Under-20s learn the hard way against ruthless Club XV

Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Scotland Under-20s 7

Scotland Club XV 41

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

THIS rampant performance and emphatic training match victory for the Scotland Club XV sets them up nicely for the challenge of taking on their Irish counterparts in a double-header which kicks off across the water [at a venue still to be confirmed] on 23rd February and then concludes at Netherdale on 16th March. The match also, hopefully, provided a valuable learning experience for the age-grade side less than two weeks out from kicking off their Six Nations campaign against Wales at Colwyn Bay on 2nd February.

Under-20 teams – almost by definition – are inexperienced, but this group is particularly short of senior rugby exposure.  Just six of the starting XV play regularly in BT Premiership; and while four other members of that group are part of academy set-ups in England, France and South Africa, only Stafford McDowall of Ayr has experience of playing competitive professional rugby, having managed 16 minutes off the bench for Glasgow Warriors against the Southern Kings back at the end of October.

McDowall was a key member of Scotland’s march to a fifth-place finish at last summer’s Junior World Cup in Georgia, his Ayr team-mate Robbie Smith got some game time off the bench during that campaign and back-up winger Logan Trotter played against Italy during the last Six Nations, but the rest of this team are making their first tentative steps into the Under-20 set-up.

One player who would bring some serious oomph to the young Scots’ squad is Glasgow Warriors breakaway Matt Fagerson, but he is likely to be deemed too important to his principle employers as they negotiate their way through the Six Nations window to be released for the age-grade side. It seems likely that the best Stevie Scott and his coaching team can hope for on that front is that Fagerson be made available for the Junior World Cup in France next summer, in a similar way as Blair Kinghorn came back into the fold last summer after being unavailable during the regular season due to his Edinburgh commitments.

“That will have been the most physical game almost all of those boys will have played, and that’s what we wanted because they are going to get the same again in 11 days’ time – at least they know what’s coming now,” reasoned Scott, who took over as head coach of the Under-20 team from John Dalziel for this season.

“It was a tough hit-out against probably the strongest Club XV there has been during the last couple of years, but we’re a bit disappointed because there were lots of errors – we’d get in a good position then lose the ball – so we weren’t able to build any pressure and impose our game on them.”

It certainly didn’t help that the age-graders lost two tight-head props in Finlay Richardson [son of former Scotland and Lions team manager Guy] and Dan York during training on Monday, and then the starting number three in Euan McLaren with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after just five minutes of the start of this match.

“That puts you under pressure straight away. To be in the game you need to have strong set-piece and we were really up against it there,” lamented Scott. “I’ve got nothing but praise for Shaun Gunn, who went out there and got stuck in, but he’s a loose-head so he was on the wrong side of the scrum and that’s tough for a guy that age going up against a really experienced opposition front-row.”

“Hopefully we can get a couple of them fit for next week,” he added.

The Under-20s also lost both starting flankers in Martin Hughes and Guy Graham [younger brother of England 6 Nations squad member Gary, and son of former Scotland prop and coach George] inside the opening 10 minutes, thanks to head and a neck knocks respectively, although Scott indicated afterwards that their withdrawals had been precautionary more than anything else.

While the Club XV were totally dominant at scrum time, their line-out looked a bit more like that of  a side which had only managed two training sessions and a mapping session before this hit-out – although it did come together when the team drew first blood when a powerful drive sucked in the fringe defence, which allowed scrum-half Charlie Shiel to feint at going wide then duck inside his tackler and over the line.

Jamie Forbes doubled the Club XV’s account after an incisive kick-return from Craig Gossman; and creator then became finisher at the end of a ruthless riposte to another fairly slack kick-chase from the Under-20s, with Forbes, Robbie Nelson and Craig Jackson all adding real impetus to the movement before Gossman finished off.

That dominant Club XV scrum then earned a penalty try before slick hands from right to left allowed Forbes to scuttle in for his second and his team’s fifth try of the contest, to make it 29-0 at the break.

Gunn might have been up against it at scrum time, but he got some reward for his fortitude in difficult circumstances when he was credited with getting the ball down after the Under-20 pack finally managed to get a rumble on at a line-out early in the second half.

