KENNY MURRAY names his squad Scotland for the u20 Six Nations tomorrow, at the start of a big year for the age-grade side, with participation in the World Rugby Trophy later in the season determining whether they return to the top table of the World Rugby Championship.
Incidentally, World Rugby announced earlier today [Thursday] that both the Championship and Trophy competitions will be held in Africa later this year, with the top tier competition being played in Cape Town and the Western Cape (South Africa) between 24th June and 14th July, while the second-tier competition will be played in Nairobi (Kenya) from 15th and 30th July.
Scotland’s pool matches will be against an African qualifier (TBC) on 15th July, Canada or USA own 30th July. Uruguay on 20th July.
Scotland have attempted to arrest a long run of defeats at this level with additional preparation camps, but the process has been kept fairly quiet with no training squad announcements, so expect one or two surprise names to appear when the squad is announced.
In general, the contracted Academy players who are of the requisite age form the core of the squad, so expect to see Ben Evans, Finn Douglas, Logan Jarvie, Ben Salmon, Duncan Munn, Fin Burgess and Ben Afshar in the backs, and Callum Norrie, Harris McLeod, Robbie Deans, Liam McConnell and Rudi Brown in the forwards. Matt Russell also comes into that category but has had no game time for more than 12 months, so presumably is injured.
Under 20 players contracted to Super6 sides are generally of interest to the national coaches as well, so look out for Callum Beckett and Alex Thom (Stirling Wolves), Corey Tait, Jerry Blyth-Lafferty and Kerr Johnstone (Boroughmuir Bears), Sam Derrick (Southern Knights), Ali Rogers and Richie Simpson (Ayrshire Bulls), who had an outstanding Super6 tournament, and appeared in the recent U20 1872 Cup match.
There are always a number of SQ players in the squad, often playing for BUCS university teams, or in premiership academy squads, and no one knows the young players around England better than recently recruited talent scout Peter Walton, so expect some diamonds to be unearthed.
Jake Spurway (Durham Uni), Rob Gordon (Exeter Uni) and Innes Hill (Leeds Beckett Uni) all played last season and are still eligible. Jamie Annand (Wasps), Oliver Stirling (London Irish), Jenson McInulty (Saracens), Eddie Erskine and Murdoch Lock (both Bath), Jonny Smith and Charlie Clare (both Harlequins), Aaron Pope (Sale) and the outstanding Henry Pollock (Northampton) are all rumoured to be SQ, while there always seems to be a few Scots in the impressive Ealing Trailfinders Academy at Brunel University and this season is no exception, with Ben Currie, Geordie Gwynn and Jake Parkinson.
Hopefully, some of those who turn out week in, week out in the Scottish club game have done enough to merit a place with the likes of Andy McLean (Hawks) and Connor Sutherland (Hawick) standing out week after week.
There are areas of weakness in this age group – notably loose-head and lock – so don’t be surprised if one or two completely unexpected names appear to strengthen those areas.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 33 player squad that looks something like this:
- Full-backs: Dan King (Heriots) and Andy McLean (Hawks)
- Three-quarters: Finn Douglas (Sourthen Knights), Logan Jarvie (Stirling Wolves), Ben Evans (Heriot’s), Will Robinson (Caldy), Ben Salmon (Stirling Wolves), Duncan Munn (Boroughmuir Bears), Kerr Johnstone (Boroughmuir Bears) and Finn Thomson (Musselburgh)
- Stand-off: Jamie Annand (Nottingham Uni), Ben Currie (Ealing Trailfinders) or Richie Simpson (Ayrshire Bulls)
- Scrum-halves: Ben Afshar (Ayrshire Bulls), Fin Burgess (Stirling Wolves) and Murdoch Lock (Bath)
- Props: Ali Rogers (Ayrshire Bulls), James Lascelles (Heriot’s Blues), Callum Norrie (Stirling Wolves) and Robbie Deans (Watsonians)
- Hookers: Corey Tait (Boroughmuir Bears), Jerry Blyth Lafferty (Boroughmuir Bears) and Elliott Young (Heriot’s Blues)
- Second-rows: Harris McLeod (Stirling Wolves), Jake Spurway (Durham Uni), Jake Parkinson (Ealing Trailfinders), Eddie Erskine (Bath) and Ally McCallum (Currie Chieftains)
- Back-r0ws: Liam McConnell (Boroughmuir Bears), Sam Derrick (SouthernKnights), Rudi Brown (Southern Knights), Johnny Morris (GHA) and Jonny Smith (Harlequins).
Possible ‘bolters’ as the season progresses:
- Sam Wallace (Heriot’s), Rauridh Hart (Glasgow Hawks), Johnny Rutherford (Currie Chieftians) and Amena Caqusau (GHA)