by ALAN LORIMER
SCOTLAND came frustratingly close to achieving victory over England in the final round of the Six Nations Under-18 Festival but in the end had to settle for a narrow reverse. But irrespective of the final score this 2022 under-18 group has undoubtedly restored both pride and faith in Scotland’s age grade rugby, which after two years of depressing displays at under-20 level, was urgently required
In their third and final match of the tournament, played at the French National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis near Paris, the Scots challenged England from the kick-off, taking the game to their opponents and for much of the match looking the livelier in the forward exchanges, particularly so in the back-row battle where Liam McConnell, Monroe Job and Tom Currie were outstanding.
Scotland also had huge contributions from Euan McVie in the second row and from hooker Elliot Young. Behind the scrum there were confident displays from the two scrum-halves used, Hector Patterson and Murdock Lock, from stand-off Andy McLean, and from outside centre John Ventisei.
“In our pre-match discussions we challenged the boys to push boundaries, to take opportunities, to be brave and to have a go at England,” revealed Ross Miller, the Scotland under-18 head coach. “I thought defensively we were excellent, but that was down to the hard work they put in. Overall today, our guys bounced back well after their defeat to France last Wednesday.”
England struck first with a penalty goal from their stand-off Morgan Meredith but Scotland quickly countered with a try from a driven line-out finished by Currie. Scotland, then suffered a set-back, when the yellow card was shown to McConnell for a deliberate knock-on. The Scots, however, defended heroically while a man short, to maintain their scoreline advantage.
England then regained the lead with a try in the corner by their bulky left wing Toby Cousins, expertly converted from wide out by Meredith. The score, however, occurred in controversial circumstances, just seconds after Currie had fallen to the ground, seemingly knocked out as a result of stopping an England attack. Several of the Scotland players tried to attract the attention of the French referee but to no avail and play continued, ending in the Cousins try.
Afterwards Miller stated: “Obviously player welfare comes first but, in fairness to the referee, play had moved away from the injury zone, so there was no immediate danger. The other point is that even if the assistant referee had noted what had happened he would not have been able to communicate with the referee simply because in this tournament the officiating team are not mic’d up.”
After Currie had received on-field medical attention and then been stretchered off, Job moved from flank to No 8 and Dollar Academy’s Sam Wallace came off the bench to occupy the open-side position. If there was any sense of grievance within the Scotland side then justice was seen to be done when the Scots were awarded a penalty try, following a surging line-out drive , sending the Scots into half=time with a useful 12-10 lead.
An exchange of penalties by Meredith and Lock early in the second half kept Scotland in front by two points, despite a second yellow, this time shown to prop Callum Smyth. Then, ten minutes from full time, England struck with what proved to be the winning score, an unconverted try by their scrum-half Ben Douglas from a tapped penalty taken at lightning speed, taking the Scots by complete surprise.
The try gave the men in white an 18-15 victory and a perfect scorecard for the tournament with three wins from three to match the achievement of the host country, France.
Scotland: 15. Euan Muirhead, 14. Logan Jarvie, 13. John Ventisei, 12. Findlay Thomson, 11. Kerr Johnston, 10. Andy McLean, 9. Hector Patterson; 1. Jerry Blyth-Lafferty, 2. Elliot Young, 3. Callum Smyth, 4. Euan McVie, 5. Ruaraidh Hart, 6. Liam McConnell – CAPTAIN, 7. Monroe Job, 8. Tom Currie.
Replacements Used: 16. Marcus Brogan, 17. Bartlomiej Brylak, 18. Robert Deans, 19. Alfie Maitland, 20. Ben Weir, 21. Sam Wallace, 22. Murdoch Lock, 23. Alex Thom, 25. Amena Caqusau.