SCOTLAND UNDER-20S managed just one win from 10 outings during the course of the Six Nations and Junior World Championships in 2019. They have already equalled that mark in 2020 thanks to their excellent win in Italy three weeks ago. But centre Robbie McCallum says that he and his team-mates are more concerned about the fact that they have not quite managed to get over the line in their three other matches against Ireland, England and France, than revelling in their Azzurri success.
The age-grade side take on Wales in Colwyn Bay tomorrow [Friday] night determined to double their winning account, and will be bolstered by the knowledge that it was against the same nation that they picked up last year’s solitary victory, when McCallum was one of four try scorers in an impressive 27-20 win at Meggetland. The 19-year-old is one of eight survivors from that match in the squad for this weekend’s clash, the others being hooker Ewan Ashman, second-row Cameron Henderson, flanker Conor Boyle, scrum-half Roan Frostwick, stand-off Nathan Chamberlain, winger Jack Blain (who is named on the bench in his first match back from an ankle injury sustained against Ireland in round one) and full-back Ollie Smith.
“It has been really frustrating because we don’t really want the gallant losers tag, we are a good team with good players and we know how we can perform,” he said. “I think it has been a positive campaign so far. There have been some tough losses, but we have played well throughout all of the games in spells and we want to put all of those bits together, so we are looking forward to taking on Wales.
“We know that they are a tough, tough team. We have played Wales quite a few times at various age-grades, and we have watched videos of them during this tournament, so we know they will come out hard – will tackle hard and it could be a brutal game – but we’re ready for it.”
McCallum is a stage three FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy player and is registered with the Boroughmuir Bears Super6 franchise, but has played his domestic rugby most recently with GHA playing in the Premiership on his way back from a shoulder injury which sidelined him during the first half of the season
“They were a very welcoming club and it was great to get some game time and get back into the swing of things,” he says. “Then it was straight into Under-20s programme with pre-season games against Ayrshire Bulls, Watsonians and the Scotland Club XV, before taking on Ireland over in Dublin. It has worked out quite well.”
He is from Milngavie and played for West of Scotland before enrolling at Loretto College, just outside Edinburgh, on a sports scholarship for his final three years at school.
“I moved mainly because I knew the cricket coach there, John Blain, who had coached me at West,” he explains. “The school’s sporting year was split into three terms, so I played cricket, rugby and hockey. Kyle McGhie [an Under-20s squad-mate] was also on a scholarship.”
He played cricket for Scotland at under-15 and under-17 age-grades before beginning to really focus on rugby. McCallum was involved in the Scotland side which won the annual Six Nations Under-18s Festival in 2018, but a knee problem scuppered his hopes of joining the Scottish Rugby Academy in his first year out of school, so he headed off instead to Spain at the start of last season to spend some time with his older brother, Sandy, who was having a year out in Madrid.
The plan was to get a bit of life experience, learn some of the local language and play club rugby for Compultence Cisneros – but he only lasted three months between September to November.
“I got invited back home for a Scotland under-19s session, played in a training game and did quite well, and when the Under-20s picked up a few injuries I was called up for the Six Nations,” he explains. “After the Six Nations I stuck around in Scotland and I feel like since then, and especially since going full-time I the academy this season [which involves training with Glasgow Warriors], it has helped me take my game on a lot.”
A hard-running inside centre with an eye for the try-line, what he lacks in bulk he makes up for with technique and general toughness.
It runs in the family. His grandfather, Struan, was part of the formidable Jordanhill front-row of the early to mid-1970s alongside Ian MacLauchlan and Ronnie Boyd, and is regarded by many contemporaries as being desperately unlucky not to have picked up a cap (largely down to the remarkable durability of Sandy Carmichael in the Scotland team).
“He was 13-and-a-half stone and 5ft 11ins, but he played as tight-head prop,” smiles the younger McCallum. “He grew up on a fruit and veg farm ad I think that is where he got his strength from!”