FROM the playing fields of

Colinton came Duncan Hodge, Ronnie Eriksson, Craig Joiner, Roger Baird and John Jeffrey, to mention only a few old Merchistonians to pull on the blue of Scotland. Take it from me, there will be more, for they are the best school side in Scotland by the length of Leith Walk.

The boys, nay, strapping young men, from Bristol came off the coach and went into their warm-up routine. You may recall school rugby trips which involved an overnight stay; the usual accommodation was a mattress on the floor of a gymnasium or a spare bunk in a dormitory. It ain't like that any more.

Colstons brought two teams and were staying for a couple of nights in the Dalmahoy Country Club and golf centre. Their approach is completely professional as befits a school which receives money from the Bath club by way of rugby scholarships; they are also a nursery for several leading Welsh clubs.

They are currently the top English school team, unbeaten, and, after their visit north, retain that record. But it would be completely fair to say that the Merchie boys gave them a huge fright. The home side had to play 10 minutes of both halves with only 14 men on the field. That was because scrum-half James Welch and centre Doug Brown were yellow-carded.

Referee Andrew Fleming, despite ruling out a late Merchiston 'try' claimed by Ben Dunnett, had a good match, always up with play and clear in his decisions.

But the short-handed Scots did tremendously well to hold out for a long time against a big, mobile team who used the driving maul well, if a little too often for this observer's liking. Merchiston were much more fluent with the ball in their hands.

Mark Appleson, their coach, is the former London Scottish full back who was capped at A level. ''I was delighted with them even though we lost. I don't believe school rugby is all about winning or losing. The main duty of coaches like me is to make sure youngsters develop to their full potential which may give them the opportunity to consider a professional playing career.''

Well, here are a few names that the SRU might like to store in their computer. Merchiston's full back is Yasser Albassan and he is the classiest act in the whole team. A beautifully balanced runner, he came sprinting out of defence with ideas, while his tackling was immaculate. Oh, and here's a pretty unusual stat in our game: he was actually born in Scotland.

Scott Hadden is a neat footballer, always ready to set the line in motion. Up front, Rory Clark and Dunnett impressed, with Sam Paulo quick about the park.

The crowd was as large as I have seen at some Premier games this season and they went home happy in the knowledge that there are still good 'uns coming through the ranks.