THE first round of the inspire National One Club Conference produced a set of results in the under-18 tier that suggests competition for the top honours and the battle for the Cup title should be healthily fierce this season, albeit that the dynamics of team performances will change as coaches identify their optimum sides.
Defending champions Boroughmuir showed their determination to continue where they left off last season with a home win over West of Scotland by 26-17. Understandably in a first game the quality of rugby of rugby was far from top drawer as Muir’s coach, Richie Lockhart, confirmed.
“A scrappy first competitive game but great energy from the boys in attack and defence,” he said. “I was pleased with our set-piece and our fitness levels helped us toward the end of the match which was played in a fair bit of heat.
“Our subs did us proud as well so there’s still loads of competition for places for the season ahead which is great. Fair to say the tackle law is going to take a bit of time for everyone to get used to and players are going to have to not let their occasional frustration with decisions – which are sometimes very hard to call – to get the better of them”.
Boroughmuir’s try-scorers were Logan Small, Harry Jackaman, Sam Webb and Ben Malcolm, with Kyle Macmillan kicking two conversions and Murray Armstrong kicking one.
For West, their points came from a penalty try and touchdowns from Ethan Riley and Glasgow under-18 scrum half Cameron Louden. “Despite the loss, this was a very encouraging start to the season,” suggested West’s coach, Gavin McGreish. “Considering our slow start – conceding two tries in the first 12 minutes, the squad showed their resilience to back into the game,” he added.
There was a similarly close game at Stonehaven where Ayr finished winners by 31-25 with tries from Scott Rodden, Jake Shearer, Cole Graham, Euan Doak and Dan McKinlay, three of the touchdowns converted by Graham. “It was a very close and exciting game and great to finish as the winning side,” observed the Ayr coach, Colin Duck. “We showed lots of heart but I recognise there is a lot to work on.”
Both sides had difficulty grappling with the new tackle laws as Duck confirmed, saying: “The number of tackle height penalties was insane – different to our warm-up games. Hopefully that side of things will settle down as it interrupted what was otherwise an exciting match.”
Mackie’s new coach, Ross Foubster, felt that the two sides can approach their next game with reasonable confidence. He said: “Ultimately Ayr came away with a win but it was a cracking first game played in great spirit. Both teams can take a load of positives into the second round.” Over the piece, Mackie scored four tries, one apiece from Taegan Littlejohn, Norrie Inglis, Fergus Robertson and Gregor Veitch.
At Bridgehaugh, GHA, despite giving away weight in their forward pack, showed good ball handling skills to run in five tries for a 36-19 win over Stirling County. “We were up against a much bigger pack but we held our own in the set-piece and moved the ball about reasonably well” said GHA’s new coach, Shane McElhinney, whose side were hampered by yellow cards.
“We struggled to adapt to the new tackle height changes and gave away far too many penalties, so plenty to work on to ensure the boys get in the correct position before tackling. We had three sin-binnings in the second half which certainly made life difficult for ourselves, but the guys defended really well during these periods and showed a lot of determination and resilience in defence,” he stated.
GHA’s skilful handling produced five tries, one each from right wing Ben Hughes, No 8 Lloyd Moncrieff, scrum-half Matthew Inglis, outside-centre Matthew Murphy and left wing Leonardo Idris. Stand-off Ben MacDougall kicked four conversions and a penalty at the death, while for Stirling there were tries by Calum Clayton, Logan Gray and Andrew Lawrence, with Caledonia under-18 scrum-half Tom Nodes kicking two conversions.
Stirling’s head coach, Stuart Imrie, felt his side made errors at crucial moments, saying: “We made some nervous mistakes in the first half which they capitalised on. At 19-7 at half time we were were chasing the game. We have plenty to work on in training and the boys will be desperate to prove that they are better than Saturday’s scoreline.”
That opportunity will come for Stirling this Saturday when the Bridgehaugh team are at home to Boroughmuir, GHA travel to Millbrae to take on Ayr while West of Scotland and Mackie clash at Burnbrae,
In the inspire National Two Club Conference, Dumfries Saints were seemingly impervious to the effects of the long journey up the A9 (and more) by defeating Highland 28-0, while Ellon, who were finalists in the under16 Cup last season achieved a 48-29 win over Perthshire. The third of the Conference Two matches produced a narrow 29-22 away win for Currie Chieftains over Dunfermline.
This weekend, the Borders Semi-Junior League kicks-off on Friday when Kelso Quins face Melrose Wasps. All the other matches are scheduled for Saturday, the pick of the games being at Morpeth where the Northumbria team, who challenged strongly for the league title last season, goes head to head with Hawick Youth.
The other cross-border match is between Alnwick and Gala Wanderers at Netherdale. Meanwhile, at the Gytes, defending champions Peebles will be eager to make a winning start when they take on Selkirk. Peebles have the luxury of a large squad that will allow the club to field two under-18 teams most weeks, which means their first team should be of similar strength to last season.
That is a situation that Jed Thistle and Duns can but envy. Both teams, who meet on Saturday, struggled for numbers last year, and that could again be a problem this season. Jed’s coach and development officer, Michael Harshaw, thinks that his side will again be living on the edge. “I’ve q9 players available at the start of the season which in my experience isn’t enough to fulfil all fixtures but if we’re durable we might be okay,” suggested Harshaw, who has, already, lost two of his top players.
“Mark Glen will be with Jed-Forest and Zander Mactaggart [Borders and East Lothian u18 flanker] is away to Merchiston, so those two will be badly missed. But we’ve still some good players and a good spirit, so you never know.”