Scotland U20s squad: Liam McConnell retains captaincy for Six Nations

Head coach Kenny Murray has named a group of 18 forwards and 17 backs for the tournament, which begins next week with a trip to Wales

Liam McConnell led from the front as Scotland Under 20s defeated Spain. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Liam McConnell in action for Scotland Under 20s against Spain last year. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

GREGOR TOWNSEND may have chosen to name co-captains of the senior Scotland squad for the Six Nations, with Finn Russell and Rory Darge taking over from Jamie Ritchie. But his under-20s counterpart Kenny Murray has gone in the opposite direction, naming Liam McConnell as sole skipper after the Edinburgh back-row forward shared the honour with Duncan Munn in last year’s Championship and then with Ben Afshar in last summer’s World Rugby Trophy.

McConnell  is one of 18 forwards in a squad of 35 selected by head coach Murray for the tournament, which sees the Scots kick off with a game against Wales in Colwyn Bay a week on Friday.

“We’ve been able to name a strong squad today, one which involves many players who, thanks to the involvement of the FOSROC Future XV, have shown a lot of improvement and great promise over the past season,” Murray said. “This includes the likes of Tom Currie, who had the second highest tackle completion rate of the whole Championship, and Amena Caqusau, who was in the top five try scores.


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“We know how tough the Six Nations can be for this young group, so it has been vital for us to prep the guys the best we can for what should be another exciting competition. I’m looking forward to seeing Liam take on the captaincy role by himself this campaign, as he has been an outstanding leader for the group over the past year.”

Of the group of 35, 16 took part in either the Six Nations or World Trophy last year, and 25 played for the Future XV in the FOSROC Super Series.

Scotland beat Wales 18-17 in round two of last year’s Championship after kicking off their campaign with a narrow loss to England. They went on to lose their other three matches,  including an 82-7 home loss to Ireland in round four, and also lost to Uruguay in the final pool game of the World Rugby Trophy, in which they ended up finishing third.

Murray believes his players have made significant progress since then, but warned that other countries are not standing still either.  “I think we’re definitely better than we were last year,” he said. “We’ve improved, we’re definitely moving forward – we’ve developed physically as a group and we’re definitely fitter, faster, stronger. And we’re closer.

“But one thing I would say is that the teams that are arguably ahead of us at the moment , they’re not staying static. They’re going forward.

“Look at France – they’re continually moving forward. They had [under-20] players playing all over for the French clubs at the weekend.

“So we’re better than we were last year, and I think we’re definitely closing the gap from where we were. But we’ve still got an awful lot of work to do between our pathway and our pipeline to produce the number of players we want to be able to pick from at this level.”

Scotland squad for Under-20 Six Nations Championship:

Forwards: Callum Smyth* (Glasgow), Robbie Deans* (Edinburgh), Alex O’Driscoll (Saracens/Loughborough University), Ollie Blyth-Lafferty* (Edinburgh), Callum Norrie* (Glasgow), Jerry Blyth-Lafferty* (Edinburgh), Elliot Young (Exeter Chiefs/Exeter University), Ryan Burke* (Glasgow), Ruaraidh Hart* (Glasgow), Euan McVie* (Edinburgh), Theo Currie (Harlequins/Swansea University), Fraser Wilson (Hawick), Freddy Douglas* (Edinburgh), Monroe Job (Southern Knights), Liam McConnell* (Edinburgh, captain) , Johnny Morris* (Glasgow), Archie Clarke (Durham University), Tom Currie* (Edinburgh).

Backs: Murdoch Lock (Bath/Bath University), Eric Davey (Stirling Wolves), Hector Patterson* (Edinburgh), Isaac Coates* (Edinburgh), Andrew McLean (Boroughmuir Bears), Matthew Urwin* (Glasgow), Kerr Yule* (Glasgow), Johnny Ventisei* (Glasgow), Geordie Gwynn (Ealing Trailfinders/Brunel University), Ludo Kolade (Harlequins/Bath University), Kerr Johnston* (Glasgow), Jack Hocking* (Edinburgh), Fergus Watson* (Glasgow), Amena Caqusau* (Glasgow), Finn Douglas* (Edinburgh), Logan Jarvie* (Glasgow), Finlay Doyle (Loughborough University).

* FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy Player


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About Stuart Bathgate 1363 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

47 Comments

  1. In the long term, participation is key: A number of the Independent Schools can turn out 60 age grade boys each weekend. I believe a large amount of that is the boys are introduced to and encouraged to play Rugby. The Scottish Government’s anti-obesity strategy should involve Rugby because it appeals to many kids who wouldn’t want to play football. Not sure about the short term.