But any hope the youngsters might have harboured about this being the catalyst to a rousing comeback were extinguished when replacement open-side Thomas Gordon of Currie Chieftains made his mark with two quick-fire scores. The first was under the posts after a series of punishing phases from the Club XV and the second was a powerful 25-yard run-in after an overthrown line-out.

“I’m pretty happy with that,” beamed Rob Chrystie, the Club XV head coach this season. “I suppose the most challenging thing about this programme is the lack of time you’ve got with the boys, we also had a fairly big squad so we wanted to give them all the opportunity to put their hand up, and I thought the effort f the whole group was excellent. We’ve actually created a few headaches for ourselves, which is great.

“What we saw is that they are good rugby players – they were pretty physical and the key thing for me is that they really bought into it and created a bit of atmosphere amongst themselves.”

The Under-20s, meanwhile, must hope that they can emulate the remarkable evolution their predecessors of last season achieved to become the most successful team Scotland have ever had at the Junior World Cup.

“I’ve seen them getting better in the few training camps we’ve had. That was a tough experience tonight but they’ll learn from that and get a few Six Nations games under their belt, and they’ll grow as players. You saw that with the Under-20s last year, when they struggled a bit in the Six Nations but by the time they got to World Cup time they were up to speed and used to playing at that level – the same will happen with these boys,” concluded Scott.

Teams –

Scotland Under-20: Paddy Dewhirst (Ayr); Glen Faulds (Currie Cheiftains), Rory McMichael (Glasgow Hawks), Stafford MacDowall (Ayr), Kyle Rowe (Glasgow Hawks); Ross Thompson (Glasgow Hawks), Charlie Chapman (Gloucester); Nathan McBeth (Lions, SA), Robbie Smith (Ayr), Euan McLaren (Ayr), Ewan Johnson (Racing 92), Jamie Hodgson (Watsonians), Martin Hughes (Heriot’s), Guy Graham (Hawick RFC), Devante Onojaife (Northampton). Subs: Shaun Gunn (Edinburgh Accies), Finn Hobbis (Watsonians), Paul Cairncross (Glasgow Hawks), Bradley Clements (Ealing), Harry Butler (Hartpury), Dan Marek (Boroughmuir), Bailey Wilson (United in Utah), Charlie Gowling (Stade Francais), Gary Munro (Hawick), Callum Mclelland (Edinburgh Rugby), Grant Hughes (Stirling County), Robbie Yourston (Jed-Forest), Mark New (Glasgow Hawks), Sam Yawayawa (Glasgow Hawks), Logan Trotter (Stirling County), Marc Morrison (TBC).

Club XV: Jamie Forbes (Currie Chieftains); Jordan Edmunds (Boroughmuir), Ross Curle (Stirling County), Robbie Nelson (Currie Chieftains), Craig Gossman (Ayr); Craig Jackson (Melrose), Charlie Shiel (Currie Chieftains); Shawn Muir (Hawick), Ross Graham (Watsonians), Steven Longwell (Ayr), Jack Turley (Heriot’s), Iain Moody (Melrose), Neil Irvine-Hess (Melrose), Grant Runciman (Melrose), Pete McCallum (Ayr). Subs: Hamish Bain (Currie Chieftains), Ruairidh Leishman (Stirling County), Thomas Gordon (Currie Chieftains), Murdo McAndrew (Melrose), Russell Anderson (Melrose), Scott Bickerstaff (Marr), David Armstrong (Ayr), Rory Drummond (Watsonians), Nick Fraser (Watsonians), Struan Cessford (Heriot’s), Robbie Beattie (Glasgow Hawks), George Taylor (Melrose)

Scorers –

Under-20s: Try: Gunn; Con: Thompson.

Club XV: Cons: Shiel, Forbes 2, Gossman, Penalty Try, Gordon 2; Con: Jackson, Forbes.

Scoring sequence (Under-20s first): 0-5; 0-10; 0-15; 0-17; 0-24; 0-29 (h-t) 5-29; 7-29; 7-34; 7-36; 7-41

About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.