October 31, 2017

Merchiston Castle School, led by DOR Roddy Deans, transforming the School Boy Rugby environment

Written by:
Kenneth Rae

Merchiston Castle School last week achieved third place at the prestigious St Joseph’s College Rugby Festival where they went head to head with 16 of the UK’s top sporting schools.

Wins against John Fisher School and Eltham College on day one secured a place in the Cup Group for day two. A spectacular win against hosts and favourites St Joseph’s, were followed by a narrow loss to the powerhouse Millfield School before a thrilling draw against RGS meant the Scottish School finished in the top three.

Rufus McLean, Merchiston’s full-back was also nominated for player of the tournament.

Director of Rugby Roddy Deans commented the team’s performance over the two days was “an amazing effort, when you consider we finished third behind Brighton College and Millfield School, two rugby giants.”

Roddy Deans
Director of Rugby Roddy Deans

Merchiston Castle have steadily been climbing back to the top of Scottish, and indeed British Schools rugby under the direction of Roddy Deans who was appointed Director of Rugby in 2014.

Deans following in the footsteps of fellow Borderer Rob Moffat hails from a rugby family and the rugby mad town of Hawick.

He has developed a new structure that helps facilitate long term individual growth by recognising the importance of providing the right mindsets, which result in improved team spirit and foster leadership skills.

Deans ensures all pupils who go through the rugby programme at the school are ready to maximise performance on the field of play, but importantly, beyond the field of play as well.

A successful graduate of the rugby programme has been Zach Mercer playing for Bath in the English Premiership, who was this month selected for England’s Test Squad.

Bringing Video Analysis to Merchiston Castle School

Deans stated that when he began his new role it was not about finding the quickest solution to restoring rugby success but about being responsible and finding the best path for the pupils’ growth at the school.

Deans was selected by the SRU to attend the esteemed Six Nations Coaching Conference in France 2014 where the learnings centred on developing high performance behaviours, an area he was keen to instil at Merchiston.

This conference forms just one part of his professional development. Previously Coach for Heriot’s RFC and Hawick RFC, he’s also taught PE and Rugby at Trinity High School and Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh. With experience gathered in the Club Game and Internationally through being a Head Coach for Scotland U16, his current ambitions are focused on the Schools game for now.

As part of the restructuring the Rugby Programme at Merchiston Castle went through, Deans explored lots of options for allowing players to view more video footage. Partly through 2017 the school signed off use of Coach Logic throughout the Rugby programme. During the year Deans has allowed all users within the programme to use the software in a unique and innovative way.

A particular area of high performance that Roddy places a high emphasis on is that of feedback and review post-match to enhance player learning.

Roddy completes his match analysis using Coach Logic deploying a range of feedback methods. His workflow includes posting a thorough match summary, which is then followed by creating a mixture of short and longer video clips that are sent to individuals or groups from within the playing squad.

An example of a longer text clip is (player names blacked out):

merchiston castle match report

The Player Led Environment

While Video Analysis is not exactly innovative in itself within the modern era, Roddy’s approach to maximising the learning opportunities for his players and pupils certainly has been.

In keeping with the movement away from old-school command based learning styles, Deans has prompted pupils being first to analyse game moments.

Players from the Merchiston Castle School are granted the appropriate rights to analyse matches and create clips that lead to discussion with the relevant individuals involved. The first two images shown below are clips generated by pupils from the squad.

In days gone past whereby a player was given a maximum of five to ten seconds to put forward their opinion in a team meeting after being asked a question, a player can now evaluate and respond in their own time. Being able to use video as a foundation to their opinion further supports evidence based learning.

The Social Media look of Coach Logic has allowed boys of that age to quickly grasp what they’re trying to do when analysing performance.

In the third image below you’ll see the player is first to generate a clip and accompanying text which is then replied to by Deans.

Players engaged in Review

The most viewed match on the Merchiston platform is their game when they played Strathallan School from Perthshire. An interesting observation is seeing just how much video the players have viewed.

The greatest amount of viewing time has been completed by Rufus McLean, the same player who was nominated for Player of the Tournament at the St Joseph’s tournament.

We’d fully agree that not every player from each club can watch almost three hours of a match but if circumstances do allow, it is a method with proven research that speeds up player development and leads to improved performance.

As the Schools season progresses, upcoming matches swell in significance. Next up in the Scottish Cup for Merchiston Castle is a quarter final tie against Colinton Road rivals George Watson’s College.

GWC, the first school side to use Coach Logic won the Scottish Cup consecutively from 2011-2015, will pose a stern challenge for Deans and his squad.

Opposition Analysis and training sessions in preparation have already begun.


While Deans and the rest of Merchiston’s staff would love to win the Scottish Schools Cup, Deans is open and transparent about winning not being the be all and end all at school boy level.

The Merchiston rugby programme is about setting pupils up for life and using rugby to learn many of the skills required for this.

Deans’ approach to using Coach Logic has allowed pupils to learn in their own environment, take ownership for their development as a rugby player and explore the intricacies of feedback, review and group discussion that will ultimately be transferred to life post-school.

Deans said “The big thing for me is the inclusive nature of the programme. Analysis is not just for the elite, importantly everyone is learning. Our players also lead the analysis reviews in the classroom and the coaches just sit and listen“.

We’re delighted to have helped facilitate such an approach and are confident that Merchiston Castle Rugby is in safe hands with Roddy Deans at the helm. Read more about performance analysis for school sports teams.

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