Stewart's Melville v Edinburgh Academy Brewin Dolphin Under-18 Scottish Schools Cup final At Murrayfield, today, kick-off 2pm
PHIL Godman has experienced the full gamut of emotions at Murrayfield, but still looks back on the day he won the Scottish Schools Cup as Merchiston Castle captain 11 years ago as one of his career highlights.
The Brewin Dolphin tournament comes to a climax at Murrayfield today with the same two Edinburgh schools contesting the final, Edinburgh Academy the holders bidding for their second success in the competition and challengers Stewart's Melville hunting their first win in three successive final appearances and third schools title to add to 1999 and 2006 triumphs.
The captains, Chris Dean and Ross McPhail, enjoyed a different build-up to the usual schools game this week, having coffee at Hanan's overlooking Victoria Street, with Godman as part of the media activity, joined by their U16s skippers Rory Simpson and Alex Clayton who come face-to-face in the U16s final later this month.
The teenagers listened intently to the internationalist's experiences of using the schools competition as a launchpad for a professional career and 23 Scotland caps so far, but strangely all four are familiar to the main pitch at Murrayfield, so running out on to the international field is not the daunting prospect it often is for schoolboys.
Dean, who comes from North Berwick, explained: "I played in the under-15s final and last year's U18s, so it's not new to me, but this final is a totally different experience to the U15s because the crowd is bigger and there is definitely a louder atmosphere. Last year's final was the best day of my life, and you just want to get back there and experience it again."
McPhail, the Stewart's Melville captain, was a rival to the Academy captain Dean as openside flankers in the Edinburgh set-up, but Dean has switched to outside centre this season under the guidance of Mark Appleson, the former Scotland 'A' fly-half, while McPhail has opted out of district rugby this season to concentrate on his studies.
"That is another reason why I'm really excited about us reaching the cup final," said McPhail. "I've had a lot of work in sixth year and I am going to Durham University to study Classics, so my main rugby focus was just with the school and reaching the final again.
"Having been at Murrayfield before I know what to expect, and I can maybe be a bit more relaxed this year. Accies beat us earlier in the season 14-10, but it was close, and last season we had beaten them, again narrowly, before the final, so I don't think that will matter much. It's about the day. We've been to the final three times now and, though the team has changed quite a bit, we're hoping it's a case of third time lucky."
As he enjoyed listening to the youngsters building up their game, Godman urged McPhail not to give up on his dream of playing professional rugby while studying at Durham. He similarly left Merchiston to study politics at Newcastle University before joining Newcastle Falcons and understudying England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, and encouraged Dean to work hard on becoming a centre-threequarter. "It's great that they're excited and I remember what it was like playing at Murrayfield in the cup final.
"I had played there before with Scotland against France at age-grade level, but there was nothing like the crowd that turned up for the schools final. It was also different because you were playing with your mates for the school, guys you'd come through school with and there's nothing quite like that.
"I remember my first cap too, and first time playing at Murrayfield for Scotland - it was against Romania in 2005 - and obviously that was a very special occasion, but it was still different to the schools cup, which is still up there for me as a real highlight."
This afternoon's final will provide a platform for some of the best talent in the Scottish game, and the expected crowd of more than 5,000 will hugely appreciate that, but still the top players like Dean will find themselves far behind the levels of those they will meet across the UK and Europe when they leave school. Some of that is due to independent schools' refusal to play in a league competition with state schools, where they could help to challenge and improve rugby standards across the country.
That, however, has nothing to do with the players preparing to take centre stage today and, as McPhail and Dean return to Murrayfield today, there is no doubting the desire that exists within the skippers to ensure they mark the end of school life with the experience - and silverware - that leaves a long-lasting memory. "You only have so long at school and although I have one more year, you can't take this kind of occasion for granted," added Dean. "I would love the opportunity to become a professional and one day play for Scotland, like Phil has done, but the focus right now is on winning the cup final again."
Stewart's Melville (v Edinburgh Academy at Murrayfield, 2pm): M Black; A Greig, D St Clair, J Hannay, L Bargery; A Hagart, C Taylor; H Lindsay, C Halliday, R Mackintosh, J Morgan, A St Clair, M Campbell, R McPhail (capt), J Duncan. Subs: C Gilfillan, R Warnock, J Johnstone, D Gibb-Morris, I Miller, A Masson, S Bergius.
Edinburgh Academy: S Heaney; J Farndale, C Dean (capt), M Zegleman, F Smith; A Muir, A Glashan; J Haining, T Normand; D Falkner, D Forbes, A Inwood, C Thomson, J MacLean, C Simpson. Subs: A Lutton, C Allan, O Cradock, R Seydak, J Hardie, D November, G MacLean.