TWO late tries from Ayr centre Stafford McDowall took a youthful Scotland development side to within a whisker of pulling off a sensational comeback victory from 18-0 down against a bulkier and more experienced Georgian outfit at Meggetland this [Wednesday] afternoon – but as they turned the screw in a desperate attempt to snatch the vital score in the last play of the match, they ended up conceding a ruck penalty just a few yards from the visitors’ line.
Georgia arrived in Edinburgh with their full training squad for next summer’s Junior World Cup, and were flying high after a successful outing against an Ulster Academy side on Saturday afternoon; whereas the Scots had been thrown together last minute, with the seven exile players in the squad only being introduced to the group the night before the match, but they gave as good as they got in almost every department.
Sean Lineen, head of age-grade rugby in Scotland, wanted to use this match as an opportunity to broaden the player base available to the under-20 programme and the faith he showed in several players who have either not had much previous involvement in the Scottish set-up , or are just taking their first tentative steps into senior rugby, proved well founded.
“I really enjoyed that. Most of these boys are under-19 and we wanted to get a few exiles up and just see where they are. Because we’ve got the East v West under-20s game on Sunday we viewed it as a chance to get a third team out, so we had one and a half training sessions to pull it together and it was great. There was a little bit of lack of cohesion but they all showed a lot of effort,” said Lineen.
The young Scots may have been slightly undercooked in terms of preparation time, but they made up for that with guts and natural aggression when going toe-to-toe with the bulkier Georgians in the first half. They struggled to carve out many clear cut opportunities, but were more for a match for their opponents in the less glamorous aspects of the game.
The visitors took a nineteenth minute lead through a penalty awarded for offside, which was easily turned into three points from almost directly in front of the posts by scrum-half Gela Aprasidze.
Georgia extended their advantage just before the break when the young Scots failed to deal with a high ball and panic set in, the ball ended up in the hands of the left winger Akaki Tabutsadze, who didn’t need a second invitation to charge home unchallenged from 20 yards.
Scotland made a lively start the second half and came desperately close to pulling a score back when replacement scrum-half Ruaridh Dawson, who is on the books at Newcastle Falcons, shimmied his way through a couple of tackles and looked to release Kyle Roe with a neat backhanded pass, but the Falkirk winger could not collect, and the Georgians were then let off the hook with some fairly lightweight tackling from the resulting scrum.
The game swept deep into Scottish territory, and Davit Meskhi, the Georgian right wing, escaped up the touchline to score his team’s second try. Georgia now seemed to have the Scots in a stranglehold, with Beka Mamukashvili scampering over from close range ten minutes later to make it 18-0 after a period of relentless pressure.
But the home team battled back bravely and after Stirling County prop Fergus Bradbury was held up over the line, they eventually got their reward when back-rower Tom Dodd, who is in the Worcester Warriors Academy, collected a Georgian overthrow at a line-out and powered over from five yards out.
Spurred on by that score, the Scots pushed up the intensity levels and narrowed the gap again when McDowall grabbed the first of his brace.
Georgia briefly stemmed the tide against them with a Tedo Abzhandadze penalty, but the Scots weren’t finished yet. McDowall burst between two defenders off first-phase scrum ball and charged home from 25 yards to bring it back to a four point game.
Momentum was on the home team’s side, and they patiently worked through the phases to pull Georgia out of shape as the clock ticked into injury time, but they could not quite sniff out that all important gap and it all ended in disappointment for Lineen’s boys when the referee spotted a ruck offence which allowed the Georgian team and their small but vocal band of supporters to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
“When you look at that first half, we gave away a silly try to go 8-0 down just before half-time, which is so typically Scottish, then if that pass had of stuck we would have scored at the start of the second half, but they scored at the other end instead – but this is how they learn. They rolled their sleeves up, had a couple of good set-piece attacks and they grew in confidence,” reflected Lineen.
“Connor Eastgate came on at ten and played well, Tom Dodd from Worcester was outstanding – a lot of these guys put their hands up. We sold this as an opportunity to get into the under-20s for the Six Nations and the World Cup.”
“Those boys [based south of the Border] hadn’t been at any training, so we had to do a mapping sessions this morning – they have been here [at Meggetland] since 8.30am in the cold – that’s why we had to start with all the Scottish based boys.”
“It is about creating that depth to give us that base going forward and this game helped us do that,” he added.
Scotland team: Ben Appleson (Edinburgh Academicals)*; Kyle Roe (Falkirk), Stafford McDowall (Ayr), Cammy Hutchison CAPTAIN (Currie)**, Logan Trotter (Stirling County)*; Paddy Dewhirst (Ayr), Kaleem Barreto (Glenalmond College)*; Shaun Gunn (Edinburgh Academicals), Robbie Smith (Ayr)*, Fergus Bradbury (Stirling County/Oban Lorne)*, Dean Roger (Edinburgh Academicals)*, Jamie Hodgson (Stewart’s Melville)*, Andrew Horne (Hawick)*, Daniel Marek (Currie)*, Harry Henderson (Stirling County).
Replacements: Jack Samuel (Cardiff Metropolitan University), George Thorton (Bishop Burton College), Finn Hobbis (Stew-Mel)*, George Bordill (Northumbria University),Tom Dodd (Worcester Warriors), Ruaridh Dawson (Newcastle Falcons), Connor Eastgate (Wasps), Will Brown (Ipswich School)
* BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 2 player 2016/17
** BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 3 player 2016/17