Rugby: Watson’s coach says under-18s Schools final too close to call

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Watson’s COLLEGE rugby coach Ally Donaldson has predicted one of the closest Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools cup 
finals in years when his under-18 team take on Merchiston Castle at Murrayfield tonight (kick off 7.45pm).

In saying that Donaldson appreciates the irony of the fact that 12 months ago Watson’s, who have never won this trophy, lost by a point to Edinburgh Academy.

“Last year we were massive underdogs and by comparison there looks nothing at all to choose between tonight’s teams, certainly on paper,” he said. “As always the finals promise to be a great occasion and I suppose when it really comes down to it Merchiston might be very slight favourites.”

It is one of the great anomalies of Scottish rugby that for all their talent streams Watson’s are still looking for a first under-18 cup success.

Merchiston, on the other hand, have won five times and their consistency is highlighted by the fact that the under-16s will play their final at 6pm against Strathallan.

Approximately half of the Watson’s team that competed last year are back on duty while some of those who lifted the under-16 trophy have stepped up.

Key players look to be forwards Matt Poole, Neil Irvine-Hess and Ally Millar although they will be keen to create space for a back three that includes sprinter Ben Robbins and full back Chris Cash, who missed the semi-final victory over Stewart’s Melville.

As for Merchiston, who are also unbeaten against Scottish opposition this season, they have a potential match-winner in Magnus Bradbury. This powerful No. 8 scored a hat-trick of tries as the High School of Dundee were beaten 33-0 in the semi-final.

One setback, though, is the absence of scrum half Hugh Fraser who broke a collarbone in that last tie but replacement Doug Crawford is regarded as a player of potential.

Merchiston are also far travelled having ventured to a tournament at Tynedale where they finished joint winners as well as finishing fourth in a prestigious tournament in Suffolk. More recently they prepared by drawing with Durham School who had visited buoyed by an unbeaten record in the north of England this term.

At under-16 level, Merchiston will take encouragement from having beaten first time finalists Strathallan away from home earlier this month.