JOHN DALZIEL has challenged his Scotland team to improve on last year’s high water mark of an eighth place finish in the World Rugby Under-20s Championship, when this year’s tournament kicks off in England next month.
The age-grade coach has selected a 28 man squad for the tournament, which includes full Scotland cap Zander Fagerson at tight-head prop; plus Jamie Ritchie and Blair Kinghorn, who managed only one game each during the age-grade team’s recent Six Nations campaign because of their involvement in Edinburgh’s Pro 12 campaign.
Thirteen players who were involved in the 2015 Junior World Cup have returned for this tournament. Scott Cummings, who has played nine times for Glasgow Warriors this season, will captain the side from the second-row
“It gives the group a real boost to have that sort of experience available. I think we’ve got a good squad and a good coaching team so everyone is excited about it. Last year we got one win and finished eighth, so really we’ve got to set our sights above that. It took many years to achieve that so we know it is a huge task. We’ve got a really tough group including England at home, Australia and a young but improving Italian team, so eighth is the target and certainly winning more than one game is a real goal we have set ourselves,” said Dalziel.
Scotland defeated both England and Italy during this year’s Six Nations, but Dalziel insisted his team will not rest on their laurels.
“There was a lot of media hype about this being a successful Six Nations, but if we are being honest, we won two games out of five, so we’ve had a really close look at the things we can improve. It is a really strong squad and it’s getting stronger by including the players we have just talked about – but also guys like Lewis Wynn, Cammy Gray and Matt McPhillips, who are back from injury,” he said.
“This is my fifth year coaching the team and when I look back at when I started, it was really challenging for our youngsters to go up against the teams we play in the Six Nations and then the likes of New Zealand and South Africa – but we’ve seen improvement year-on year. With quite a few guys now doing well in the pro teams, and the academies doing great work with the peripheral guys around that in terms of strength and conditioning, we are far better equipped to compete physically.”
“The work that is going in to the identification of these guys means that we are now getting players after three or four years working together and getting a lot of technical input as well as the conditioning we have already spoken about.”
Dalziel added that the amount of rugby the nation’s best young home-based players are getting in the BT Premiership has been a key factor in improving competitiveness.
“The vast majority of academy players are now getting game time every week in the Premiership and that’s been key. They have been playing competitive rugby as well as the conditioning being right,” he said.
The squad will travel to Font Romeu in France on Friday, where the senior national team trained prior to their recent Rugby World Cup campaign. That will give Dalziel’s boys the opportunity to undertake a week of warm weather, high-altitude training and a match against their French counterparts. They will also have an informal hit-out against Japan when they arrive at the World Cup.
Scotland under-20 squad for the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester, England (7-25 June) –
Dan Elkington (Melrose)
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors)
Murray McCallum (Heriot’s)**
Callum Sheldon (Leeds Beckett University)
George Thornton (Bishop Burton College)
Lewis Anderson (Ayr)
Jake Kerr (Boroughmuir)**
Stephen Ainslie (Currie)*
Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors)** CAPTAIN
Andrew Davidson (Glasgow Hawks)**
Callum Hunter-Hill (Stirling County)**
Scott Burnside (Boroughmuir)*
Ally Miller (Melrose)**
Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby)
Matt Smith (Glasgow Hawks)**
Lewis Wynne (Stirling County)**
Hugh Fraser (Heriot’s)**
Adam Hastings (Bath Rugby)
Charlie Shiel (Currie)*
Tom Galbraith (Melrose)**
Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints)
Matt McPhillips (Currie)
George Taylor (Melrose)**
Darcy Graham (Hawick)*
Cameron Gray (Currie)
Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby)
Robbie Nairn (Harlequins)
Ben Robbins (Currie)**
*BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy stage 2 player 2015/16
**BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy stage 3 player 2015/16
Scotland under-20 pool fixtures in the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 Championship –
Tuesday 7 June: Scotland v Australia, AJ Bell Stadium (kick-off 5.30pm)
Saturday 11 June: Scotland v England, Manchester City Academy Stadium (kick-off 6pm)
Wednesday 15 June: Scotland v Italy, Manchester City Academy Stadium (kick-off 3.15pm)
Image courtesy of Scottish Rugby/SNS Group