Old school rivals mark 150 years of world rugby history

THE latest instalment in the longest running fixture in world rugby will be played out tomorrow afternoon, when the 1st XVs from Edinburgh Academy and Merchiston Castle School mark 150 years of rivalry with a special celebratory match at Raeburn Place.

A crowd in excess of 2,000 is expected to watch the two teams compete for the Sesquicentenary Trophy, which has been donated by the Edinburgh Academical Football Club and will be competed for annually in the future.

A gala dinner, to be attended by over 900 guests, is also taking place at Murrayfield tonight. John Beattie, the former Scotland and Lions number eight, is in the chair; with other speakers including Roger Baird (Merchston 1st XV from 1975-8), Jeremy Richardson (Academy 1st XV 1979-82), Ian McLauchlan and Fran Cotton.

In the first match between these two great Scottish rugby nurseries – played at Raeburn Place on the 11 December 1858 – the Academy scored two tries but, as neither was converted and only goals counted in those days, the result was a draw. Overall Merchiston has had rather the better of the 233 matches played: winning 139 compared to 66 Academy successes, with 28 games ending in a draw.

While they might have been overshadowed in the head-to-heads, the Academy has the bragging rights when it comes to representative honours, having produced 103 full internationals compared to 62 from Merchiston.

Current Scotland captain Mike Blair was schooled at the Academy, following in the footsteps of such giants of the game as Bill Maclagan, G.P.S. Macpherson, W.I.D. Elliot and Rodger Arneil.

Some of the great Merchiston alumni to have played for Scotland are W. Cross, who scored the try which sealed Scotland's victory over England in that first international match, Ross Logan, the great Scottish scrum-half of the 1930s, Roger Baird, John Jeffrey and Duncan Hodge.

Four Merchiston players, David Cherry, Luke Morrow, Henry Oliver and Harry Mountain, are in the Scotland under-18 set-up. "This game is always looked upon by both teams as the biggest of the year, and because the boys recognise that this is a special occasion they are particularly excited," said coach Mark Appleson.

Meanwhile, Ed Saunders, the Academy coach, is hoping that the team spirit and work ethic of his young side will see them through against their old rivals. Captain Thomas MacDonald realises that the weight of history is resting on his shoulders. 'My great, great, great grandfather was one of the founders of the Accies football club 150 years ago. I am sure that he would be really proud to see the match against Merchiston still going strong after all this time."