SCHOOLS rugby may be entering something of a dormant phase this term but in the club age-grade sector there is focused activity this weekend as 16 teams battle for places in the semi-finals of the Scottish Youth League Cups at both Under-18 and Under-16 levels.
Top of the bill at Under-18 level this Saturday is the much anticipated clash at Bridgehaugh between the title holders, Stirling County, and Melrose Wasps/Earlston High School. The Bridgehaugh side go into this quarter final match on the back of a strong showing in the Shogun Conference last term, when they finished a close second to Boroughmuir.
Playing at home will help County but the real advantage the Stirling side have is the experience and match hardness they will have gained from being part of the Shogun Conference.
By contrast, Melrose Wasps play in a conference that does not offer the same level of competition. Once the envy of other parts of Scotland, the Borders Semi-Junior League has lost its prestige for a number of reasons, not least because smaller clubs in the region are finding it increasingly hard to field teams resulting in many of the scheduled fixtures not being fulfilled, or for those that are, in unhelpful mis-matches.
Melrose, who expect to have their Scotland Under-18 squad members, Christian Townsend and Jake Fairlie, back in the side after their training weekend at Largs last weekend, are fresh from a 38-10 league win over Tynedale at The Greenyards last Saturday and that result will surely engender confidence.
The other Borders side hoping to reach the last four are Hawick, who reached the quarters by defeating Ellon 62-12 in the preliminary round. Hawick travel to the North Inch to play Perthshire, the Galant Conference B winners.
At Meggetland, Shogun Conference winners, Boroughmuir take on Granite City, who were second to Mackie Academy FP in the North East region Lancer Conference at Under-18 level. Having already had success in Conference rugby, Boroughmuir, will be eager to progress to the semi-final of the Cup to further show the effectiveness of their youth academy, now in its second season.
The fourth quarter final at under-18 level is the west coast clash between Ayr/Wellington and GHA at Millbrae. GHA won the Galant A Conference at under-18 level with six victories from six rounds and will certainly fancy their chances against a young Ayr side that is still developing but which gave notice of its improvement by defeating Boroughmuir in the final round of Conference matches.
In the Under-16 quarter-finals, predictions of the outcomes are trickier. Stirling County are away to last season’s beaten finalists, Cartha QP, Boroughmuir have home advantage against Mackie Academy FP, and Currie Chieftains are likewise not required to travel for their game at Malleny Park against Perthshire. These three matches are all on Sunday.
The closest game should be at the Volunteer Park in Hawick on Saturday where the Greens face a Biggar side that showed their strength by dismissing Melrose Wasps at The Greenyards in the preliminary round.