The Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cups concluded tonight at BT Murrayfield where Merchiston and George Watsons were the victorious sides after beating Dollar 25-24 (U16) and Merchiston 23-17 (U18) respectively.
Merchiston Castle School qualified for both the U16 and U18 finals for the second time in three years, whilst George Watsons were looking for their third successive win in the U18 competition. Dollar Academy, meanwhile, were involved in the U16 final for the first time since 2011 looking to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions this season.
Action got underway with the U16 final and after each team had some time on the ball, it was Dollar who capitalised with a lineout in the opposition 22. Flanker Gordon McGregor made the original break which got Dollar up on the Merchiston line and after shifting it wide, fly-half Grant Hughes went over for try. His conversion attempt, however, went wide of the posts.
It was Merchiston who then had control of the ball as they managed to string 8 phases together to get themselves into the Dollar 22. However, a small slip by scrum-half Greenshields gifted the ball back to Dollar who were more than willing to clear their lines.
After another 10 minutes or so of relative inactivity it was Dollar who started to go on the offensive and after McGregor made yet another strong break, Dollar stretched the defence to give the ball to winger Rory Cooke who went over. Hughes then delivered an outstanding conversion from the touchline to make the scoreline Dollar 12-0 Merchiston after 25 minutes.
Thanks to a good corner kick by Merchiston fly-half Ronan Dowds, half-back partner Greenshields managed to charge down the clearing kick, allowing centre Hamish Scanlan to pounce on the ball for the try. Dowd’s conversion took the scoreline to 12-7.
This 5 minutes of end-to-end rugby continued and Dollar soon extended their lead to 19-7 after Cooke went over for his second try in much the same fashion as his first. Hughes once again converted from the same position.
Half time: Dollar Academy 19 – 7 Merchiston Castle School
Merchiston were determined to get themselves back into the game in the second half and it was Ronan Dowds with a good kick from 30m out who reduced the scoreline to just 9 points with more than half an hour of play remaining.
Merchiston were now starting to show their true potential, using the strong runners of Finlay Richardson and Scanlan to make ground. After piling on the phases, it was their big no.8 Tyler Thomas who forced his way over the line from short range. Dowd’s conversion closed the score to 19-17 in Dollar’s favour.
Merchiston were now in control of the possession and it was Dollar who were starting to aggravate the referee. In the end, it was prop Calum Souter who was given the yellow card as a result of the build-up of penalties.
Merchiston took their time to make the most of the one man advantage, however, Ronan Dowds took the easy opportunity in front of the posts to give his side the lead for the first time, 20-19 with just 10 minutes left.
What then followed was probably the most outrageous 30 seconds of rugby to take place on the Murrayfield pitch in a long time. Merchiston failed to call for the mark and after each team hacked the ball between each other at least three or four times, it was Merchiston who failed to dive on the ball over the line allowing Hughes of Dollar to take his second of the day. The conversion was missed by Cameron Moore.
Coming into the final minute, it was Merchiston in possession of the ball, camped on the Dollar 22. Playing the advantage well, Merchiston now had a penalty less than 10 metres from the try line. With Merchiston building up the phases, an overlap soon developed with winger Mackenzie Cox going over for the winning score. Although the kick went wide, the try was all that mattered.
Speaking after the game captain Charlie Yuille explained why Merchiston came back in the 2nd half “We knew going into this game that we were going to win this in the 2nd half, that was where it would come about… And that last minute when the boys played there heart out… that is how we won the game.”
Coach Freddie Main had this to say of his team: “Myself and Stevie [Horrocks, assistant coach] are incredibly proud of the boys and the amount of work they put in. Now its paid off and the guys should enjoy it.”
Final score: Dollar Academy 24 – 25 Merchiston
And so, much like 2012, it rested on the U18 side to try and complete the double, something they fell short of at their last time of asking. Merchiston went into the game having been unbeaten against Scottish opposition, whilst it was Watsons who were looking to continue their impressive form in the competition.
And it was Watsons who got the better start with an early penalty allowing fly-half Kerr Stoddart to give his side an early lead.
What then followed was a mixed 10 minutes with neither team able to get a full grasp of the game. Once again, however, Watsons had the opportunity to extend their lead thanks to a break by Scotland U18 winger Robbie Nairn making a strong break, stopped only by a last-ditch tap-tackle by Aaron Tait. The resultant penalty for Watsons, however, went wide.
What soon followed was an amazing break by full-back Tait who showed some skilful stepping to run 50m along the touchline before making the offload to centre Stafford McDowall who subsequently went over to score. With the conversion going wide, Merchiston now led 5-3 after 22 minutes.
The rest of this half was rather uneventful when compared to the previous game, however, it seemed as though it as Merchiston with the slight advantage in play with Zach Mercer being the go-to man when in possession of the ball.
Half time: Merchiston 5 – 3 George Watsons
The second half started in much the same fashion, except this time it was Watsons who were starting to put on the pressure. After securing their lineout in the opposition 22, a few phases soon opened up an overlap and winger Calum Fox was on the end of Ronan Kerr’s pass to go over in the corner. Stoddart’s conversion fell short of the posts.
And Watsons continued building up the pressure and just 3 minutes later, Robbie Nairn was over for his side’s second of the game. Stoddart’s conversion once again went wide, so the scoreline now read Merchiston 5 13 Watsons with 22 minutes remaining.
Merchiston then enjoyed possession, however, despite spending much of the next 10 minutes in the opposition 22, it was a strong counterattack which produced the game’s next try with Nairn running down the wing from his own 22 to dot down under the posts. The conversion took it to 20-5 in George Watson’s favour.
Watsons then saw the opportunity to further extend their lead and it was the boot of Stoddart that made the score 23-5 thanks to a simple penalty kick.
Merchiston, however, are never a team to give up and with 6 minutes remaining, they were able to pass it wide to allow winger Louie Tang to score in the corner. Captain Dan Nutton took the conversion to narrow the gap to 11 points with only a few minutes remaining.
Was there the chance of a comeback? Well, Merchiston were going to give it there best shot; Benn Morris made two terrific breaks to get his team into the right area in the park and on the latter, he was able to get it wide to Stafford McDowall who went over for his second of the game with just 30 seconds left. Merchiston would need a converted try to win.
Alas, it was not to be and although Merchiston managed to make it out of their own 22, an eventual knock on meant that Watsons would take the U18 cup for the 3rd year in a row, becoming just the 3rd side to achieve this, fittingly after Merchiston Castle and Dollar Academy.
Reflecting on his team’s defeat, Merchiston Director of Rugby had this to say: “Obviously the boys just need to move on. We have a lot of talent in the school, but the team know that they didn’t play as well as they could have. We play Watsons again next Saturday so that’s our chance to really show what we can do as a team.”
George Watsons Captain and Man of the Match Calum Davidson described their preparations specifically for the game: “Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve really worked on our fitness so that we could avoid running out of steam in the final moments. Obviously, we allowed Merchiston a chance at the very end, but I’m really proud of the way in which the boys defended in the final play, not allowing Merchiston any territory.”
Final score: Merchiston Castle School 17 – 23 George Watsons College