    • Incidentally someone asked in another thread about club v school games. Two results from the U-18 East Area Cup: Boroughmuir 14 v Watson’s Second XV 29, and Watsons 2nd XV 20 v North Berwick 15.

      • One thing to bear in mind at the moment tho is that regional pathway games,1882 camps plus Scotland camps have been running and will continue to run throughout the regional East/West Cup competitions. Some of the big club teams are playing in these cups without some of their best players so can’t read too much into it.

  2. What’s wrong with Scotland’s water?
    I count 8 exiles within this group of 35. Surely at this age there must be Scottish bred young men within the Scottish performance development system who are their equal? If Murray is thinking that these 8, almost a quarter of the team, will make all the difference to Scotland’s results then why doesn’t he start following whatever the English have as their development programme? Or am I totally mistaken and there’s some kind of rule will says each nation must adopt around 25% of their players from those who are being bred within the other 5 nations in the competition?

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    • The pathway is narrowed down too much. The coaches themselves have admitted that it should be widened but it’s all down to funding. There are obviously Scottish pathway boys not selected and that’s where the problem lies across the pathway age grades. Some lads are in the pathway purely to make up the training squad numbers and it’s a double edged sword for the coaches to be open and honest with these guys. If they tell certain players they won’t be selected for the big games then those players will likely leave which means there aren’t enough numbers for meaningful training sessions. Parents and players need clarity and transparency but on the other hand it’s clear why the coaches don’t give that. It can’t be easy for the coaches in that situation, not an easy job but also not fair on the players knocking their pan in, travelling crazy hours for training for less than a game a season in the pathway. The solution is finding and more games to really find the best players not just the ones coming in at 15 on big reputations.

      • That’s not actually what I was referring to but, in terms of the way the way these training squads are set up really needs to be looked at. You have a selection of 35 young men. These lads are entered into a squad who train, eat, sleep together at points in order to help them playing and gel as a team when the time comes.

        So, what about these other poor sods who are the training cannon fodder, the ones you are referring to who attend training from crazy distances etc? These are the ones who are given nothing in return but they still do the distances and the makeshift training sessions that they’re invited to.. what about them when or if these young lads are ever called upon at some point to sub for injury etc. It happened last year. They are then expected to play as part of that team and be seen as part of that team on the wider stage but unknown to everyone else, they’ve not been given full training and experience or information and inclusion that is really needed to play their part well. These cannon fodder lads are still training and playing for their clubs whilst attending adhoc training sessions with the national selected teams. This can mean so many things which cause them to appear confused on the bigger stage eg.different calls. These are the lads who do this for what appears to be nothing even though they know themselves that they’re just making up the training numbers. That’s commitment because they love the game. So, parents and players do need transparency but I don’t think the players will leave as you say. But, yes, these set ups need to be reviewed.

      • Yes I totally agree, my point about them leaving was more directed to the younger age grades before contacts etc, but where the same thing happens, boys travel for longer than they train only to find years later that they were never really going to be selected any further than for one or two regional games a season. Whats the point?
        Prime example happened last year when 3 weekends of 18s regional games were happening in the summer. Unknown to the boys who hadn’t been selected, there had been a selection of Scotland players who had a camp on the last weekend of the games. This really hit hard to those boys not selected, not only had they been kept in the dark for what turned out to be to be months but had to go out and play the final weekend without the ‘Scotland’ players. It made the whole competition meaningless and felt like the boys had been completely done over by the sru. No transparency at all for those without contracts, as you say, cannon fodder. The boys felt worthless and the competition was totally undermined. No wonder parents were unhappy and folk kicked off on here, if there’s one thing people won’t stand for is kids being treated poorly.
        The SRU have a lot to look at in the pathway but unfortunately the only place people can give feedback honestly is on here because there is no outlet for parental or player feedback in the pathway system, not in my boy’s experience anyway, it may have changed now

  3. @Angrygala. I could name several players that I believe should be in the squad. At the same time I could also name several players that ARE in the squad that I think are very fortunate to be there, given that they have known weaknesses in their games and/or haven’t really performed well in previous appearances.

    In both cases I don’t think it’s a good idea to give specific names.

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  4. Congratulations at all picked and sorry to those missing.

    Excited to see how this plays out, lets build the boys up rather than tear them down.

  5. Watched a video on the FFR website showing France U 20 prepping for this tournament.
    Their first training session got a visit from Galthie.
    The forwards were scrimmaging, indoors, against a robot scrum machine that was able to push back against the scrum. It was controlled by an operator using a computer.
    I doubt if our senior XV have access to this quality of kit.
    Hope this team can put up a better showing than last season. I had the misfortune to be at Scotstoun for the Irish annihilation.
    I hope we don’t see mismatches like that this year.

