EDINBURGH ACADEMY coach Mark Appleson was today savouring victory in a scintillating final of the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup final in front of 5,812 spectators at Murrayfield last night.
• Edinburgh Academy celebrate their win
But he was prepared to concede that he believed his charges were destined to be runners-up in a breathtaking finish to a tense contest against city rivals Stewart's-Melville College when skipper Fraser Gilles sent two drop goal attempts wide of the target.
However, the stand-off remained calm when presented with a penalty opportunity deep into injury time. He stroked over the kick to snatch the silverware 13-11.
"I thought we had blown our chance when the second drop goal went wide. I thought that was it," said Appleson.
Nevertheless, he was not surprised at the refusal of his players to concede defeat, adding: "We said at half time that there is no questioning their guts. They will die for each other out there. It showed in the semi-final and it showed again in the final.
• Matthew Zegelman breaks a tackle
"When the second drop goal went wide they could easily have let the heads go down but they got themselves up and, I'm biased, but I think they just about deserved to win."
Appleson also paid tribute to his predecessor in the role, saying: "Ed Saunders was at the school for 14 years. He worked wonders with these guys and deserves a huge amount of credit. The first person on the phone after the game was Ed. I think the boys did it for him as much as me. "
The coach pointed to what he saw as the superior fitness of his players as being key to the victory, which is his third, having previously led Merchiston to the trophy twice.
"I thought that in the first half we were a bit star struck and the chances we had we just blew," he said. "That was symptomatic of the first half. In the second half, we relaxed and actually played some very good rugby. We've been doing it all season and we knew with our fitness levels that might be crucial.
"As the game went on it became increasingly easy to win our own ball. That's basically down to the fitness levels. We play at pace and we train at pace. The guys are used to running and running and running.
"The week after beating Watsons in the semi-final, we spent the entire week on fitness. We knew that on a bog pitch it was going to be crucial, so it's paid off."
The Academy trailed 3-0 at the break after Stew-Mel full-back Scott Cook booted a penalty from wide on the left that was as sweet a contact as any seen at Murrayfield this season.
And with his skipper Michael Crawley posing a constant threat with his penetrating runs through the centre, while scrum-half Jonny Gilfillan made intelligent use of the boot, that lead could have been greater.
However, it was the Academy who made the better start to the second period and when recycled ball at a close-range ruck was moved inside, Gillies showed deft handling skills to feed Henry Binnian who powered over for the try.
• Edinburgh Academy's Adam Simpson makes a break
Gillies converted then atoned for a long-range penalty miss with a drop goal.
However, Stew-Mel battled back and another searing run by Crawley ended with the ball moved wide to Cook who plunged over at the corner. He was narrowly off target with the conversion attempt but made no mistake with a 40-metre penalty to nudge his side into a single-point lead.
That margin still separated the sides entering injury time when Gillies calmly landed the winning kick to condemn Stew-Mel to the runners-up medals for a second successive year.
• Captain Fraser Gillies nails the winning kick
Their head of games, Bryn Lockie, said, "I'm very proud of the boys, they gave it everything. Both teams tried to play some rugby.
"To lose in the last play is hard but that's how sport can be some times. The boys are distraught but they'll get over that as boys do.
"We'll have a strong team again next year. It would be great to try and get back another time."
Edinburgh Academy: Try: Binnian. Con: Gillies. Drop goal: Gillies. Pen: Gillies
Stewart's-Melville: Try: Cook. Pens: Cook (2)
Edinburgh Academy: A Simpson, A Normand (J Farndale 53), B Brown, M Zegleman (R Cumming 53), T Whittle, F Gillies, J Munro, R Campbell, S Moodie, S Murphy, D Forbes (G Blackie 53), H Binnian, N Plevris, C Dean (J McLean 53), L Seydak
Stewart's-Melville: S Cook, A Hughes, A Hagart, M Crawley, M Batchelor, A Warnock, J Gilfillan, M Campbell, J Cook, G Turner, B Docherty R McPhail, N Bowie (M Tainton 65), B Johnstone, A Wilson
Referee: J Matthew (Fettes)