Schools cup needs to be a two-tiered competition

IF evidence was needed that the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup requires a thorough overhaul then Saturday's semi-final matches at under-15 and under-18 levels surely strengthened the argument for reconstruction.

For a start, playing matches in January is always a risky business, but in leagues it is simply a necessary evil if there is to be continuity throughout the season. But it need not be for schools cup rugby. Quite simply, playing the all-important semi-final stages of the cup in January is an insult to the schools involved and is likely to kill off any chance of the kind of free-flowing rugby encouraged at this age level.

How then can this be avoided? The answer, it seems, would be to restructure the competition so that the so-called 'stronger' schools are in at round one. But would it be fair to have, Merchiston for example, playing against a school that can barely scrape together 15 players.

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Of course not. What the cup desperately needs is a two-tier competition – one for the established schools and one for emerging schools. This is not an elitist position but simply one of common sense, as many of the astronomically high scorelines from past seasons so clearly demonstrates.

If both tiers of the cup started in mid-September then it would be possible to complete the competition at the latest by early December.

"If we finished the cup before Christmas that would avoid conflicts with representative rugby. Something has to be done to reshape the cup" says Steve Newton, the coach of Dollar Academy.

The other issue that resurfaced on Saturday was the matter of playing semi-finals at neutral venues.

The practice has been abandoned in recent seasons and much to the cost of Edinburgh Academy, who drew 3-3 with Stewart's-Melville in the under-15 semi at Newfield but lost out on the 'away' rule.

Bryn Lockie of Stewart's-Melville College sympathises with Edinburgh Academy and insists the last four round needs a shake-up.

He said: "We should have neutral venues for semi-finals, preferably with evening kick-offs to allow as many as possible to watch.

"The team that wins will go on to play at Murrayfield so it would be much better if they had experience of playing under lights and in front of a crowd," he added.

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Stewart's-Melville will play Edinburgh Academy at Murrayfield in the under-18 final while in the under-15 final Stewart's-Melville again are represented and will face Hutchesons' Grammar School, whose appearance gives hope that Glasgow schools rugby is at last coming out of the cold.