    • If the latest stats on foreign born players are anything to go by, I don’t think the SRU are too worried (or even care). We can always import a cast off from one of the other unions.

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  6. I always fail to work out why London Scottish is so underused… there is a tough standard that would move the young players on further in their development surely,I also hope the Edinburgh Uni/club tie up is more than a media manouvere, why not get the academy boys into the uni team for meaningful gametime, as the other countries do 🤷‍♂️ Lastly can we all put tickets where our mouths are and cheer them on, a vociferous support could just make a difference, as the old hymn says “ slow to chide, and swift to bless” 🤞🏽

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      • We tried to establish London Scottish as a SRU supported feeder team on multiple occasions under Dodson’s tenure. It never worked and London Scottish showed no inclination to support SRU aims as much as they wanted SRU to support their ambitions to reach England’s top flight.

        Truth is we can line our young players to any championship teams and many Scots play in the championship in better environments than LS. What exactly would we get by trying to concentrate on one fairly poorly run club?

    • I remember reading about how the RFU rugby structure in England is all about the national England team and as LS play in England they are governed by whatever protocols they have in place. Might be nonsense of course and at my age my memory is not so clear.

      • I’m not entirely sure the RFU have any structure in place at all to be honest Alan. In recent years they have all but abandoned support of clubs from the Championship down (remind you of anyone else?) and the Premiership is run by the clubs themselves who are the main drivers in the current policy to only select home players for the national team which is of course totally self-serving – if ineffective!

  7. Congratulations to all the players selected. Here’s hoping that they do themselves justice and enjoy the tournament.

    Leaving out the exiles for now, simply for the sake of comparing the squad with the U18 squad that represented Scotland two years ago (27 players were used)…
    …Omitted from that squad in the backs are…
    Jack Brown, Euan Muirhead, Alex Thom, Finlay Thomson, and Luke Townsend
    with Fergus Watson, Jack Hocking, Finlay Douglas, Matthew Urwin, Isaac Coates and Eric Davey brought in.
    While in the forwards
    B Brylack, Marcus Brogan, Alfie Maitland, Ben Weir, and Sam Wallace are ommitted with
    Callum Norrie, Ollie Blyth Lafferty, Ryan Burke, Fraser Wilson, Johnny Morris and Freddy Douglas brought in.

    Would be interesting to know how many of those changes over 2 years are caused by injury and how many be development.

    Of the Senior Academy players only two who are eligible have been omitted – Jack Brown and Ollie Duncan – presumably both injured.

    All of the home based players got playing time in the Super Series, except Logan Jarvie and Euan McVie who both missed the season through injury. But some of them had very little playing time due to a combination of unavailability or injury – Ventisei, Patterson and McConnell, all only starting 1 game in the competition.

    Neither Callum Ferrie nor Craig Nolan who played nearly every game for the Future XV is selected in this squad.

    On the divisive question of where people were schooled, although it is not exact science, I think for the first time in a few years, a majority of those schooled in Scotland may have gone to state schools, rather than private schools, and a majority may have played their Under 18 rugby in clubs rather than schools (but it is close!)

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    • Very informative post.

      I have to say I care a lot more about whether the players we are getting into the team are actually Scottish or not rather than which school they went to. It is absolutely ridiculous metric comparable to which specific school they went to which is used to find out their religion.

      It’s ridiculous. Are they any good and are they Scottish? That’s all that matters.

  8. I think the squad looks like it could compete all things being equal.

    However my biggest concern is game readiness. Looking at that squad, some boys have not played since the end of the super six, and some even from way before that. One or two hit outs whilst in camp can’t be proper preparation.

    I hope I’m wrong as there are some serious talents in there. It just feels like the six nations will be like pre-season…surely they could have been playing premiership or university rugby in November and December at least, which I would guess all the other squads have been doing…

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  9. I wish the lads well and there’s no doubting that they will be giving it their all regardless of how the results go BUT…. As El Pedro said, they’re physically and condition wise (or they were last season) outmatched by the other sides, which automatically puts you at a mental disadvantage (unless you’re D’arcy Graham!). We’ve all been there.

    Until John McGuigan can get a CEO that is prepared to put money into the age grade and club sides with a suitable player pathway to show people how they can make it from U15s to the pro sides, our U20 side will have to rely on any raw talent, grit and magic that their coaching staff can muster from them. I think we might be waiting a while for a competitive U20s side or maybe football has now fully taken over the imaginations of Scottish youth and we need to reframe our expectations of being a tier 1 side?

