Schools Cup final preview: Stewart’s-Melville v George Watson’s and Dollar Academy v Merchiston Castle

George Watson's coach Ally Donaldson, right, tasted success with captain Kenny Drummond in the 2015 U18 Scottish Schools Cup final. Picture: SNS
George Watson's coach Ally Donaldson, right, tasted success with captain Kenny Drummond in the 2015 U18 Scottish Schools Cup final. Picture: SNS
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Scottish Schools rugby will stage its gala event tonight on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield where Stewart’s-Melville College face George Watson’s College in the final of the under-18 Cup and Dollar Academy take on Merchiston Castle School in the under-16 match.

Scottish Schools rugby will stage its gala event tonight on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield where Stewart’s-Melville College face George Watson’s College in the final of the under-18 Cup and Dollar Academy take on Merchiston Castle School in the under-16 match.

Given the long history of the Cup and the consistently high standard of rugby achieved by tonight’s protagonists, it is surprising that Stewart’s-Melville and Watson’s have never met in the under-18 Cup final. For both sides tonight marks a return to Murrayfield after several seasons’ absence.

“It’s great to be back in the final,” said the Watson’s coach Ally Donaldson, pictured, whose charges go into the final having already won the under-18 Colt Conference and also the Merchiston Festival in October. That should have made Watson’s favourites for this season’s Cup but a heavy defeat by Stewart’s-Melville in the penultimate round of the Colt Conference has altered the odds.

“We were second best to Stew-Mel by a long shot in the Conference match,” conceded Donaldson, adding: “So we’ll go into the Cup final as underdogs. Stew-Mel are an excellent team and have lots of very good players. But I’ve got every faith in our group of players. There’s a good balance in the team.”

Watson’s will be without their pacy wing Angus Hoffie, who has a torn hamstring, Matt McMillan, who broke his leg early season and prop Luke Hutchison, who broke his wrist in the semi-final against Edinburgh Academy.

Stewart’s-Melville have tasted Cup success more recently than Watson’s, having lifted the title three seasons ago, when they pipped Dollar Academy in a dramatic denouement to the match. This season, what is a relatively young side – half of the squad of 22 are in S5 – has developed into a strong team as they confirmed in the rather one-sided semi-final against Marr College.

Stewart’s-Melville’s under-18 coach Stuart Edwards has warned his side not to read too much into their 44-19 Conference win over Watson’s. He said: “We’re aware that Murrayfield will be a completely different setting. Nevertheless it’s good to have played them and we’ll certainly take confidence from our win. What it really gives us is knowledge on Watson’s.

“We know their strengths. They’re a physical side and like to maul.

“For us I hope the size of the pitch at Murrayfield will suit us. We want to express ourselves on the international pitch. I’ve challenged the boys to be ambitious.”

Preceding the under-18 Cup final on the international pitch will be the under-16 Cup final between Dollar Academy and Merchiston (4.15pm), while on the back pitches at Scottish Rugby HQ, Heriot’s play Merchiston in the final of the under-18 Shield (2pm). The other match on the back pitches is the U16 Plate final between Queen Victoria School and The Royal High School (1.30pm).

The other four finals are being played at The Oriam centre are the U16 Bowl, Morrison’s Academy v Hawick High School (11.00am), the U16 Shield, Hutchesons’ Grammar School v Dunbar Grammar School (11.45am), the U18 Bowl Hawick High/Jed Grammar v Hutcheson’s Grammar School (12.45pm) and the U18 Plate Gordonstoun School v Earlston High School (1.30pm).

TEAMS

STEWART’S-MELVILLE COLLEGE U18: J Thompson; B McNulty, A Boyle, M Russell, A Cross; C Townsend, F Campbell; M Jones, D Hood, K Davidson, A Robertson, D Gray, J Mather, L McGrigor, R Gordon. Replacements: T Marcus, C Affleck, M Robertson, R Chisholm, J Burns, D King, A Morris.

GEORGE WATSON’S COLLEGE U18: 
D Brown; C Milligan, A Cousin, E Maguire, R Daley; R Stephen, B Young; C Myles, M Cantle, G Scougall, M Raitt, A Watters, T Holmes, C Hardie, E Henderson. Replacements: 
B Lynes, J Ryan, B Gale, L Musat, C Scullion, A Hastings, Z Neil.

DOLLAR ACADEMY U16: R Disborough; A Peden, L Hunter, A Kelly, L Cheng; J McKillop, E Rennie; J Bery, G Garcia, A Licence, R Walker, B Forshaw, C Sharpe, S Wallace, B Shearer. Replacements: G Lumsden, J Weir, Z Jones, T Smith, A Tilsey, J Walker, O Williams.

MERCHISTON CASTLE SCHOOL U16: D McCall Smith; A Coyne, L McCarroll, A Callaway, A Raza; F Connolly, M de Villiers; A Scanlan, J Sibbald, R Evans, G Crawford, F McLean, L Ferguson, T Currie, R Brown. Replacements: J Warner, M Gray, J Hay, E Hunter, M Brown, J Napier, G Tasoren.