ALAN LORIMER @ Billingham RFC
SCOTLAND came face to face with the demands of international rugby at Under-18 level in a physically hard game against England on the artificial surface of Billingham RFC and emerged with considerable credit.
In the end, England’s weightier (and more squarely built) forwards made the difference between two sides that were closer than the final score suggests. There was much about Scotland play that suggests they could emulate the results that last season’s side achieved in the Six Nations Festival
“In terms of the performance it was what we asked for,” said Scotland Under-18 head coach Ross Miller. “There are always challenges when you play England or any international. In terms of the scoring, it was reasonably close
“As a collective, it was a full effort from the guys today,” he added. “They showed real character, although there was maybe a lack of consistency from us in defence in terms of stopping their stronger ball-carriers and that allowed them to play front foot rugby.
“It was a different attack from what they’re used to. The guys now have a real reference point in terms of international rugby. We’ll be pushing for the boys to be working hard away from the pitch.”
England, using their big forwards to drive at the Scottish defence, dominated possession for the first 10 minutes of the game but the men in white were kept at bay by heroic tackling from the Scots, until scrum-half Jack Van Poortvliet sniped from a ruck to score under the posts, leaving stand-off Tom Curtis with an easy conversion.
From the restart, Scotland gained a footing in the England 22m area and, with a penalty signalled, Cameron Scott delivered a kick pass to Harry Patterson. When the wing was stopped just short of the line the Scots won possesion at the ruck for Dan Gamble to crash over for a try converted by Sweeney.
A long kick downfield again gave Scotland a massive territorial gain but the Scots failed to capitalise after Sweeney missed a penalty attempt. At the other end England made no mistake when from a half break by Fijian-born centre Phil Cokanasiga, Curtis slipped in for his side’s second try which he then converted.
Scotland again replied emphatically with Scott King creating a try for skipper Jamie Dobie, Sweeney’s conversion levelling the scores.
But two minutes before the break England profited from loose play that gave hooker Sam Riley a soft try under the posts, Curtis converting for a 21-14 half time lead.
England continued to use their heavier forwards to create a fourth try at the start of the second half. From a set scrum, the home side pushed the Scots back before the ball was passed out to Tom Rowbuck for the wing to run in an easy score.
The pattern of a quick reply continued as Matthew Currie cut through midfield to score an excellent solo try converted by Sweeney. England’s power game then produced two late tries by wing Joe Browning and a second for Roebuck to seal a home win.
England: G Worboys (Bath Rugby/Beechen Cliff); J Browning (Leicester Tigers/Denstone College), L Hillman-Copper (Gloucester Rugby/Cheltenham College), P Cokanasiga (London Irish/St Pauls College), T Roebuck (Sale Sharks/Wirral Grammar); T Curtis (Sale Sharks/Sedbergh School), J Van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers/Oakham School); H Fry (Gloucester Rugby/Hartpury College), S Riley (Harlequins/St George’s Weybridge), J Boughton (Gloucester Rugby/Hartpury College), G Martin (Leicester Tigers/Brooksby Melton College), A Benson (Gloucester Rugby/Dean Close School), J Gray (Gloucester Rugby/Dean Close School), X Hastings (Bath Rugby/Bishop Wordsworth’s), N Merigan (Bath Rugby/Beechen Cliff School). Subs used: J Stewart (Bath Rugby/Beechen Cliff School), L Green (London Irish/St Paul’s Catholic College), F Baxter (Harlequins/Wellington College), E Richards (Bath Rugby/Millfield School), W Trenholm (Harlequins/Cranleigh School), R Quirke (Sale Sharks/St Ambrose College), O Bailey (Bath Rugby/Beechen Cliff School), J Williams (Wasps/Caterham School)
Scotland: N Sweeney (Loretto); H Patterson (Fettes College), M Currie (Merchiston Castle School), S King (Heriot’s), F Callaghan (Hillhead/Jordanhill); C Scott (George Watson’s College), J Dobie (Merchiston Castle School); B Mace (Stirling County), S Clelland (Ayr), D Gamble (Merchiston Castle School), A Samuel (Madras/St Leonards/Madras Rugby), S Whittaker (Edinburgh Accies), G Brown (Robert Gordon’s College), B Muncaster (Rugby School/Leicester Tigers), E Allan (Preston Lodge/North Berwick HS). Subs used: J Johnstone (Preston Lodge), J Drummond (Marr), C Lamberton (The Royal High School), R Jackson (Kelvinside Academy), J King (Queen Victoria School/Stirling County), H Morris (George Watson’s College), R Tait (Sedbergh School), C I Scott (Preston Lodge), T Jones (Bristol Bears/SGS Filton), A Harley (George Watson’s College), C Furley (Saracens).
England: Tries Van Poortvliet, Curtis, Riley, Roebuck 2, Browning; Cons: Curtis 3.
Scotland: Tries: Gamble, Dobie, Currie; Cons: Sweeney 3.
Scoring Sequence (England first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7, 14-12, 14-14, 19-14, 21-14 (h-t) 26-14, 26-19, 26-21, 31-21, 36-21.
Man-of-the-Match: Of course it was a Scot! There were many candidates in a Scotland side that stood up well against physically stronger and heavier opponents. But key to Scotland stopping England from piling up the tries was the centre combination of Scott King and Matthew Currie. It was the latter who edged the award with a superb solo try.
Talking point: In past seasons there have been some really difficult matches against England at Under-18 level but the battle of Billingham was a much more even contest. Scotland stood up to the kind of power rugby which would have flattened age-grade sides in the past suggesting that the Academy system and a more competitive schools season is achieving results. If a better season can be constructed for club/youth rugby as well, perhaps involving a formal competition involving schools and clubs, then a bigger pool of players might be developed at this level.