IT was a tough start to the international season for the Scotland Under-20 squad last [Tuesday] night when they slumped to a 7-41 defeat to the Scotland Club XV in a pre-Six Nations training match on the back pitches at BT Murrayfield.
Head coach Stevie Scott said afterwards that he is confident that his young charges will have learned a lot from the experience and will be in better equipped for their clash against Wales at Colwyn Bay on 2nd February as a result, and he might just have a point. With only two survivors from last summer’s Junior World Cup campaign still involved, it is inevitably going to take time for a virtually brand-new squad to get used to each other and to the demands of playing this level of representative rugby.
Of the 31-man squad named for this week’s game, 20 have been involved in the Scottish domestic leagues this season at either BT Premiership or National One level, while 11 would traditionally have been described as ‘exiles’ but are now categorised as part of Scottish Rugby’s bold new ‘SQ’ programme.
This was the first real opportunity we have had to see the ‘SQ’ programme in action. The scheme was launched at last summer’s SRU AGM with the stated aim of developing a far-reaching network of scouts across the globe in an effort to maximise the potential to harvest ‘Scottish Qualified’ players capable of bolstering the national cause.
Some of the SQ players involved on Tuesday night will have been familiar to Scottish rugby supporters who have been paying close attention, while a few others have appeared from completely left-field. With the Under-20 squad for the Six Nations due to be named tomorrow [Thursday], some of these players will inevitably drop out of contention for an age-grade cap, but they are bound to remain on Scottish Rugby’s radar.
So, this is what we know about all 11 of those exiles at the moment [more details to follow when they are made available] –
Devante Onojaife – No 8 – Northampton Saints
Born in Colchester but only took up rugby after his family moved to Dubai when was 10-years-old, playing for his school, Jumeirah College, and Dubai Exiles. Older brother Jordan was picked up by Northampton Saints after impressing during a summer camp with the Midlands club in 2011, and Devante followed him back to England three years later.
Onojaife represented England at Under-18 level in 2016 – playing at prop against Wales and France – and he subsequently signed a professional contract with the Saints. He has made one senior appearance for the club so as a 77th minute replacement at blindside flanker for his big brother in their 16-24 victory over Newcastle Falcons in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in November 2016. It is not clear at this stage how he qualifies to play for Scotland.
Bailey Wilson – Flanker – United in Utah
Born in Australia but moved to the USA at the age of 12 when his family relocated to Florida, before eventually landing in Utah in 2014. He played for USA at both Under-19 and Under-20 level as recently as last summer. Scottish connection to be confirmed.
Charlie Chapman – Scrum-Half – Gloucester
A member of the senior academy at his hometown club of Gloucester and plays regularly for Hartpury College – where he is a student – in the second tier English Championship this season. Looking to follow in his club-mate and fellow scrum-half Ben Vellacott’s footsteps by representing Scotland at Under-20 level in the Six Nations.
Nathan McBeth – Loose-Head Prop – Golden Lions
Capped by South Africa Schools, and is tied to the Golden Lions union by a long-term (three-year) contract. He qualifies for Scotland through his paternal family. Set to return to South Africa later this year to see out his contract, and is apparently keeping his options open with regards to his international eligibility. As of 1st January, unions may no longer nominate their Under-20 side as their second representative team, meaning players capped at Under-20 level are not tied to that nation.
The Lions coaching staff believe McBeth is capable of excelling in Super Rugby, and has the potential to become a Springbok. It is understood that Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, tried – and failed – personally to convince the player to remain in South Africa and represent the Springbok Under-20s.
Marc Morrison – Stand-Off – TBC
Played a key role for the Golden Lions Under-18 team which was victorious at Craven Week – South Africa’s prestigious schoolboy tournament for the country’s best young talent – last summer. Started looking overseas for rugby opportunities when he was not offered an academy place in South Africa and Scotland was a natural destination given that his father was born here. Arrived in Scotland on 5th January. Dislocated his finger in last night’s trial match but remains in contention to be named in the Six Nations squad tomorrow.
Charlie Gowling – Scrum-Half – Stade Français
Born in Shrewsbury and played for England Under-16 before switching allegiance to Scotland for whom he qualifies through his grandmother. He developed as a rugby player while on a scholarship at Sedbergh School in Cumbria and signed for the Newcastle Falcons Academy in 2015. After a season there, he agreed a two year deal with Stade Francais. He has been losing out to 19-year-old Frenchman Arthur Coville as back-up scrum-half for the top side. Gowling has featured regularly for the Under-22 Espoirs side and started in last Sunday’s match away to Perpignan before linking up with the international squad.
Ewan Johnson– Lock – Racing 92
A member of the Racing Metro 92 Academy, having signed for the club based on the edge of Paris at the start of this season. Prior to that he played for the Federal 3 side Plouzane in Brittany, which has the label of France’s most remote club. He lived in the Breton town with his parents and brothers – his younger sibling Lewis recently made his debut for Plouzane. Academy players train on a regular basis with the club’s senor players including former Glasgow lock Leone Nakarawa, and Johnson will be joined at the spectacular U Arena next season by Finn Russell. He was part of the Scotland Under-19 squad which met at Oriam at the start of November.
Bradley Clements – Hooker – Ealing
Another graduate of Sedbergh School and now listed as playing for Ealing. He represented Scotland at Under-19 level last season.
Harry Butler – Lock – Hartpury College
Played for Scotland Under-18 last year whilst part of the London Irish academy. Has since moved to Hartpury College, who are linked with Gloucester.
Callum McLelland – Stand-Off – Edinburgh Rugby
Not technically an exile anymore after signing for Edinburgh earlier this season, but worth a mention after being presented as the poster boy of the SQ programme when he moved north and switched codes from the Castleford Tigers academy set-up last November.
Rory McMichael – Centre – Glasgow Hawks
Qualifies to wear the thistle through his mother and payed for Scotland at Under-16 and Under-18 level. Was a member of the Harlequins and then the London Irish academy set-ups but was told by the latter that there would not be room for him in their senior academy programme after leaving Wellington School at the end of last season. Trained briefly with Glasgow Hawks last summer before heading off to teach in China for five months. Returned to Scotland [and Hawks] last month.
- Contributions from David Barnes, Colin Renton and Jamie Lyall