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Clubs challenge schools in watershed match

Youth rugby in Scotland will take a significant step forward next Friday when Ayr, the National Under-18 League champions, play George Watson's College, the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Under-18 Cup winners in what may be the first step in a serious attempt to bring together club and school rugby.

The two strands of under-18 rugby fused nationally when the Scottish Rugby Union merged the Scottish Schools and the Scotland club sides but there has been resistance below representative level to having schools playing against clubs.

That could change following the decision to proceed with a champions v champions encounter under the lights of Myreside. The match has been set up amid calls from several leading coaches at the age level for tougher competition on a more regular basis, and follows several seasons when a small number of schools have dominated, bringing about serious and damaging mis-matches.

The idea of schools v clubs is not new. Several seasons ago, a motion was passed at the SRU annual general meeting to set up a form of competition involving the best schools and the best clubs but it was never followed through despite successful precedents, including Merchiston playing Stirling County.

The notion of club v school is slightly misleading because, in effect, the Ayr under-18s, winners of the national under-18 league inaugurated this season, comprises schools players, as their head coach Gordon Kotze explained. "We draw from as far south as Stranraer and north to Kilmarnock. All in all, there are boys from nine different schools.

"The national league has been great for us because we've had good competition every week and we've played against teams we've never faced in the past. The league would be superb if we could get several Borders teams in. We have to have teams from the Borders, otherwise it's not truly a national league. I would also like to bring in the top school teams to the league," added the South African-born Kotze.

Ally Donaldson, Watson's head coach, believes that the traditional fixture lists among schools needs to be rethought, insisting that the best should play against the best.

"We need to have the strongest teams playing each other at the right time of year, even if that means repeats of cup games. We want as many hard games as possible. This game [against Ayr] is great for us at this time of year. I don't know if it's setting a precedent but it's certainly generating a lot of excitement and discussion. It's the first time it's happened."

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