by ALAN LORIMER
IT seems an epoch since the semi-finals of the Scottish Youth League Cup but on Sunday, over two months after these penultimate round matches at both Under-18 and Under-16 level, finals day finally takes place on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield.
Back in January, in the winter-friendly environment of the Oriam, Ayr defeated Hawick Youth with a strong second-half, forward-orientated performance to book their place in the Under-18 Final where they will face Boroughmuir.
The Meggetland side will go into the final (kick-off 3pm) as Cup favourites having comfortably won the the top level Shogun Conference, but mindful of the fact that they lost narrowly to Ayr in the final round. Boroughmuir’s impressive display at Oriam against a very competent Stirling County side, however, showed why they men are attracting the shrewd bets.
“Ayr will have prepared well, and they’ve been in a few finals over the last number of years,” said the Boroughmuir head coach, Scott Anderson. “We will need to put in another good performance, like the semi-final against Stirling, and can only be positive and play our own game. We’re expecting the game to be physical, and hard fought. It should be a great final, and a showcase for under-18 club rugby”
Boroughmuir would seem to have a strong hand of cards. For a start, they have an excellent forward pack containing the likes of second-row Derry McConnell, No 8 Paul Bogie, flanker Gavin Inkster and hooker Grant Stevenson; while in the backs, Ethan McVicker is a dynamic scrum-half, their flying Fijian wing Jeke Canakaivata is a genuine striker, while centre Ben McIntosh is an influential midfielder.
Ayr will be relying on a number of their younger players – about half the team will be available next season in this age category – to step up to the task ahead of them. The Millbrae side certainly have the firepower in the forwards to attack Boroughmuir and behind the scrum they have midfield power in the form of Dylan Wilson.
In the Under-16 Cup final which kicks off at 1pm, Biggar will be looking to cap what has been a strong season at this age-level by defeating Stirling County, appearing in the Murrayfield showcase event for the umpteenth time.
Biggar reached this stage by defeating Currie Chieftains 24-17 in a gripping penultimate round match, after a powerful forward performance and the influence of a strong bench.
“A lot of our boys have played together since mini rugby and there is a lot of strength and bonds in the squad built up over a long time,” said Biggar’s head coach, Kenny Lean. “What has set this Biggar squad apart from previous years is the size and depth of talent in the squad which has allowed the boys to compete with any club team in Scotland.
“In the quarter and semi-final’s our forwards were able to build dominance in the game but we have some fast talented backs and it would be good if they get a chance with the ball in hand to show the full range of the teams abilities on the big Murrayfield pitch,” suggested Lean.
Stirling County won the Shogun Under-16 Conference and will want to take that form into the fFnal. County lost only two matches in their Conference run but significantly they were defeated 29-7 by Biggar in December.
The Bridgehaugh side booked their place at BT Murrayfield with a 30-14 semi-final win over Boroughmuir, in a reverse of the Under-18 result.
“Once they settled in and started moving the ball I thought they played good rugby,” said the Stirling Academy manager, Stewart Milne, whose side has adept finishers in wings Necani Revaca and Harry Wilson and a good ball carrier in flanker Cammy Lynn.
Whatever the results, both these finals give youth club rugby a chance to showcase its talents in front of what it is hoped will be a good crowd. Club rugby needs to narrow the gap between it and the top end of the schools game. Sunday’s matches will give an indication of just how far the clubs have travelled towards achieving this aim.
Under-16s Final (1pm kick-off) –
Biggar: Callum McCallum; Aaron Millar, Rhys Campbell, Murray Lean, Callum Smith; Euan Laing, Archie Damer; Louis Henderson, Cameron Gray, Ben Nicol, Fraser Simpson, Ben McLeish, Jamie Tucker, Samuel Taylor, Jonathan Smith Subs Jack McAllister, Ryan Adair, Connor Lister, Kaleb Millar, Harvey Robertson, Callum Yardley, Andrew Wight.
Stirling County: Cameron Blance; Harry Wilson, Ben Yarrow, Liam McNicholl, Necani Racava; Callum Beckett, Scot Sherriff; Jake Galbraith, Jack Smith, Aengus Lennox, Andrew McCormack, Ruairidh Nelson, Dugald MacDonald, Cameron Lynn, Sam Clark Subs Michael Comrie, Logan Niven, Fraser Roy, Isaac Smith, Jonny Hanson, Ryan Deakin, Dan Hunter.
Under-18s Final (1pm kick-off) –
Ayr: Ross Maiden; Jason McGuiness, Dylan Wilson, Murray Thomson, Chris Easton; Andy Morrison, Craig Doolan; Michael Lafferty, Ross Ward, Ben Cree, Euan Bulloch, Conrad Lynch, Cameron Young, Olly Mossie, Morgan Leatherbarrow Subs Scott Clelland, Conlan McLuckie, Stephen McLarty, Sam Kerr, Daniel White, Jonathon Easton,. Neil Monaghan.
Boroughmuir: John Dewar; Finlay Devine Stuart Dobson, Ben Mackintosh, Jeke Cankaivata; Calum Anderson, Ethan McVicker; Daniel McDevitt, Grant Stevenson, Callum MacGregor, Derry McConnell, Lewis Thompson, Matthew Crawford, Gavin Inkster, Paul Bogie Subs Cameron Ritchie, Charlie Farmer, Murray Roy, Scott McDowell, Cameron Ledingham, Adam Jacques, Cameron Hogg.