Premiership quartet finally released for Scotland Under-20s squad

Stafford McDowall takes over captaincy of the squad for U20 World Championship

Devante Onojaife
Devante Onojaife and three other English-based team-mates belatedly joined the Scotland Under-20 squad yesterday *** Image: Craig Watson = ***

SCOTLAND Under-20s will fly out to this year’s Junior World Championship in the south of France later today [Thursday] with all 28 playing members of the squad in tow, after England’s Premiership clubs belatedly allowed the four individuals who had not previously been released for the build-up to the competition to travel north.

Given that the Premiership clubs were not technically compelled to release the players until five days before the tournament starts with a clash against Italy on 30th May, getting access to the quartet two days early might be regarded as some sort of concession, but it remains a far from ideal situation for head coach Bryan Redpath and his charges given that they have now gone through four weeks of preparation without a full cast of characters.

“It is one of those things. It is in regulation nine [or World Rugby’s rule book, dealing with the availability of players for international competition] so we have to accept that,” said Redpath. “It has not been easy, but Wales [senior team] pulled out three players from their squad in Luke Charteris, Tomas Francis and Josh Adams because they weren’t available for the first game, so there is a bit of a battle going on. All that has happened is that the Under-20s boys have been brought into that mix.

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“But now we can get the four lads up today [Wednesday] and we can start preparing from now. They are all good kids who were involved in the Six Nations, so they’ve already got the gist of what’s going on,” added Redpath.

“I have been speaking regularly to them all, and gone through video stuff with them so when we run certain plays they know what we are trying to do and what we are calling it. There isn’t a lot of change from the Six Nations, the terminology is much the same – all we’ve done is take out quite a lot because some of it we never used.”

“We need to be very good at the things we know. Rather than be average at 15 things, let’s be really good at five, and hammer that five.

“The big thing is that we can all leave together on the flight at 8pm tomorrow [Thursday], that’s why they’ve come up today. That’s come from us requesting Premier Rugby and World Rugby – saying that we need to travel together – it’s just more than sensible.”

While three of these exiles – in number eight Devante Onojaife, centre Fraser Strachan (both Northampton Saints) and scrum-half Charlie Chapman (Gloucester) – got game time for the Under-20s during the Six Nations, prop Sam Grahamslaw (Leicester Tigers) is on course to make his debut at this level having stepped up to the plate once Shaun Gunn of Edinburgh Accies injured his knee.

“He [Grahamslaw] played in the Under-19s game we had against France at Meggetland in April. He’s a back-row converted to loose-head prop and he’s being playing at Loughborough and with the Leicester second team, so this is a massive opportunity to come in and put a marker down with Shaun Gunn injured,” said Redpath.

“He’s a big boy, a ball carrier and good round a park – so we’ll use him as much as possible. It is a big learning curve in the first 12 months at this level, but he can be a big part of this Under-20s squad going forward.”

No more Mr Nice Guys

The big challenge as far as Redpath is concerned is for a relatively inexperienced Under-20s group to start to really understand that the kid gloves are now off.

“I said to them today that there is some maturity needed. They were training against the senior Scotland team and it was a little bit timid, they were a little bit nice – and we need to change that attitude,” Redpath explained

Not only does he want his team to be a little less tentative, he also wants them to be smarter in terms of playing a simpler but more varied game than was the case under Stevie Scott during the Six Nations.

“I don’t believe we are physically big enough to wrestle against monsters all day. We have to fight in a lot more areas and I expect our backs to share a lot more of the load,” he said. “I think our forwards were exceptional in certain areas during the Six Nations, but we are undercutting ourselves massively by not using our backs.

“We have some good boys out there, whether that is Paddy Dewhirst or Sam Yawayawa or Callum McLelland or Stafford McDowall – whoever it is in that back-line, we are not utilising their skills and we are not sharing the load.”

“We are not giving the forwards a rest, and because they are not massive they have to fight in every scrum, fight every maul, in attack and defence, and then we are asking them to run around and look fresh – we are not doing them any favours.

“It is great for me to come in and see they are willing, and that they are fit, but we also need to be smart which means shoving some of the pressure onto the backs. So, what I have focussed on in the last couple of weeks is that we need to be more responsible as a team from one to fifteen.”

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Captain material

Another change to the Six Nations is the decision to take the captaincy from hooker Robbie Smith and hand it to his flatmate and Ayr colleague Stafford McDowall.

Robbie had some tough times around set-piece in the Six Nations and we need him to focus on that so taking the pressure off will help,” explained Redpath. “If you have one or two line-out misses at crucial times it is never great, so I wanted to say: Don’t worry about the other side of things, you are a good rugby player, get the priority of line-out, scrum and ball-carrying right and don’t worry about the leadership.

“I watched Stafford training and how he conducted himself in Condor – with the fitness stuff he was up at the front all of the time, which doesn’t go unnoticed amongst your peers.

“As the captain, he needs to make sure he can help them pick up the little pieces I am throwing out there so that they digest what I am saying. The senior players – Cammy Hutchison, Jamie Hodgson, Robbie Smith – should be the spine of our group going into the next two or three weeks together.”

Details of Agenda 3 will be issued after deadline for AGM motions


About David Barnes 3381 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.