Bell Baxter strike blow for state sector

Bell Baxter HS 20

Dollar Academy 8

THE state sector produced its first champion in a decade last night when Bell Baxter High School won a thrilling Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools Cup final at Murrayfield.

There has been a stirring in Cupar for some time as these talented youngsters made their way through the year groups. They secured the Scottish Schools sevens title last year, and most of the team will tomorrow turn their attentions to the Scottish Youth League semi-final on Sunday when they will compete as Howe of Fife. The SRU offered the players use of Murrayfield's recovery facilities and, if the Fifers reach the final, they will look at moving it back a day to Thursday to try and ease the burden on a successful group of players.

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Gary Horne, the Bell Baxter coach, said: "It was a great final. We were pushed all the way and it was a tremendous effort by the guys. I thought Dollar played excellently; they challenged around the park as well as any team we've played.

"Somebody said to me after the Merchiston Castle [semi-final] that that was as intense as anything they had seen in Scotland this year, and I think the intensity tonight matched that."

And it was not only on the park. The crowd was given as 5,465, but the noise was fitting for an attendance three times that figure and left few around the west end of Edinburgh in no doubt there was a game on at Murrayfield. The thumping drums and shrieking cheers prompted the thought that it would be worth handing out free tickets for Edinburgh matches to the schoolchildren in a bid to cultivate fans from the Caledonia region.

The first half was a pulsating affair with Bell Baxter making much of the running, and gradually working up their attack, but finding the hard-working Dollar defence an extremely tough nut to crack. Early on, the Clackmannanshire school, prised good openings of their own in the Bell Baxter rearguard, and Gregor Ross, the tighthead, and stand-off Angus Tester caused them problems in the loose.

However, there was a maturity about the Bell Baxter play, the manner in which the forwards picked and drove, support players ran good angles and passes were not wasted. At the apex were openside Chris Fusaro and livewire half-backs Stewart Lathangie and Ross Aitken. The trio provided good, direct leads with ball in hand and gave their teammates platforms from which to build momentum, and when the back three of Rory Drummond, Graeme Johncock and Peter Horne, the full-back and man-of-the-match, hit the line the alarm bells rang out for Dollar.

Horne turned good pressure into points with a penalty for Bell Baxter after 24 minutes and followed it with a try just two minutes later. It stemmed from a dynamic surge, Drummond sending Horne streaking into the Dollar 22, and when the ball was recycled and moved right skipper Chris Mason found Horne on his shoulder to race into the corner.

Dollar fought back well and with a penalty Tester rewarded the commitment of leaders such as Matthew Pope, the non-stop openside, John Patrick-Ward, the captain, and scrum-half Andrew Shedden for an 8-3 half-time scoreline.

Bell Baxter seemed to close the door on the uprising after ten minutes of the second half when centre Steve Wilson scored a tremendous try, twice stepping off his right. Horne converted. But Dollar have a great tradition in this competition, and having won the cup three times in the past four years they were not giving up without a fight.

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A swift attack begun by Gordon Robertson only a minute after his introduction ended with excellent ball retention, a series of drives to the Bell Baxter line and a try, courtesy of Finlay Hay, the replacement prop.

But the Cupar school were not to be denied and sealed victory when Graeme Johncock sprinted around the Dollar defence and into the left-hand corner.

Scorers. Dollar Academy: Try: Hay. Pen: Tester. Bell Baxter HS: Tries: Horne, Wilson, Johncock. Pen: Horne. Cons: Horne 2.

Dollar Academy: W Auld; C Morrison, E Smith, G Page, N Baron; A Tester, A Shedden; J Patrick-Ward (capt), A Sutherland, G Ross, J Chalmers, R Houston, B Peck, J Webb, M Pope. Subs used: R Shedden, F Hay, A Cummings, G Robertson.

Bell Baxter HS: P Horne; R Drummond, R Williamson, S Wilson, G Johncock; R Aitken, S Lathangie; D Fraser, J Fox-Clark, P Robertson, G Henderson, D Lorimer, M Fedo, C Mason (capt), C Fusaro. Subs used: M Keeble, C Dow, A Young, I Dawson, C Martin, W Wardlaw.

Referee: G Hannah (Kirkcaldy). Attendance: 5465.