The finals of the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup at under-18 and under-16 level is one of the eagerly anticipated events in the rugby calendar and tonight’s conclusion to this season’s competition on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield is expected to continue a tradition of highly competitive matches stretching back over 30 years.
The showcase final is the under-18 match which this season brings together the defending champions, George Watson’s College, and the runners-up from two seasons ago, Merchiston Castle School.
A win for Watson’s would give the Myreside team a third success in as many seasons, but Ally Donaldson, their director of rugby, said: “Three in a row is not a big issue because it’s a new team every year and so it’s not like clubs.
“We have only three of last season’s cup-winning side in our starting team. A fourth, Hugh Ferguson, was injured playing against Merchiston and will miss the final. But in Lewis Berg we’ve got a good replacement.
“Merchiston will start as favourites simply because they beat us earlier in the season. They play with a lot of pace and they’re solid from one to 15.
“But the cup final is about whichever side gets it right on the night. However, for both sides it will be great playing on the new surface at Murrayfield.”
Watson’s come into tonight’s final having shown immense character in defeating Strathallan at the penultimate stage of the competition, clinching the game in the dying minutes with a try by stand-off Kerr Stoddart.
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Unlike last season, though, when they had stellar players such as Ally Millar, Jake Kerr and Ben Robbins, Watson’s this year have relied on team understanding, allied to a strong work ethic, for their success. They have, however, the Scotland under-18 wing Robbie Nairn in their side, a powerful player capable of running through tackles.
Merchiston may feel justified to be favourites for the title this season, having been unbeaten in domestic fixtures. They have also competed well against the likes of Sedbergh, finished third in the prestigious St Joseph’s tournament in Ipswich last month, and defeated Watson’s.
Rob Moffat, director of rugby at Merchiston, however, is predicting a close match. He said: “It should be a really competitive final. I hope too that it’s a good game of rugby. I have to make sure the boys are calm and that they really enjoy the experience. I suppose a slight concern would be if the boys panicked.”
Much of Merchiston’s play has revolved round Zach Mercer, their No 8, who was at Williamwood High School before taking up a scholarship at Merchiston.
Mercer is part of a strong pack expected to deliver choice possession to a slick back line in which former Ayr youth player Aaron Tait at full-back and winger Louie Tang are fast finishers.
Much too will rest on the experience of scrum-half and skipper Dan Nutton, an accomplished goal kicker.
Merchiston could finish as double winners tonight if their under-16 team can overcome Dollar Academy.
But, in the younger age level cup final, Merchiston will not “enjoy” the onerous status of favourites. Instead, Dollar Academy will go into tonight’s final as the expected winners. A win for Dollar would rekindle memories of their former glory days that produced John Barclay and Graeme Morrison for the Clackmannanshire school, one of only two schools to have achieved three successive cup wins.
“This is our first final for a while. It’s a good group of boys. They’ve responded positively and deserve a reward,” said Dollar’s director of rugby, Don Caskie, the former Scotland A centre.
“The back row is strong and, significantly, 12 out of the starting team are fourth-year boys so that will be good for the future.”
Merchiston Castle U18s: A Tait; L Baird, C Gray, S McDowall, L Tang; F Ellison, D Nutton (captain); F Bradbury, J Maran, J Lascelles, T Henderson, S Richardson, K MacCormick, B Kenderdine, Z Mercer. Subs : H Burn, S Bate, G Tarr, M Oliver, J MacDonald, B Morris, T Bisset.
George Watson’s U18s: A Davidson; C Fox, L Berg, R Kerr, R Nairn; K Stoddart, C Davies; E Malloch, J Urquhart, C Eastwood, H Bain, R Evans, C Davidson (captain), M Henderson, J Goldring. Subs : C Harris, F Wood, C Chalmers, K Drummond, A Wilson, F Peters, G Tait.
Dollar Academy U16s: C Dineen; S Smith, F Fitzpatrick, A Citro, R Cooke; G Hughes, R McNicol; A Cooper (captain), N Reeves, C Souter, C Blakemore, J Skipper, L Peterson, G McGregor, C Cruickshank. Subs : S McLaren, A Parker, J Davies, J Price, M Cuthbertson, C Moore, H Neil.
Merchiston Castle U16s: H Clarkson; M Cox, J Eagers, H Scanlan, B Vessey; R Dowds, R Greenshields; D Bubnov, J Diggle, F Richardson, A Bisset, M Grant, C Yuille, O Knox, T Thomas. Subs : C McKay, G Sharp, H Fisher, J Henderson, R McLean, C Moore, L Birrell.
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