Alan Lorimer @ Murrayfield
IF you wanted to cast an eye over Scotland’s best age-level talent then Murrayfield was the place to be last weekend. On view were the finals and third/fourth play-offs of the Scottish Rugby Academy Regional Championship from which Caledonia emerged as the most successful of the four districts.
In case you’ve been absorbed by other aspects of rugby and not least the current politics you might have missed the fact that Scotland’s best youngsters took part in a round-robin tournament over three weeks in Aberdeen, Cumbernauld and Galashiels leading to the denouement at Murrayfield.
Of course, it being summer, not all players were available, Edinburgh in particular suffering from the absence of their Merchiston players at under-18 level. But even without several leading lights, the rugby on view was a tasty offering.
The finals at all three age levels, under-20, under-18 and under-16, were all between Edinburgh and Caledonia, leaving Borders/East Lothian and Glasgow to contest the third/fourth play-offs.
In the event Caledonia took the titles at under-20 and under-18 levels but the region north of the Forth were denied a hat-trick by an inspired performance at under-16 level from Edinburgh who reversed a heavy defeat in the third round of the championship at Galashiels a week earlier to win by 40-7.
The Edinburgh under-16s’ coach, Mike Ker, admitted that changes to his team had made the difference. “We had strong players back in the key positions of hooker, number 8, scrum half, stand-off and inside centre, the so-called spine of the team and they contributed handsomely.” he said.
Outstanding for Edinburgh under-16 in their 40-7 win were stand-off Matthew Russell, centre Aidan Boyle (both Stewart’s-Melville College) and full back Harvey Cameron-Barr (Edinburgh Academy), while in the forward pack back rows Mike Cantle (George Watson’s College) and Teddy Thomson (Merchiston) were influential.
But Edinburgh could not stop a strong Caledonia side from winning the under-18 match by 19-7 with tries from prop Ben Mace (Stirling County), wing Mungo Somerville (Waid Academy) and the impressive scrum-half, Finlay Jacobs (Mackie). Two of Caledonia’s tries were converted by inside centre Mikey Heron, who aside from kicking accurately, was strong both in attack and defence.
For Edinburgh under-18 the strong-running full-back Harry Paterson (Fettes College) scored a first half try converted by Nathan Moffat (Stewart’s-Melville College).
Caledonia coach Colin Sangster, while pleased with his side’s win, was not totally satisfied with the performance. “We lost our key playmaker Euan Cunningham (Stirling County) and that affected us. I thought at times our attack was a bit flat.”
At under-20 level, Caledonia, fielding a number of contenders for the national team, made a powerful statement with their 45-14 win over Edinburgh. Caledonia had the game won by half time when they led 31-7 from a brace of tries by centre Andrew McLean (Stirling County), prop Euan McLaren (Ayr), the admirably mobile second-row Ross Bundy (Stirling County) and number eight Struan Dow (Glasgow Hawks). Then, in the second half centre Grant Hughes and prop Murphy Walker (both Stirling County) added further tries. Former Dollar full-back Ben McIlwraith (Hartpury College) kicked four conversions, the other two pointer coming from replacement Angus Vipond.
For Edinburgh scrum-half Robbie Davies and number eight Kit Buchan scored tries both converted by stand-off George Goodenough (Boroughmuir).
In the third fourth play-offs Borders and East Lothian defeated Glasgow 21-14 in the under-20 game, the under-18 match was drawn 7-7 and at under-16 level Glasgow were 12-5 winners over Borders.