Watson’s on familiar ground for schools rugby final

left to right, captains Chris Jollands, Ally Miller, Charlie Lonergan and Oli Brown. Picture: SNS/SRU
left to right, captains Chris Jollands, Ally Miller, Charlie Lonergan and Oli Brown. Picture: SNS/SRU
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A SECOND successive Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools title beckons for George Watson’s College tonight when they face a resurgent Dundee High School in the under-18 cup final on the international pitch at Murrayfield.

Watson’s, the defending champions, go into tonight’s match as favourites not least because of recent performances, notably an emphatic win over a strong and well-coached Strathallan side in the second of the semi-finals earlier this month. In that match, Watson’s showed power, pace and panache to run in five tries, confirming that they have what it takes to go the whole way.

“This is at least as good a side as last year’s cup winners,” said Watson’s director of rugby Ally Donaldson.

“If anything, it’s a more all-round team compared to last year’s side, which had particular strength in the pack” added Donaldson, who believes that the season’s turning point cames not with a victory but a defeat.

“We lost to Palmerston North Boys High School [from New Zealand] and, for our boys, that proved to be a great learning experience. We were competitive with them for much of that match but they pulled away in the last quarter.”

Watson’s only other defeat was to Stewart’s-Melville College in the opening match of the season but since then and with the return from injury of captain and No 8, Ally Miller, the Myreside team has been unchallenged in domestic fixtures.

Miller, who played for Scotland under-18 last season, will be a key figure tonight, as will the burly hooker and Scotland under-18 squad member Jake Kerr. Behind the scrum Watson’s have a slick backline under the generalship of skilful stand-off Calum Young who, in Donaldson’s words, “filled the void after Adam Hastings [son of Gavin] moved to Millfield”.

Donaldson added: “Calum was always in Adam’s shadow but now he has emerged from that and has assumed responsibility”.

At centre, Watson’s field two fifth year boys in Hugh Ferguson and Ronan Kerr and, in the back three, potent finishers in New Year sprint winner Ben Robbins, Scotland under-16 player Robbie Nairn and skilful full-back Jamie Cousin.

What should give Watson’s an advantage is familiarity with Murrayfield. For several of the side this will be their third successive appearance in a cup final, Watson’s having won the under-16 cup two years ago and of course the under-18 final last year when a late try by Hastings secured victory over Merchiston.

For Dundee High School, playing in the final, represents a first appearance in the showcase match at Murrayfield since 2005, the second of two successive finals for the Mayfield team.

Dundee High, who had Richie Vernon and Colin Goudie in their teams, lost both of those finals to exceptionally strong Dollar Academy sides that contained the likes of John Barclay and Cammy Fergusson.

Then, as now, it was a talented year group which brought success to Dundee High. The current side contains many of the players who narrowly lost to Watson’s in the Brewin Dolphin under-16 Cup semi-final two years ago and who have gone toe to toe with their equivalent Watson’s year group as they progressed through school.

Dundee High have had a relatively comfortable route to the final, beating Trinity Academy, Edinburgh Academy and then George Heriot’s School but Watson’s represent a massive step-up.

Coach Ewan Jack said: “We’re happy to go in as underdogs but we’re in with a chance.”

Leading Dundee is dynamic flanker Chris Jollands who, along with centre Duncan Leese, is in the Scotland under-18 squad. The Mayfield side also have national squad players in winger Ronan Joy and scrum-half Henry Samson at under-17 level, and centre Ewan Fox at under-16. Stand-off Marshall McLeod has developed into a skilful half back and there is pace on the other wing in Scott Lothian. Dundee have shown that they can produce a complete team performance, notably against Edinburgh Academy in the quarter-finals, and that is what they will need again to deny Watson’s.

George Watson’s College Under-18: J Cousin; R Nairn, H Ferguson, R Kerr, B Robbins; C Young, F McMillan; E Irvine, J Kerr, D Berezford, P Halliday, A Coull, Calum Davidson, Connor Davidson, A Miller Subs J Urquhart, G Rostron, C Chalmers, R Lind, C Davies, K Stoddart, C McMillan

Dundee High School Under-18: J Clarkson; S Lothian, E Fox, D Leese, R Joy; M MacLeod, H Sampson; A Powrie, A Milne, A Hussain, C Sinclair, J Mather, O Davidson, C Jollands, B White Subs P Kidd, C Bennett, A Ashworth, C McCrimmon, C Archibald, C Hedigan, R Paterson.

St Aloysius flying the flag for Glasgow in under-16 showdown

When Hutchesons’ Grammar won the last of the Brewin Dolphin Under-15 Cup finals, many predicted that it would be some time before a west coast school was again in the final.

Those who despaired of a Glasgow school ever again challenging what has become east coast dominance, will derive some hope from the appearance of St Aloysius College in tonight’s Brewin Dolphin Under-16 final at Murrayfield.

St Aloysius have a proud record in the schools cup, having won the senior competition five times. But that was before the entry of the major independent schools 16 years ago. Since then, the Glasgow school has not figured in national finals.

After the retirement of their long-standing coach, Phil Crampsey, St Aloysius followed the path of other independent schools in appointing a specialist rugby coach.

Former Scotland A stand-off Mark McKenzie became director of rugby at the Glasgow school this season and, although results at first XV level have not been encouraging, his presence is having an effect on younger teams and notably the under-16 side.

McKenzie said: “The under-16 team is our flagship side. They’ve done well this season and have just got stronger and stronger. That bodes well for us at first XV level next year.

“We lost to Watson’s earlier this year but we’ve improved since then. We have a big pack and, hopefully, that will tell. We’re beginning to get our game in order and hopefully we can cause an upset.”

St Aloysius College go into the final tonight having knocked out Robert Gordon’s College in the first round with a 38-5 win before edging past Dollar Academy 22-19 in the quarters and beating Strathallan 11-5 in the semi-final.

Watson’s last won the under-16 title two years ago and are determined to repeat that success, not least as a fitting tribute to the late Iain Brown, who coached the side last season and for one game this term before his tragic death.

“This team has matured into a good all-round side and are unbeaten this season,” said Ally Donaldson, Watson’s director of rugby. Surprisingly, given the success of this side, there are no players in the extended Scotland under-16 squad, but that could change after tonight’s final.

Watson’s playmaker is Murray Scott who is still in the under-15 age group while, at full back, Gregor Tait, a fifth- year pupil, was good enough to go with the senior squad on their tour to Capetown during the summer break. In the pack Watson’s have strength at lock in the form of Rory Evans and at No 8, where Ken Drummond has been performing well.

The Myreside team had to work hard in the first round before defeating Fettes College 16-14 but then showed impressive form with a 35-0 quarter-final win over George Heriot’s School and then a 36-14 victory against a strong Edinburgh Academy side.

George Watson’s College Under-16: G Tait; F Cousin, C Macdonald, O Brown, E Stanton; M Scott, F Peters; M Calder, C Harris, E Malloch, C Eastwood, R Evans, T Hay, G Nelson, K Drummond Subs T Hogg, T Weller, W Wright, B McLaughlin, M Kennedy, A Wood, J Davies.

St Aloysius College Under-16: J Skivington; A McCourtney, C Lonergan, A McConnell, A McMillan; L McHugh, R McDonald; M Scott, J Lamont, M Sutherland, E McCreadie, J Scott, M Hughes, F Curran, D Kelly Subs V Vezza, S Marchetti, C Prior, N Querns,L Nolan, C McKenzie, C Clarke.