East Under-20 … 34
West Under-20 … 12
TRIAL matches can be ragged and disjointed affairs so both sets of players in this East versus West under-20s showdown deserve credit for the maturity they showed in balancing the desire to push their individual case with fitting into an overall game-plan to produce an exciting, full-blooded contest.
It was scrappy at times, which is inevitable given that these players often train together in the BT Sport Academy set-up but are not used to playing alongside one another – however, there was also some exceptional passages of play and an impressive level of organisation in the circumstances.
Played on the synthetic surface at Oriam (Scotland’s new ‘Sport Performance Centre’ based at Heriot Watt University’s Riccarton campus), this was the first time in this country that a competitive rugby match had taken place indoors, which made for a fast-paced, free-flowing exhibition of what the best home-based youngsters are capable of.
If defence was haphazard at times then full credit should also be given to the attacking vivacity of the participants for identifying and exploiting the gaps which opened up.
Two second half tries from Melrose winger Ross McCann set the East team on the road to victory, but the player stressed afterwards that the match was much tighter than the final score-line suggests.
“I enjoy a quick game so it was good to get a run around on that fast track. The pitch was watered before we came out so the ball was quite greasy and the first 20 minutes was a bit error-strewn, but after that both teams really picked up and it was a good game to be involved in. Both teams set out their stall and loads of guys put their hands up for further selection. The score doesn’t reflect that it was a really hard game,” he said.
“We had a couple of training sessions together [before the match]. Our half-backs [Charlie Shiel of Currie at scrum-half and Kyle Brunton of Hawick at stand-off] really controlled the game and directed us around the pitch really well. Everybody did their job and everyone did their homework to learn the game-plan,” he added.
East took an early lead when flanker Thomas Gordon – part of an all Currie back-row – peeled round the tail of a close-range line-out and powered over.
The home side had the upper hand in the scrum but West looked dangerous when they got the ball moving, as demonstrated when number eight Matt Fagerson (the younger brother of full cap Zander, who is still only 18-years-old but has already had game time for the Warriors professional team this season) rampaging through a hole in midfield to ignite a sweeping attack carried on by Glasgow Hawks club-mate Bruce Flockhart, only for the ball to be held up over the line. East made a pig’s ear of clearing the danger from the five metre scrum and from that turnover Ryan Sweeney of Glasgow Accies capitalised to get the ball down under the posts.
Darcy Graham of Hawick is one of the returning stars from last year’s under-20s squad. Previously deployed on the wing for the age-grade team, he was at full-back East in this game. He did not get as many opportunities to show what he can do with the ball in hand as he would have liked but was a threat when he did get a chance, making a scintillating break at the start of the second half during which he was brought down twice but managed to bounce back to his feet. That established the field position for McCann to show the finishing prowess which has brought him 10 tries from 11 games so far in the BT Premiership this season, when he went over for his first score with men queuing up on the left.
Shiel demonstrated how much of a real contest this match was when he opted to kick a penalty a few minutes later to keep his team’s momentum ticking along.
West had a golden opportunity to narrow the gap but their forwards overcooked the goose under the shadow of their opponents’ posts and ended up conceding a turnover when it might have been better to give the players lining up across the park a chance to prove their mettle.
The combative Logan Trotter of Stirling County showed up well on West’s right wing, earning a couple of valuable turnovers for his team in the first half when competing ferociously in the tackle area, but he couldn’t do much about opposite number McCann’s second score, which was the product of a sweeping attack which left the visitors’ defence pulled all out of shape.
A neat inside pass from replacement scrum-half Connor Adams of Gala released McCann and he managed to shake off Andrew Simmers’ tackle. Currie centre Cameron Hutchison, another graduate of last year’s under-18s squad, who impressed as a second half replacement, was on hand to keep the move going. He was eventually pulled down as he entered the 22 so the ball was sent across the park to the right and quickly back left again before Hutchison repaid the favour to send McCann scampering over.
East captain and man-of-the-match Luke Crosbie, another of the Currie back-row triumvirate, barged over for try number four; but West were not ready to throw in the towel yet, with Josh Henderson, the elegant Glasgow Hawks stand-off, orchestrating an exchange of passes with Sweeney before sending Paddy Dewhirst off on a 30 yard unchallenged charge to the whitewash.
The final say, however, came from the worthy winners, with replacement winger Josh Paterson, who is still a pupil at Fettes College, showing plenty of power, pace and agility when bursting from midfield and stepping past Trotter to dot down under the posts.
“I thought we were still in it ten minutes into the second half – on top of them physically wise. But they did very well with a lot of their release plays, sucked in the numbers and then put it out wide. Kyle Brunton was class in his distribution,” said Fagerson, who added that he had not found it hard readjusting back into the age-grade game after his sojourn with the Warriors.
“It’s still an extremely high level – very physical and very quick against high calibre players,” he insisted.
With John Dalziel, last year’s national under-20s coach, currently seconded to London Scottish, the SRU are keeping tight lipped about who will be in charge when the team play their first competitive match of this season against Ireland in the Six Nations at the start of February. Whether Sean Lineen (the organisation’s head of age grade rugby) is back at the helm after last year’s hiatus, or an up-and-coming coach is given a chance, the man in charge will have plenty of food for thought when he gets round to reviewing the video footage of this game.
East: D Graham (Hawick); R McCann (Melrose), R Kerr (Boroughmuir), Grant Huggan (Hawick), R Kay (Heriot’s); K Brunton (Hawick), C Shiel (Currie); F Hobbis (Stew-Mel), F Renwick (Hawick), D Winning (Boroughmuir), J Ure (Boroughmuir), H Borthwick, L Crosbie (Currie) capt., T Gordon (Currie), S McGinley. Subs: J Grant (Stew-Mel), C Eastwood (Watsonians), B Robertson (Hawick), D Marek (Currie), H Bain (Currie) C Adams (Gala), C Hutchison (Currie), L Berg (Gala), J Paterson (Fettes College).
West: B Sorbie (Stirling County); L Trotter (Stirling County), S McDowall (Ayr), C Pringle (Stirling County), K Rowe (Falkirk); J Henderson (Glasgow Hawks), Andrew Simmers (Heriot’s) capt.; M Scott (GHA), P Cairncross (Glasgow Hawks), F Bradbury (Stirling County), M Hughes (Heriot’s), B Flockhart (Glasgow Hawks), R Jackson (Biggar), W Graham (GHA), M Fagerson (Glasgow Hawks). Subs: R Smith (Ayr), S Gunn (Edinburgh Accies), C Baird (GHA), D Roger (Edinburgh Accies), R Sweeney (Glasgow Accies), H Henderson (Stirling County), K Barreto (Glenalmond Academy), P Dewhirst (Ayr), M New (Glasgow Hawks).
East: Tries: Gordon, McCann 2, Crosbie, Paterson; Cons: Shiel, Brunton 2; Pen: Shiel.
West: Tries: Sweeney, Dewhirst; Con: Henderson.
Scoring sequence (East first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7 (h-t) 12-7; 15-7; 20-7; 22-7; 27-7; 27-12; 32-12; 34-12.
Man-of-the-Match: Luke Crosbie