A BRIDGE too far for John Dalziel’s men, who failed to replicate the physicality and intensity they exhibited when defeating Australia last Tuesday, against an England team which showed flashes of exuberance, but were generally happy to grind out a result using their dominant pack and an immaculate kicking game from stand-off Harry Mallinder.
With only four of the starting fifteen from that opening match wearing the same jersey at the start of this game, we knew before a ball had been kicked that this was going to be an uphill battle for the Scots – and they deserve credit for battling manfully to keep the contest alive for the first 50 minutes before running out of gas towards the end.
Injury had deprived the Scots of key men Adam Hastings, Darcy Graham, Rory Hutchinson and Lewis Wynne, while tight-head prop Zander Fagerson was given the day off as part of a programme designed to ensure that one of the brightest prospects in the Scottish game does not suffer burn-out before we get a chance to really see the best of him. On top of that, loose-head prop Murray McCallum, lock Andrew Davidson and flanker Matt Smith started the match on the bench.
The Scottish camp had been keen to represent all these selection changes as an opportunity to demonstrate the strength in depth in the squad, but after such an emotionally and physically gruelling encounter against Australia four days previously, this really was an exercise in damage limitation from the very start.
The Australian and Italian games were identified before the tournament began as the matches Scotland needed to win in order to qualify for the fifth to eighth place play-off, so you might say that their campaign is still on track – assuming that the psychological impact of such a heavy defeat has a galvanising rather than a debilitating effect.
Frankly, the match scheduling for this Junior World Cup is the real scandal here. Asking these youngsters to front up to four massive games in eight days cuts against all World Rugby’s public pronouncements about prioritising player welfare.
The Scottish scrum was in serious trouble from the very start, but their line-out drive functioned well throughout, and that platform gave Blair Kinghorn two early penalty opportunities. Both shots at goal failed to hit the target, although it is only fair to acknowledge that both attempts were from more than 40 yards out.
Meanwhile, Harry Mallinder was on target twice, before a brutal exhibition of precision and power from the English pack brought the game’s first try in the 23rd minute – with a line-out throw to the tail being collected cleanly, allowing the men in white to rumble fifteen yards for captain Jack Walker to touch down.
From an English point of view, there should be a fair degree of frustration that they took so long to really make their all-round domination show on the scoreboard. They were willing to have a go from deep and clearly had personnel capable of doing some damage, but they tended to run out of ideas when one more pass would really have cut the Scots open.
That was until the 53rd minute when a scything attack up the right touchline ended with Will Evans squeezing over in the corner, after Darren Atkins did exceptionally well to play the ball back inside under pressure from Ben Robbins.
England grabbed another try two minutes later through John Williams, after a sweeping attack from deep involving Atkins and Sam Aspland-Robinson.
The Scots will be frustrated with the number of times they fumbled the ball under pressure, especially on the occasion when a flat pass from Charlie Shiel would have put Matt McPhillips under the posts near the hour mark. It would have been nothing more than a consolation score, but the boost to morale of getting off the mark should not be underestimated.
Another pulverising line-out drive saw Jack Singleton grab the bonus-point try for England with six minutes to go, and the scoring was completed when Max Malins hit the line like a train and charged home from 40 yards.
A tough day at the office for the Scots, and they will need to bounce back quickly for a huge match against Italy on Wednesday. The Azzurri are winless in the tournament so far, but will be no walkover. They led Australia at half-time this weekend, and two converted tries in the last three minutes gave the final 38-10 score-line in that match a rather lopsided complexion.
“We were in the same situation last year when we lost heavily to New Zealand but we picked ourselves up to run Ireland close and then beat Argentina. We know what we can do. We just didn’t do it against England,” said Dalziel.
“Our strategy was always around the first and third games. We had to go into the England match with a number of changes in position and personnel. Some of the players we brought in are still under-19 and remember this is a competition about development. And they were playing against a very good England side,” he added.
England: Tries: J Walker, Evans, Singleton, Williams, Malins. Cons: Mallinder 3, Malins 2. Pens: Mallinder 2, Malins.
Scotland: No Scorers.
England: D Atkins; S Aspland-Robinson, J Marchant (O Thorley 69), J Williams, M Gallagher; H Mallinder (M Malins 68), M Green (H Randall 40); T West (L Boyce 40), J Walker (J Singleton 62), B Walker (W Stuart 40), S South, H Taylor (A Kitchener 63), G Nott, W Evans, C Chick (Z Mercer 63).
Scotland: B Robbins; R Nairn (R Norville 53), G Taylor (M McPhillips 57), T Galbraith, C Gray; B Kinghorn, H Fraser (C Shiel 58); D Elkington (M McCallum 40), J Kerr (L Anderson 69), C Skeldon (G Thornton 58), C Hunter-Hill (A Davidson 40-74), S Cummings, S Burnside (M Smith 40), J Ritchie, A Miller.
Man-of-the-Match: Will Evans
Referee: A Brace (Ireland)