Stewart’s-Melville College lived up to their billing as Cup favourites by winning the Scottish Schools under-18 final at BT Murrayfield last night in a match that fell short of being a classic but which demonstrated how much defence skills have progressed at this level.
Of the two sides it was Stewart’s-Melville who showed the greater armour plating in defence. “Most of that is bravery and a collective desire to be the best,” suggested the Stewart’s-Melville head coach Stuart Edwards, who expected the final to be a tight contest.
“Watson’s have a simple game plan. They try to batter you up front but that’s something we looked at.”
Watson’s coach Ally Donaldson praised Stewart’s-Melville for stopping his side. “Their defence and discipline was outstanding,” he said. “We didn’t get a penalty until the 55th minute. They put on a great show tonight and we were probably just a little bit behind them.”
Missing from the game was the flowing back play so often associated with schools rugby, and indeed five of the six tries scored in the match were by forwards.
Stewart’s-Melville were quickly into scoring mode with a try from short range by second row Dominic Gray after non-stop pressure in Watson’s 22m area.
Watson’s maul had been flagged up as part of their strengths but it was also a potent weapon for the Inverleith side who used it to telling effect in creating an unconverted try for hooker and skipper Duncan Hood.
Watson’s replied with a spell of pressure on the Stewart’s-Melville tryline, their pick-and-drive game eventually producing a try for second row Max Raitt and the conversion by Euan Maguire to narrow the lead to just three points.
The gap widened again after Stewart’s-Melville had worked their way back to the Watson’s line which was subjected to a sustained siege as the Inverleith side attempted to emulate the style of their opponents. Watson’s defence for the most part stood firm but when the ball was whipped out to the backs, inside centre Matt Russell, pictured, angled his run perfectly to score under the posts before adding the simple conversion for a 17-7 interval lead.
Watson’s showed their determination to even matters early in the second half and again it was their close-range driving play that paid dividends, with a try by prop Conor Myles, converted by Maguire, leaving the teams separated by just three points.
Once again Stewart’s-Melville widened the gap by pressuring their opponents in their 22m area and, from a lineout, prop Kaysan Davidson burst clear for a try converted by Russell to put them 24-14 ahead.
Watson’s looked poised to score when they set up a driving maul on their opponents’ line and arguably could have been awarded a penalty try when Stewart’s-Melville appeared to collapse the maul. But thereafter it was defence that prevailed as the game went into something of a stalemate, nevertheless ending in a satisfying win for Stewart’s-Melville.