Scotland will take nothing for granted in U20 World Trophy promotion battle

Alan Lorimer predicts an exciting competition over the next two weeks

The captains of the eight competing teams attended a photocell with the World Rugby U20 Trophy on West Sands Beach in St. Andrews on Saturday. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group
The captains of the eight competing teams attended a photocell with the World Rugby U20 Trophy on West Sands Beach in St. Andrews on Saturday. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group

A HOME tournament, the familiar surroundings of Edinburgh Rugby’s Hive Stadium, sea level, cool summer conditions and a large Scottish support. It should all add up to the outcome of Scotland winning the World Rugby U20 Trophy in just two weeks’ time, and, in so doing, regaining their place in the top tier U20 Championship for the 2025 iteration. 

But all the favourable factors have to be harnessed and that means Scotland getting it right in all of their matches. Age-grade rugby in Scotland will be on trial and for the players that is a massive responsibility to carry. This will be Scotland’s second attempt to regain their place at the high table of under-20 rugby and surely one which the Scots will not want to blow.

So how did it come to this? How did we reach this cliff edge. To recap: Scotland lost their membership of the elite group of countries when they finished last in the 2019 Championship after losing heavily to an inspired Fiji side in the 11th/12th place play-off . Then following three years of cancelled tournaments during the 2020-2022 Covid period, Scotland made a bid to climb back into the Championship  by competing in the second tier Trophy event held last year in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.


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History records that despite being favourites to win in Kenya last year, Scotland scuppered their chance of re-entry to the big boys club when they lost to a feisty Uruguay team in the group stage, resulting in a second pool-place finish. And with only the top two from each group able to qualify for promotion, Scotland were left contesting the 3rd/4th match and contemplating another year in the Trophy.

Because Scotland are this year’s hosts of the Trophy, they were exempt from a qualification process. Similarly Japan, relegated from the Championship last year, were automatic entrants to the tournament. The other six countries competing, Samoa, Hong Kong China, USA, Uruguay, Kenya and newcomers Netherlands, all had to win regional competitions for the right to compete in the Trophy.

Finishing top of the regional piles gives the other six countries more than a dash of kudos: these are teams that have proved themselves against worthy opponents, who if not household names in the world order, are not to be disrespected. For their part, Scotland come into the 2024 Trophy event having been exposed to the Six Nations U20 Championship earlier this year, against sides currently competing in World Rugby’s top tier competition.

Although it was a whitewash for Scotland there were indications of recovery, notably in positive second half performances against both England and France at The Hive. Moreover, Super Series, making a defiant last stand before disappearing from Scottish Rugby’s books, offered many in the squad a toughening-up experience ahead of the Trophy competition.

Scotland open their campaign against Samoa and while the Scots’ 83-10 result against the Pacific Islanders last year would suggest a winning start, the team from the South Seas – different, of course,  from last years contingent – can be hugely unpredictable. Samoa, who have twice won the Trophy competition (2011 and 2016) qualified for the Edinburgh tournament following a 40-14 win over their Pacific rivals, Tonga.

 

 

Undoubtedly one of the potential barriers to Scotland fulfilling their promotion ambitions will be Japan, whom the Scots face in their third and final pool match a week on Friday. Japan have confirmed their pedigree at this level by winning the Trophy three times in the past ten years, playing a brand of fast rugby which should be ideally suited to the artificial surface at The Hive. And, of course, they have the comparatively recent, albeit losing, experience of the 2023 U20 Championship. Completing the Pool A is line-up is Hong Kong China, the form of whom is difficult to judge.

Looking at Pool B, Uruguay should be the stand-out team, inspired by the senior team’s showing in the pool matches of last year’s World Cup, and of course confident after that victory at U20 level over Scotland in Nairobi twelve months ago. The North American challenge will again come from USA , who qualified with back-to-back wins over Canada, and who finished seventh in Nairobi last year. But you have to back to 2012 to map the high-water of American under-20 rugby, when they hosted and won the Trophy.

Back again are last year’s hosts, Kenya, who showed last year that when it comes to pace they are not lacking in this commodity, only to be failed by naivety in defence when it mattered. The Kenyan team qualified by defeating their habitual East African rivals, Zimbabwe.

Providing a hight degree of intrigue will be the Trophy debutants, Netherlands, who came through a rigorous European group last autumn to claim their place in the competition after defeating Belgium in the final, following a fine win over Portugal. Given their prowess in football, hockey, track and field, swimming and cycling, and the fact that the Dutch provided a considerable share of South Africa’s gene pool, it might be expected that their athleticism and ball skills could be channelled into rugby. We shall see.

The tournament opens tomorrow [Tuesday 2nd July] with Japan playing Hong Kong China (11.45am kick-off) followed by Uruguay v Kenya (14.30pm) and then Scotland v Samoa (17.15pm), the first day concluding with USA v Netherlands (19.45om).

  • Pool A:  Hong Kong China, Japan, Samoa, Scotland
  • Pool B:  Kenya, Netherlands, Uruguay, USA

U20 World Trophy: Scotland v Samoa: Kenny Murray names team for campaign opener

About Alan Lorimer 370 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.

9 Comments

  1. Best wishes to the players & support staff. Hope they all play to their potential & enjoy the tournament/ experience.

    Does anyone know the age eligibility cutoff date for the U20 World Cup & Trophy competitions as I can’t find this anywhere?

  2. This altitude thing that people keep banging on about…if your fitness is at the level it should be then it shouldn’t be an issue. I would add that they are not climbing the Hilary Step!

    In addition if you want to follow that trail then the teams who normally play at altitude will have distinct advantage in their fitness at sea level. That’s why endurance athletes train at altitude.

    Please stop using it as an excuse for poor performance.

    Glasgow miraculously managed to have a very different outcome in the final against the Bulls. Yet not that long before that they got hoofed in in two games by The Lions and The Bulls.

  3. Victory is imperative to get back to where we should belong and the cards won’t ever be better stacked. Scotland’s group looks the tougher of the two, but there should be no excuses. I’m hoping to see the stars of tomorrow emerging, hopefully in significant numbers rather than the occasional one or two. And for the public to get behind them. Good luck to our young lads.

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    • Why should we belong at a higher level? Yes we all want Scotland to be there but we are where we are because of results and others are above us because of their results. We should have no sense of self-entitlement.

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      • It’s got nothing to do with self-entitlement and everything to do with the fact that the world’s sixth-ranked team has an Under 20 side that is playing in the second tier of world rugby – the only Six Nations country to be doing so. An almighty kick up the backside is needed, specifically for those off the pitch for presiding over such a shambolic decline. The warning signs are there for the future. It makes me feel angry, not self-entitled.

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  4. Green shoots seen in recent Scotland outings. Certainly expect the pack to be as good as any in the competition, with the maul once again being a significant weapon. The big question is whether the backline will fire. There were fine individual performances in the six nations, but they collectively played like strangers.

    • You’re pretty much spot on here. I reckon Scotland should be good enough to with the thing, and if they do their success will be built around the rolling maul. It has pretty much been the go to attacking option under Kenny Murray, certainly by far the most effective.

      The backs haven’t really fired at all (it would help if the best players were selected), but they should get enough chances to impress against relatively weak opposition.

      Japan are the biggest test in the group, but the Scotland pack will likely be too big and strong.

  5. Good luck to Scotland in the u20’s Trophy competition.A good mix of teams and expectation. A solid performance to set us up would be good.

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