One-time Edinburgh Rugby star Barry Stewart is urging his former club to handle elite development recruit Neil Irvine-Hess with special care after watching the teenager excel in Watsonians’ 36-15 National League win over Dundee High FPs at Myreside.
“I really hope Edinburgh don’t push Neil too quickly or that he isn’t taken on tours too soon because he has the potential to be outstanding,” said Stewart, who won four caps for Scotland at prop between 1996 and 2000 and is now part of the Watsonian coaching panel.
Added Stewart: “At the moment he is doing for Watsonians the sort of role that Sean Cox undertakes so well for Edinburgh by covering any position in the back five of the scrum. There is a strong similarity between Neil and Sean whom I watched come through the ranks when I was at Sale Sharks.
“They are both fearless and willing to take on a lot of responsibility. In Neil’s case to see the way he has fitted in to senior rugby is remarkable considering he is fresh out of school.”
There is also a bit of dog about Irvine-Hess in being willing to put himself about to the extent he was handed a 19th-minute yellow card for transgressing at the base of a ruck.
But knowing what is and isn’t acceptable is educational, according to Stewart.
He said: “Neil can be gung-ho but is in the right place to learn from those mistakes every player makes on the way up.
“The experience of Jason White (former Scotland captain and also part of the Watsonian forwards coaching panel) and myself can help but Edinburgh do need to look after a talent of Neil’s type.”
While Irvine-Hess was serving his ten minutes in the sin-bin Dundee struck with a kick-and-chase try from full back Bryce Hosie to add to his earlier penalty. And, at 0-10, Watsonians’ flawless record from the first four matches of the campaign was looking under threat. Prompted by the prodigious boot of stand off Ben Di Rollo they clawed their way back and ultimately ran Dundee ragged.
“We thought we were going to be under pressure from an enormous pack of forwards, but we also knew if we could live with them then maybe some opportunities would come especially on a dry day when the pitch suited us,” said Stewart.
Indeed, at one stage Watsonians were in such disarray in the scrums that they took the rare step of opting for a line-out restart when an opposition throw-in went askew.
“We were giving such a lot of weight away it was credit to our forwards for sticking in to eventually get their reward including a fourth try for a bonus point that could well prove to be crucial in the final tally.
“We are trying hard to be a bit more clever about our rugby and, happily, once we upped tempo, there looked to be only one winner but things could easily have gone the other way,” said Stewart.
Some 36 unanswered points until Nick Alston claimed a consolation try for Dundee in time added on was certainly emphatic and there were several key factors in the revival.
Mike Ker came on after the interval and provided a calming influence as well as breaking clear for a try while Scott McKean is light on his feet at centre with Rory Steele a no-nonsense full back, and pint sized winger Ramsay Young capable of punching above his weight.
The pick of Watsonians four tries came from scrum half Matt Page whose jersey is sponsored by a Canadian oil exploration company based in Kazakhstan!
Page showed he had plenty of gas himself by romping in from his own ten metre line. Tries by prop James Forrester and McKean, which book-ended the Watsonian performance, were more prosaic but no less valuable and at the heart of the forward effort, alongside Irvine-Hess, stood Danny Moussa.
On more than one occasion this prop made valuable ground to allow his backs to get in behind the defence in a way that suggests Watsonians will be thereabouts in the promotion stakes.
“That win has got to be a confidence builder because of all the teams in our division Dundee along with Boroughmuir will be the ones to benchmark against if we are to consider ourselves worthy of knocking on the Premiership door.
“Last week, when we won by a point at Hillhead Jordanhill, was character building.
“Against Dundee we played a little bit more sensibly with a few less risks and took opportunities when they were there,” said Stewart whose impressive cv includes an English Premiership title with Sale as well as a stint with Northampton Saints.
Watsonians: Tries – Forrester, Ker, Page, McKean. Conversions – Ker (2). Penalties – Ker (2), Di Rollo (2).
Dundee High FPs: Tries – Hosie, Alston. Conversion – Hosie. Penalty – Hosie.
Watsonians: R Steele, R Young, S McKean, R Aitken, E Miller, B Di Rollo, M Page, J Forrester, M Brierley, D Moussa, M Rennie, C Smith, N Irvine-Hess, C Scott, C Abram. Subs: A Ross, G Brown, M Ker, T Hart, A Ledingham.
Dundee High FP: B Hosie, R Taylor, N Alston, S Barlow, C Bowie, J Stewart, A Dymock, S Longwell, N Dymock, A Brown, M Stubbs, C Cumming, R McIver, D Levison, H Livingston. Subs: K Watt, A Kent, M Harland, S Walker, G Gray.
Referee: G Gordon.