    Not trying to be negative but it does read that way, apologies. Might stimulate some discussion/clever thinking/solutions though?

  10. Who is/are the SH? That side is more battle hardened and older and experienced. I would be optimistic of win in Wales, win in Italy a tight game against Ireland. England and France at home may be a step too far but home advantage and a decent crowd can help.

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    • I think you’re being hugely optimistic. Based on previous results and a squad that is largely unchanged, in spite of a series of poor performances, success would be winning one game. There are likely to be a couple of heavy defeats in there.

      The coaches/selectors have shown great loyalty to the group, as there are better players in certain positions that are nowhere near the squad.

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    • EdC. There are lads in the Prem/National leagues that are excelling that have never been anywhere near a Scotland age group squad. The coaches/selectors seem to stick with the guys that they backed a few years ago (when they were about 15). They basically have to, as to do otherwise would be an admission that their original selection was wrong and/or their player development program had failed.

      One that springs to mind for me. The most prolific teenage try scorer in the Prem last season, and one of the quickest eligible backs, isn’t in the u20’s squad.

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      • Spot on. Also the pathway isn’t for everyone. My lad was in it until the start of U18 season but it jjust didn’t bring the best out of him at all, for lots of reasons. He wasn’t known to the selectors before he started at u16 so had a battle to stay in for the length of time he did. Since being deselected at the summer he has excelled, playing the best rugby he ever has, his club have had him training with the SS team (I know, I know!) but the selectors have lost sight of him. But he’s happy and playing a blinder week in week out and the club are very much behind him, that’s what it’s all about.

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      • As you arent naming names, ill have to guess, but the player i think you referring to was out scored in the prem last season by a player who is in the squad. He is also currently playing in national 3

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      • Nothing new there Alastair, Buffoons such as GreenHawk always claim their is better youth talent out their yet always fail to provide a single name, been going on for years.

        They just want to find any excuse to ‘have a go’ at the establishment. Even if that requires badmouthing our youngest and brightest.

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  11. Being in all of the games with a chance to win with 15 minutes to go would be progress. Last few seasons our team has looked so outmatched physically, mentally and in terms of skill set. Would be good to see that they look better prepared which would indicate some positive changes have been implemented, and suggest that some are ready to step into pro rugby.

  12. What does success & progress look like for the U20 this Six Nations.

    Will be interested to see the benefits and or deficits that playing in the Super-Series has had for this group.

    • Success realistically is probably beating Wales again, being competitive until 60 minutes against England and France, a losing bonus point or two against Italy and keeping Ireland from scoring more than 30 points while scoring at least a try or two themselves.

      • 60 min….against France??? Did you seem them at u20 rwc? They crushed everyone even when down to 14. 6 min would be an achievement given we were humiliated by Uruguay in the wee boys tournament.

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    • AngryGala. I wouldn’t give specific names of players that should be in the squad, just as I would never name individuals that ARE in the squad that are very lucky to be there. I could do both, but it’s not fair to do that.

      What I would acknowledge, is that every single one of the lads in the squad has worked very hard to be there, with very limited backing from the SRU. It takes great dedication from players and support from families to keep going.

      Knowing someone in the same age bracket that has experienced another international set-up at age group level, I can only say that the Scottish youth set-up is being run on a shoestring, to an embarrassing extent at times – the players deserve better. Hopefully that will be fixed under new leadership.

  13. Couldn’t be more excited to see this squad play! This seems like the year everything will finally come together for Murray’s men.

    I believe this for multiple reasons, the first is Liam McConnell a now vastly experienced player at this level taking on his third year, 4th tournament and 3rd as captain this time on his own, a player who has been in a pro environment for 2 years now, developing at a fast pace.

    The next reason being the newly structured senior academy set up, this means almost all these players have lived, breathed, slept, trained, ate, gymed professional rugby for 7 months, some nearly 2 years, these lads have received top world class coaching and are constantly surrounded by model professionals to learn and grow from.

    The third, this is an experienced squad who’s experience range from the jubilation of beating Wales at scotstoun, to falling short in last summer’s tournament, these experiences can only make them stronger, there are players in this squad coming up on there 3rd year with the 20s McConnell, Johnstone and Norrie with the later achieveing the most caps out of anyone in this squad and the only to take on their 3rd six nations tournament, alongside these lads many of the players named were crucial cogs in previous 20s machines, McLean, Yule, JB Lafferty, Deans, Hart, Morris, Patterson, Young, Job, Gwynn, Casqua, Douglas and Jarvie.

