Merchiston coach Moffat back on familiar territory

Merchiston's coach Rob Moffat, right, and  Watson's coach Ally Donaldson. Picture: SNS

Merchiston's coach Rob Moffat, right, and Watson's coach Ally Donaldson. Picture: SNS

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Rob Moffat will be back at the scene of some notable triumphs he achieved with Edinburgh Rugby tomorrow when coaching a Merchiston Castle team that contests the Brewin Dolphin under-18 schools cup with Capital rivals Watson’s College at BT Murrayfield (kick off 7.45).

After 18 months in charge at Edinburgh from 2009-11 succeeding Andy Robinson, who had moved up to the Scotland post, Moffat made a successful transition back to teaching where his working life had begun.

And now the benefits of his vast experience are being felt at grassroots, where it is clear this one-time Scotland tour winger has lost none of his trademark insight and dedication.

“It is going to be an absolutely cracking final,” enthused Moffat, adding: “When the teams met recently we were 0-17 down and came back to win with the final play.

“Watson’s have 2500 pupils and many will be talking about the final; at Merchiston we are bringing 13 busloads!

“For me, the thing is trying to keep it calm; the boys are excited, we want to win, but the most important thing is we play really well.

“I don’t want us to be overawed by the occasion; the boys should be loving this and I’m sure (counterpart coach) Ally Donaldson will be feeling exactly the same.”

To hear Moffat still waxing lyrically about a sport in which he distinguished himself with 256 appearances for only club Melrose but ultimately received an unwarranted kick in the teeth at pro level is both a treat and a relief.

For although he was calling the shots when Edinburgh defeated Ulster, Stade Francais, Bath and Castres over the course of two European Cup campaigns, and was assistant to Robinson when the final six games of a season were won to claim a league runners-up spot, the manner of his departure left many close observers uncomfortable.

If Moffat’s hands were tied by those higher up the Murrayfield chain of command when it came to selection matters – leaving him to cop the flak and explain inconsistencies – he wasn’t saying. He’s more inclined to look ahead, although he did allow himself one over-the-shoulder glance tinged with frustration.

“I enjoyed my professional experience and I don’t look back; that’s not me.

“People ask if I miss it and I do miss the atmosphere of the big games, maybe a bit of the banter, too. But I don’t think about it became I am too busy.

“I thought ‘it has happened’ (an enforced departure when seventh in the league). Let’s move on. I never thought I was hard done by. Being a pro coach is something you love doing.

“I was fortunate I worked with good people. I enjoyed working with (head coach) Lynn Howells, a great man.

“I enjoyed working with Andy Robinson, obviously. Andy is class, I learned a lot from him.

“And then there was Jim Telfer, Richie Dixon and Tony Gilbert, other great coaches I worked with.

“It was worse for my wife and some people close to me. They took it more personally.

“I’m not a politician. I would never leave training to go to a meeting or stuff like that. I saw my job as coaching.

“I maybe just missed a trick by not realising what I was totally in and not realising the politics of the game. I didn’t play a political game.

“It will be a tougher world (pro coaching) now. It’s not going to get any less intense. It’s brutal.

“The way I look at it, I had 14 years with the Borders, Glasgow, back to the Borders, Edinburgh and Scotland Sevens.

“Hopefully, Edinburgh will come through again.

“Glasgow are going well and Scotland are playing with a refreshing enthusiasm. They’re not being over coached.”

Typically, Moffat’s commitment to player betterment makes it easy for him to link the international scene with his grassroots domain.

“People ask what is the difference between teaching and coaching?

“Coaching is teaching. Vern Cotter is teaching, trying to help people get the best out of themselves.”

Moffat was in at the ground floor of the schools cup having guided Galashiels Academy to three titles in the 1980s.

He’s hoping his current charges can do likewise.

“Every school team has certain players everybody looks at. We have just a good squad,” he said.

“For me, it is pure stuff. I have always just loved teaching and coaching.

“The buzz I’m getting from coaching at Merchiston is down to people loving the sport.

“And we have a lot of fantastic, enthusiastic teachers and coaches doing it because they want to.

“That is what the game is about.”

Treble-chasers Watson’s will be underdogs in final, insists Donaldson

Watson’s College rugby coach Ally Donaldson believes his side are underdogs against Merchiston Castle in tomorrow’s Brewin Dolphin under-18 schools rugby cup final at BT Murrayfield despite bidding for three titles in a row, writes BILL LOTHIAN. “I think they will be slight favourites as they haven’t lost to a Scottish school this season,” said Donaldson.

It will be the second leg of a double-header, with Merchiston Castle tackling Dollar Academy in the under-16 final curtain-raiser at 6.30pm.

He added: “It could come down to whoever gets it right on the night.

“When we met recently it was a quality game won on the last play, so there wasn’t a lot in it.

“Hopefully, we can turn things around.”

Donaldson says Watson’s don’t see themselves as trying to retain the trophy, being virtually a new team.

“From last year’s starting line-out we had four players remaining until centre Hugh Ferguson got injured, but some of our team did play in the under-16 final last year,” he said.

“This team want to achieve something in their own right and in Robbie Nairn we have a Scotland under-18 winger, while pros Calum Eastwood and Euan Malik are capped at under-16 level.”

Merchiston go-to players include No.8 Zac Mercer and captain Dan Nutton, who is in the Scotland Under-18 squad as a scrum-half.