Jubilant Edinburgh Academy captain Chris Dean led his colleagues to a deserved 12-11 win in a keenly fought final of the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Under 18 Cup, then paid tribute to opponents, George Watson’s College, for their contribution to an engrossing contest.
Although the sides had not yet met this season, Academy are unbeaten and the convincing nature of their wins has been such that they went into the match strongly tipped to atone for defeat in the final last time.
“It was a bit false saying we were favourites,” insisted Dean, whose performance at No. 8 led to him being named man of the match. “Watson’s are a very good team. It’s definitely the hardest match we’ve played all season. It was a really good game and they played it right to the end.
“They really disrupted our set piece and their scrum really put us on the back foot. We couldn’t get any clean ball off the scrum, and the ball was slippy as well, and their defence was blitzing us and really putting us under pressure,” added the skipper, who had been ill in the days leading up to the final and was, according to the Academy coach Mark Appleson, “probably operating at 70 per cent.”
It was testament to the closeness of the encounter that a solitary penalty by Watson’s centre Andrew McMillan separated the sides at half-time.
Academy restarted well and they were handed a numerical advantage when Watson’s lock Matt Poole was sent to the sin bin for an offence witnessed by the assistant referee. During his absence, Robbie Orr and Freddie Smith touched down for tries, the latter converted by Alex Swan.
Once restored to their full complement, Watson’s set about reducing the leeway and could have done so had they opted to kick for goal with two close-range penalties. A further offence by the Academy presented a third opportunity within McMillan’s range, and this time the centre landed the kick.
And they wer back in the match ten minutes from full time after Will Brown had pounced to profit from a moment of uncertainty among the Academy backs, with his touchdown leaving the game finely poised at 12-11. However, a mature effort during a tense finale saw Dean and his colleagues cling to their slender advantage and lift the silverware.
Appleson pointed to Poole’s yellow card as the turning point, saying: “We scored two tries during that period so it was absolutely crucial. That’s how it goes sometimes.
“They had a lot of ball and didn’t really cause us huge problems out wide. We had to defend for long periods of time. These guys are a remarkable bunch of players. Although they weren’t able to show it because of the way Watson’s played against us, we are still unbeaten which hasn’t happened to us for a long, long time. This will make them grow as a team.”
And, lauding his side’s game management, he added: “We had a very similar situation last year in that it was a very close game. When it happened in this game and it got to 12-11, the guys didn’t panic. They just kind of knew they had ten minutes to go and just had to close out the game.”
While Poole’s indiscretion proved to be expensive, Watson’s will also reflect on the decision not to kick for goal when presented with kickable penalties. Their coach Ally Donaldson, who expects to have several of the same personnel available next year, said of the performance: “I’m very proud of the guys, but obviously everyone is very disappointed.”
Scorers: Edinburgh Academy: Tries: Orr, Smith. Con: Swan. George Watson’s College: Try: Brown. Pens: McMillan (2)
Edinburgh Academy: R Orr, T Salisbury, A Swan, T Grey, F Smith, A Muir, A Glashan, J Haining, A Lutton, A McWilliam, R Seydak (T Mitchell, 38), C Thomson, C Simpson, R Simpson, C Dean.
George Watson’s College: F McKay, D Johnston, A McMillan, J Broadley, C MacBeth, E McKean, R Young, M Gillespie, R Gregor, R Jack, M Poole, N Irvine Hess, M Horsman, N Hurn, W Brown.
Referee: J Van der Merwe.