THE SCOTLAND UNDER-20 TEAM face a baptism of fire when they take-on their New Zealand counterparts in the tournament opener of the Junior World Cup in Georgia on Wednesday [31st May]. Kick-off is at 10am GMT and the match is to be live streamed on www.worldrugby.org.
The young Scots have played the ‘Baby Blacks’ twice before and lost heavily on both occasions [54-7 in 2014 and 68-10 in 2015], but head coach John Dalziel says his side are enthused by the challenge, and will draw confidence from their shock victory over Australia in last year’s tournament.
“It is great to get excited about this game. They are coming off the back of a quadrangular competition [defeating Fiji 63-3, Samoa 80-23 and Australia 43-6] so we know a lot about them and we have a lot of footage,” he said.
“They also have a lot of Super Rugby guys. But it is a real chance for us to go out and lay down a marker and put in a performance that will give us confidence through the rest of the tournament. If we get the performance right, as we did against Australia last year, then we can beat these teams.”
Dalziel was at the helm during the last Junior World Cup, but was seconded out to London Scottish this season meaning that Sean Lineen took charge of the age-grade side during the Six Nations. After this tournament, the former Melrose coach will be moved again by the SRU to oversee the national Sevens team, but he insists that all this chopping and changing has not had an adverse effect on the squad preparation.
“It’s not a problem. I’ve been spinning a few plates for a few years, but I’ve got a clear focus on the 20s until after the World Cup now. The Sevens boys are off for six weeks and we have most of the planning in place for that. It is easy to divide the time,” he insisted.
“I worked with the Under-20 boys through the Six Nations – on Mondays and Tuesdays doing set-piece stuff. There was good integration and I kept in touch with Sean. Until now the real challenge has been trying to get the access to our exiles, but we’ve had a lot of time together [the last few weeks], and the good thing is we’ve seen the guys who maybe didn’t play as much during the Six Nations, guys we will need going through five games at the World Cup.”
After that flying start against Australia twelve months ago, the team suffered a catalogue of injuries to key players – including flying winger Darcy Graham, full-back Blair Kinghorn, center Rory Hutchinson, flankers Jamie Richie and Matt Smith, second-row Andrew Davidson, prop Murray McCallum and hooker Jake Kerr – which severely hampered them later in the tournament and they ended up finishing eighth after losing to England, Australia [in a re-match] and Wales.
This year’s squad is less experienced than the one which competed in Manchester last summer but Dalziel says that the ability is there to make a splash in Georgia.
“Last year, we had 19 supported players in terms of academies, and this year we have nine. We have lost a chunk of experience but we have some good guys who have had a good season of club rugby and have learnt a lot through the Six Nations,” he explained.
“I’m quite excited. This group is as good as anything we’ve had in the last few years if they can get their game right. It’s just about consistency. In the Six Nations we saw both sides of that. We were on the wrong end of it against Wales but against England we were competitive for the first 60 minutes and against France we were right in the game for 70 minutes, so it’s about getting an 80 minute performance.”
Currie flanker Thomas Gordon will make his debut at this level in the number seven shirt, while Boroughmuir prop Ross Dunbar is poised to take his bow off the bench.
Behind the scrum, Graham and Ross McCann will provide a threat on the wings, while Kinghorn completes an exciting back three unit; while Connor Eastgate, who is at Wasps, gets the nod ahead of Josh Henderson at stand0-off.
“We’ve named an exciting side for the tournament opener and we’re hoping they’ll go out and express themselves from the offset. We’ll look to play an attacking and fluid style of rugby, but there’s also going to be a need for great physicality in the contact if we are to win and retain possession for long periods of the match,” said Dalziel.
“They’ll play with real tempo, great physicality and an astuteness across all aspects of the game. We need to front-up physically and mentally to compete. The boys face a big task, but there’s a good vibe around camp and we’re all looking forward to getting things underway with a strong performance.”
Scotland Under-20 team to play New Zealand Under-20 @ AIA Arena in Kutaisi, Georgia in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship on Wednesday 31 May (kick-off 1pm local/10am BST) –
15. Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby)
14. Darcy Graham (Hawick/Edinburgh Rugby)
13. Lewis Berg (Gala)
12. Stafford McDowall (Ayr) **
11. Ross McCann (Melrose) **
10. Connor Eastgate (Wasps)
9. Charlie Shiel (Currie) **
1. George Thornton (Bishop Burton College)
2. Fraser Renwick (Hawick) **
3. Fergus Bradbury (Stirling County) *
4. Alex Craig (Gloucester)
5. Callum Hunter-Hill (Stirling County/Edinburgh) CAPTAIN
6. Luke Crosbie (Currie)**
7. Thomas Gordon (Currie)**
8. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Hawks) **
16. Robbie Smith (Ayr) **
17. Ross Dunbar (Boroughmuir)**
18. Adam Nicol (Stirling County)**
19. Bruce Flockhart (Glasgow Hawks) **
20. Tom Dodd (Worcester)
21. Ruaridh Dawson (Newcastle Falcons)
22. Josh Henderson (Glasgow Hawks)**
23. Robbie Nairn (Ayr)**
*BT Academy Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 2 player
**BT Academy Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 3 player