Schools & Youth Rugby: clubs gear up for National Cup with a new format

Schools conferences also kick-off this weekend

Boroughmuir Under-18s were big winners over Stirling County last weekend. Image courtesy: Boroughmuir Rugby
Boroughmuir Under-18s were big winners over Stirling County last weekend. Image courtesy: Boroughmuir Rugby

AFTER two weeks of National Conferences and one of the Borders Semi Junior League, youth under-18 rugby turns its attention to the Cup, which this season has a different and what many will regard as, a refreshing, format. 

Essentially the Cup moves from a brutal straight knock-out to three rounds of group stages, leading to the quarter-finals. Each of the four groups both at under-18 and under-16 levels contains National One and National Two conference clubs together with one from the Borders Semi Junior League (BSJL). In a stroke, that will ensure exposure to different opposition for the clubs involved and particularly for the Borders clubs often seen as too insular.

Group One comprises Mackie, Currie Chieftains, Hawick Youth and Stirling County. Group Two consists of Dunfermline, Melrose Wasps, Dumfries Saints and GHA. Group Three brings together Perthshire, Gala Wanderers, West of Scotland and Highland. Group Four, which looks to be the toughest quartet, lists title holders Boroughmuir, Peebles Colts, Ayr/Wellington and Ellon.


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The introduction of the group stage will add to the number of matches being played this season, to at least 13 and more for the Border clubs, but the latter have taken the sensible decision of bringing in a mid point top/bottom half split meaning that the BSJL’s often unwieldy programme will now drop from 22 to 16 games.

Undoubtedly, the top under-18s Cup game this Saturday is the clash between last season’s winners Boroughmuir and the runners-up Peebles Colts at Meggetland. Boroughmuir will go into this match on the back of a big 50-0 win over an understrength Stirling County team at Bridgehaugh, with a performance that pleased head coach Richie Lockhart.

“The boys really earned their win and were excellent throughout, playing rugby at high pace in perfect conditions,” he said.  “More ‘summer’ rugby please!  We had a great platform from our set-piece and we tried to move the ball at every opportunity.  When we did, our support lines, handling and offloading were excellent and the effort to get over the ball to protect and retain in contact were first class.

“We defended well overall, and our tackle height and general discipline were both much better than last week, helped by excellent refereeing,” concluded Lockhart. Muir’s tries came from Fergus Jones, Caleb Thomson, Ben Malcolm, Ollie Deane, Murray Armstrong, Reuben Black and Alex Grohmann, with conversions shared by Kyle MacMillan and Murray Armstrong.

The Meggetland side sit top of the under18 inspire National One Conference table alongside Ayr/Wellington, who defeated GHA 43-31 in a high-scoring but close match at Millbrae. Ayr’s coach, Colin Duck, thinks that his team, despite two wins,  are still in a developmental stage, saying: “We have a young squad and their naivety shows at times, but they are very keen and are understanding of what we’re trying to do. The more experience they get the more they will improve as a team.”

Duck, however, warned that personnel problems could affect his side. “There is a chronic shortage of players with injuries and also losing the better players to the seniors,” he explained. The other side of the coin, however, is that Ayr can take satisfaction from producing players capable of performing at higher levels.

Meanwhile, West of Scotland were comfortable winners over Mackie by 52-12 confirming that the Burnbrae side is one to watch this season. Despite the big margin of victory, West’s coach Gavin McGreish insisted that it was not a stroll in the park for his side. “The score-line wasn’t a true reflection of the game; it was a tough game against a tough Mackie side,” he said. “But West played some really expansive rugby keeping the ball away from Mackie’s well drilled forwards.”

West’s tries came from from full-back Rory Caldwell, hooker Ali Padamanabhan, centre Cillian McQuarrie (3), centre Christian Ward, second-row Elliot Weir and No 8 Robbie Dale. Seven of West’s eight tries were converted by stand-off Ben Taylor.