    If this doesn’t give reason to forget the past, get behind the future, be supportive, and allow these lads to play and be proud for the country without the worries of what John aged 49 highest level played west 2 has to say about their performance.

    I have no doubt that this team will exceed the past few years and they will make their country proud once again.

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    • Unmoody Blue, I admire your optimism. Are you McConnell’s dad?
      Hopefully they can put in competitive performances this year in all of the games, and give us all hope that rugby is not in a death spin in Scotland. I agree there is ‘experience’ in this team in that there are a number of players been involved in u20’s 6 nations before. The problem is though what meaningful high standard games have they been Involved in since then to believe that there skills, physicality and belief is at least on a par with their age group counterparts in Ireland, England and France? I fear that the structure or lack of it in preparing and developing the cream of youth rugby for this level will continue to let the players and the country down. Hopefully I will be proved wrong.

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      • Not Liam’s dad, just an avid fan.

        Totally agree with what you’re saying about the structure, been there done that, I can only hope and stay optimistic that these changes put in place over the last year are the correct ones and that we can see improvement, with next year the younger lads with another year of senior pro academy contracts Watson, Yule, ventesi, OB Lafferty etc… that the youth set up in Scottish rugby can become something to be proud of and start to see competition in the nations.

    • No need for the dig at grassroots here. Nothing wrong with playing in West 2 or any other grassroots league. In fact there is much to admire of the Johns out there playing in all levels of Scottish rugby week in week out, for not much more than the love of the game. We can’t all play for Scotland. And yes, we can have opinions too.

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      • This is not a dig at someone’s ability however, it’s a dog at the previous abuse that 18/19 year old kids who happen to be the best in the country which is miles behind the rest in terms of youth setup going out and leaving nothing on the pitch to be torn apart, bullied and harassed for there performances against full professional players on the international stage.

        An opinion is aloud, but the harassment of children is wrong, especially when they would do no better.

        This isn’t adult rugby, these lads are paid the bare minimum, some receive nothing, and the backlash they receive isn’t right, criticism is fine, destroying a young man’s confidence and belief is not, that is all I meant.

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      • Correct, of course some choose to play at a lower level of club level as it suits them. I’m sure there are plenty of players playing lower down in the National leagues that could be playing Prem rugby if they wanted to. Every so often you see a player that stands out a mile playing for their small hometown club.

    • Unmoody, I’m trying to figure out if this is a tongue in cheek post? Having watched every u20 game over the last 18 months or so, some of the ‘crucial cogs’ you mention have been anonymous or simply out of their depth.

      If they turn things around and get good results I’ll be back to admit I was wrong! If they don’t, it’s time for a complete re-think, with the coaches/selectors going first of course.

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      • I myself will be able to admit if I’ve been wrong when the time comes, but as I see it the experience they gained last year in the 20s set up, the improvement shown throughout the super series in the futures squad, I believe the older more experienced lads have the ability to go out and perform, time will tell if they take that chance!

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      • I get you Unmoody, you are right in that context, there’s no place for targeting any individuals especially the young players. I’m looking forward to watching the games this year and wish them all the best !

    • I’m genuinely delighted to hear they’re getting world class coaching, but who are the world class coaches. Seems a bit like jobs for the boys in SRU

  14. Couldn’t be more excited to see this squad play! This seems like the year everything will finally come together for Murray’s men.

    I believe this for multiple reasons, the first is Liam McConnell a now vastly experienced player at this level taking on his third year, 4th tournament and 3rd as captain this time on his own, a player who has been in a pro environment for 2 years now, developing at a fast pace.

    The next reason being the newly structured senior academy set up, this means almost all these players have lived, breathed, slept, trained, ate, gymed professional rugby for 7 months, some nearly 2 years, these lads have received top world class coaching and are constantly surrounded by model professionals to learn and grow from.

    The third, this is an experienced squad who’s experience range from the jubilation of beating Wales at scotstoun, to falling short in last summer’s tournament, these experiences can only make them stronger, there are players in this squad coming up on there 3rd year with the 20s McConnell, Johnstone and Norrie with the later achieveing the most caps out of anyone in this squad and the only to take on their 3rd six nations tournament, alongside these lads many of the players named were crucial cogs in previous 20s machines, McLean, Yule, JB Lafferty, Deans, Hart, Morris, Patterson, Young, Job, Gwynn, Casqua, Douglas and Jarvie.

    If this doesn’t give reason to forget the past, get behind the future, be supportive, and allow these lads to play and be proud for the country without the worries of what John aged 49 highest level played west 2 has to say about their performance.

    I have no doubt that this team will exceed the past few years and they will make their country proud once again.

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