Academy), 20. Alfie Grant (Robert Gordon College), 21. Cameron Potter (SLM Blues), 22. Fraser Gallagher (Dollar Academy), 23. Theo Natiri (Queen Victoria School), 24. Logan Williams (Howe of Fife), 25. Scott Sheddon (Stirling County), 26. Archie Rankin (Perthshire/Strathallan).
Glasgow & The West U18s: 15. Fergus Watson (Biggar RFC), 14. Fergus Clannachan (Dumfries Saints RFC), 13. Johnny Ventisei (St Aloysius College/GHA RFC), 12. Kerr Yule (Glasgow Hawks), 11. Yeadon Davie (Ayr RFC), 10. Matthew Urwin (St Aloysius College) (C), 9. Stewart Black (West of Scotland RFC), 8. Harry Stewart (Biggar RFC), 7. Craig Nolan (Whitecraigs RFC), 6. Pat Spence (West of Scotland RFC), 5. Callum Hamilton (Ayr RFC), 4. Lewis Fergusson (Dumfries Saints RFC), 3. Lucas Graham (East Kilbride RFC), 2. Emen Thaqi (West of Scotland RFC), 1. Ollie Bowden (GHA RFC). Replacements: 16. Caleb McCracken (GHA RFC), 17. Toby Clark (Helensburgh RFC), 18. Scott Roden (Ayr RFC), 19. Stewart Neill (Biggar RFC), 20. Myles Macauley (Kelvinside Academy), 21. Jake Shearer (Ayr RFC), 22. Matt Inglis (GHA RFC), 23. Lewis McCormack (GHA RFC), 24. Kwesi O’Hare (High School of Glasgow).