For Mackie, the game was lost before the interval as their coach Rob Foubster acknowledged, saying: “The first half was dominated by West’s strong pack and speedy backs getting the ball wide.  The second half was much more competitive with the team showing real grit and glimpses of the style of rugby we are looking for this season. A couple of tries from Toby Brainwood and Daniel Duncan meant we took some positives back up the road.”

 

In the south of Scotland, the first round of the BSJL allowed defending champions Peebles to flex their muscles ahead of the Cup game with Boroughmuir, the Gytes side running out 43-18 winners against Selkirk YC, much to the satisfaction of assistant coach, Njord Maciver.

“We played well at times on Saturday, especially in attack, where we looked dangerous. We’re looking forward to the Cup game with Boroughmuir;  it will be a big challenge at the beginning of the season. We should go in with a pretty strong squad, although we will miss Ollie Furness, who sustained what looks like a serious knee injury on Saturday,” Maciver revealed. Among the Peebles’ try-scorers was  winger Dylan Greens who collected a brace, while stand-off Ross Wolfenden made an 11 points contribution with three conversions and a try.

Last season, Peebles were run close for the BSJL title by the Northumbria club, Morpeth, who look to have similar strength this season, as evidenced by their 56-19 home win over Hawick Youth last Saturday. Hawick’s team manager Paul McDonald, however, took positives out his side’s performance, saying: “We actually made a really good start yesterday and for the first 20 minutes we had a very big and physical Morpeth side rattled and it saw us go in front 14-7 within half an hour. However we leaked four tries early in the second half mainly due to the physicality of our opponents.”

For Hawick, who face Stirling County at home in the Cup this weekend, their tries were scored by stand-off Riley Muir and wings Filip Kubicki and Fraser Casson, two of them converted by full-back Greig Cartner.

In the other cross-border BSJL match, Gala Wanderers, helped by four tries from centre Sam McAneny, defeated Alnwick 53-12 at Netherdale. Finlay Downie contributed a brace and there were single touchdowns from Jamie Bell, Rowan Chalmers and Mac Rutherford. Callum Corry converted three of Wanderers tries and Rory Wilson a fourth.

“The Wands dominated in the forwards producing quick ball, successfully retaining possession and turning over Alnwick ball on a number of occasions, producing a very encouraging performance for this season’s first competitive match,” commented assistant coach, Bruce Chalmers.

Elsewhere in the BSJL, Kelso Quins, drawn in the Plate this season, made a positive start to their league campaign by defeating Melrose Wasps 43-14 with tries from Jack Utterson (3), Fraser Murray (2), Kyle Jackson and Lewis Malone and four conversions by Ben Burton.

Melrose, who struggled later in the game after suffering injuries to several experienced players as well as incurring a red card, scored their points through a brace of tries by Logan Kerr and a conversion by Ross Christie.

Another Borders club who will feature in the Plate this season is Jed Thistle, who made a positive start to the season with a 43-7 win over Duns with tries from Louie Reid (2), Nosa Jiminez (2), James Hamilton, Robbie Duff, and Fergus Falconer, four of them converted by Aaron Weatherhead.

This week will be the start of the inspire Schools conferences, the pick of the top tier opening round matches being Merchiston Castle School versus George Watson’s College. Watson’s go into this opening round on the back of a 59-19 win last Saturday over Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, and a successful summer tour to South Africa.

“The games [in South Africa] were very physical which is exactly what our boys need. Skill wise and rugby wise our guys competed well;  we won nine out of 12 across all teams, drew two and lost one against a performance academy squad who were exceptional”, said Mike Ker, the Watson’s coach.

Merchiston are an unknown quantity so early in the season but given their pedigree they can be expected to produce quality rugby under their head coach Roddy Deans.

Also going ahead in Edinburgh is the local derby between Fettes College and Stewart’s-Melville College.  Both schools were on tour this summer, Fettes to South Africa and Stew-Mel to Canada, but after winning all their games in North America the Inverleith side experienced a sobering 22-17 defeat to Dollar Academy in a pre-season friendly.

In the other top tier conference match, Edinburgh Academy, cup finalists last season, face Strathallan.


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About Alan Lorimer 360 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.

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