by ALAN LORIMER
STIRLING COUNTY eased their way into the semi-finals of the Scottish Youth League Under-18 Cup after defeating Melrose Wasps/Earlston HS 36-19 at Bridgehaugh in a game that, in physical terms, proved to be a mismatch.
Melrose, twelve of whose starting side were under 17, and who consequently will be back next season, were out-muscled in the forwards by a Stirling side that had a powerful front-row, a hard-working second-row and a back-row that revelled in tough defensive duties.
“We certainly played to our strengths, especially in the first half and did well from it,” said the Stirling coach, Stewart Milne. “What pleased me was that the boys didn’t get too tied into it by simply smashing up.”
Melrose, out-gunned in the forward exchanges and without their injured Scotland squad front-row Jake Fairlie, lost their starting prop Padraig Gillan after a heavy tackle. Thereafter, the game went to uncontested scrums, giving the Borderers an equal chance to secure set-piece ball and allowing their talented backs to showcase their skills.
Stirling led 12-0 at the break with tries from prop Ben Mace and their impressive stand-off Keir Singleton, plus one successful conversion from Callean Lindsay, and the home team effectively killed off the game with three quick tries in the second half from Mace, second-row Roraigh Hughes and wing Jamie Nixon, and one conversion from Lindsay.
Melrose, however, never capitulated and used their slick backs to score tries through scrum-half Ross Lile (2) and stand-off Christian Townsend, two of them converted by full-back Kieran Clark, before County increased their points tally again with a try by replacement second-row Liam Ferguson and the conversion by Lindsay completed their scoring.
Stirling will face Boroughmuir in the second of the semi-finals, both of which will be played at The Oriam on 26th January.
The Meggetland side achieved a comfortable 69-0 win against Granite City with try double contributions from hooker Grant Stevenson, wing Jeke Canakaivata, flanker Gavin Inkster and wing Finlay Devine. The other tries came from wing Cameron Ledingham and centres Cameron Hogg and Jo Dewar. Stand-off Calum Anderson converted seven of his side’s touchdowns.
“This sets up a very interesting semi-final against Stirling and one we will look forward to,” said the Boroughmuir head coach, Scott Anderson. “We have to prepare well for this semi, especially after two close games against them this season [in the Shogun Conference].”
The other semi final will be between Hawick Youth and Ayr. Hawick defeated Perthshire 46-25 at the North Inch, with stand-off Bailey Donaldson scoring 21 of his team’s points from two tries, four conversions and a penalty. The other tries came from scrum half Ben Scott (2), flankers Billy McNeil and Ben Chelley and centre James Delaney.
At Auldhouse Ayr put themselves through a nerve-shredding experience before winning 32-31 against a GHA side that came desperately close to overtaking the Millbrae men late in the game. Both teams amassed five tries, Ayr scoring through Jonathon Easton (3) and Billy Jackson (2), and GHA through Luca Bardwell (2), skipper Cammy Stewart (2) and
Johnny Watson-Sweeney. Ultimately the difference in points came down to goal kicking, with Murray Thomson landing two conversions and a crucial penalty goal for Ayr, while George Fisher (2) and Bardwell slotted conversions for GHA.
Meanwhile, in the Under-16 Cup, Biggar showed their strength at this age level by defeating Hawick 24-22 on the 3G pitch at the Volunteer Park. Each side scored four tries but in the end Biggar achieved two conversions to Hawick’s one.
In Glasgow, Stirling County made sure of double representation in the Cup semi-finals with their Under-16 team winning 39-8 against Cartha QP. Also with two semi-finalists at both age levels are Boroughmuir whose Under-16 side defeated Mackie Academy FP 19-7. The fourth of the under-16 quarters resulted in a 25-10 win for Currie Chieftains over Perthshire.