LAST season’s Cup runners-up, West of Scotland, have been punted as one of the teams to watch in this season’s Inspiresport National Club under-18 Conference and on Saturday the Burnbrae side certainly showed their strength and confidence by achieving a 20-14 home win over Stirling County in the opening round of the competition.
West scored four tries in all, two by winger Dylan Mctaggert and one apiece from full-back Ruairidh Cowan and second-row Adam Dunford, underlining the Burnbrae side’s commitment to attacking rugby albeit that in the later stages of the match West had to sink the tackles to prevent Stirling from scoring what could have been the winning points.
“I was very proud of the boys digging in and holding off the County attack for large parts of the game” said head coach Steven Meenagh. “We played some fantastic attacking rugby and scored excellent team tries.” The only blemish Meenagh identified was his charges’ propensity to give away unnecessary penalties. “We will work hard this week to tighten up our discipline ahead of our next game, which is away to Ayr,” he added.
For Stirling, prop Mickey Kesson and centre Dan Malcolm crossed for tries both converted by stand-off Baillie McGinley. “We were disappointed as a squad. West started the better and giving them a fast ten point lead from some poor defensive efforts on our part was not the way to start the game,” suggested County’s director of youth rugby, Stewart Milne “We did lots that was good across the seventy minutes but we need to be a bit smarter and far more consistent, in what is a challenging conference this season”.
Much of the interest ahead of the opening round of the ‘National; centred on how new entrants GHA would perform in their match at Braidholm against Ayr/Wellington. In the event, GHA looked the part, with a display that challenged the visitors but which resulted in a narrow 12-16 defeat.
GHA, however, had the satisfaction of outscoring their opponents by two tries to one, with touchdowns from second row David McDonald and No 8 Lewis McCormack, the first of these converted by Evan Fraser. Coach Kevin McGrory reflected that his side could have won the game. “It was a frustrating day where we never looked after the ball enough up front,” he said. “But It was a game that was evenly balanced and could have gone either way”.
Ayr/Wellington, coached this season by Colin Duck, were helped by the accurate goal kicking of Jack Craig, who landed three penalties in addition to the conversion of his team’s only try by open side flanker Calum Hamilton. Overall, Duck was happy with his side’s effort, saying: “Ayr played some nice rugby but what was most pleasing was the heart and fight they showed”.
In the third of the first round matches, defending champions Boroughmuir were too strong for visitors Mackie at Meggetland. Muir, who have had a useful pre-season scored tries through Olly Blyth-Lafferty, Oz Canakaivata, Zak Griffiths, Lewis Bissett and Lewis Veitch, three of these converted by Gavin Lockhart and one by Jamie McCrae.
“It was great to get a win in our first full game of the season against a tough Mackie team. It was good to see the boys play with some excellent continuity and tries being scored across the team,” commented new under-18 coach, Richie Lockhart. He added: “Yes there was some first game rustiness but the boys are working hard at training to sharpen up. We’re looking forward to the Stirling County match this weekend”.
Mackie suffered from travelling without four first choice forwards. “That was disappointing,” said head coach, Andrew Buchanan, who nevertheless praised the set of forwards who took the field. “What was a young pack and they did well for most of the game. It was a tight game until the last five minutes minutes.”
Tries for the North East side came from Fyfe Train and Jake De Jager, both converted by Rory Buchanan. We have much more in us this season but a fair start against a well organised Boroughmuir squad.
Meanwhile the top game in the Borders Semi Junior League was the clash between last season’s Shield finalists, Gala Wanderers, and Melrose Wasps, that resulted in a 34-19 win for the Netherdale youngsters,
“This was a great opening encounter at Melrose – two sides with a lot of new players from last year, kicking off the season with local rivalry,” observed Gala Wanderers’ official, Ewan Doyle. Skipper and full-back Ritchie Mitchell scored two of Wanderers’ tries, the others coming from centre Russell Kerr and replacement Arron Little, in addition to a penalty try.
Wasps, who were unfortunate to lose their district representative Dylan Cockburn to injury, scored tries through prop Jay Johnston, hooker Andrew Kirk and second-row Rory Litster. “It was a great game in front of a massive crowd. Gala had some really effective X-factor players,” said Nick Alston, the Melrose coach. “We gave them a 17-0 head start and did brilliantly to come back into the game. A yellow card and two quick scores from them killed the game but we had our moments. There wasn’t much in it and score didn’t reflect the closeness of the two teams. I’m very pleased moving forward”.
Last season, Hawick Youth were dominant in the Borders Semi Junior League but having lost the bulk of that team they are now in a serious rebuilding phase. That was reflected in their away defeat by 47-10 to Kelso Quins.
Team manager Paul McDonald, however, was not disheartened. He said: “Yes a bit of a sore one to start the season with but we knew it was going to be a struggle. Hawick actually played well in the first half but we just didn’t make the most of the wind advantage although our forwards did well for most of the game and our scrum and line-outs stayed strong.
“In the second half, Kelso changed their approach as they realised we were weaker in our back division and exploited it to their advantage. We made three mistakes later in the game which cost us 21 points within a 10 minute period and that delivered the sucker punch we could’ve done without”.
Keith Green, the Kelso manager, is hoping that his side can challenge the likes of Gala Wanderers and Peebles this season and certainly this opening round match will fill his players with confidence. Quins’ tries were scored by centres Josh Coulter and Archie Barbour, each with a brace, hooker Josh Sullivan, No 8 Sam Wood and winger Fraser Murray. Full-back Angus Utterson converted six of the Kelso tries.
Elsewhere, in the West league, there were big wins for East Kilbride (56-0 v Kilmarnock), Dunfermline (59-12 v Dalziel), Biggar (52-0 v Whitecraigs) and Dumfries Saints (38-7 v Currie Chieftains), while in the Caledonia League there equally sumptuous victories for Ellon (62-12 v Aberdeen Wanderers) and Highland (50-0 v Perthshire).