SCOTLAND Under-20s will be looking to make it three home wins over England on the bounce at Myreside on Friday night, but the inevitable turnover in players at age-grade level means that while those previous successes in 2016 and 2018 can provide inspiration to the current crop, they offer little practical help in preparing for the specific task in hand.
Current captain Rory Darge, who came off the bench two years ago, is the only survivor from that encounter, and head coach Sean Lineen points out that the backdrop to this match is very different from the build-up in 2018, when the young Scots had been on the receiving end of two thumping defeats against Wales away and France at home, prompting Stevie Scott, that year’s head coach, to adopt a back-to-basics battle-plan which offered little in the way of creativity but knocked their high-flying opponents off their stride. It was a brilliant display of character and grit, but not what you would call progressive rugby.
This time round, Scotland come into the match off the back of a promising performance [albeit a loss] against Ireland in Cork last weekend, and Lineen is looking for his team to continue building on that whilst recognising the need to take the game to England physically.
“This is a different team, more skilful, and we’re not coming off a big hiding like that side, we’re coming off a game where the boys played pretty well, so we’re looking at it from that perspective,” said the coach.
“The boys will automatically be up for it because its England. I think there is a massive respect for what they are – the likes of Sam Maunder and Manu Vunipola at half-back who play for Saracens and Exeter – so they know the task, but it is about the collective and making sure that we are tight and stay tight. We are up against individuals who can cut up anyone if they are given half a chance, so if you make small errors that you would get away with at club level, that doesn’t happen here – small mistakes become big mistakes.
“We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that we’ll look at doing, but there is no getting away from it … we want to make it as tough as possible for them. We can’t stand off them because they’ll run over us. Their game is based on power, they have got very skilful players who make good decisions because they are experienced in high pressure environments, but I’d like to think we’ll be ready, and we’ll have a good crowd there as the 16th man.
“We scored four tries in Ireland and had the most tackle-breaks in the whole competition last weekend, so we have some good attackers. But we have to look after the ball better. That was a game that was more in our grasp than we thought, so the players are a bit disappointed and frustrated by that, and there is only one way to rectify the situation.”
Lineen has made one forced and one unenforced change to the starting XV.
Winger Jack Blain – one of the few players in the squad to have senior pro rugby experience – picked up an ankle injury last week and is awaiting the results of a scan, while his replacement Rufus McLean is concussed, so Harry Paterson starts in he No 14 jersey with Max Priestly of Premiership club Glasgow Hawks on the bench.
“Harry had a hip injury at the start of the season and is just back,” explained the coach. “He played a game for Heriot’s Super6 team and did pretty well. He is a young lad, under-19, but he has talent. It is about harnessing that energy in the right way. He can cause his opposite man problems, but he has to be on his toes too in defence.
“Max is a good player, a good runner and quite mature, who has had to work really hard to get where he is and you want to reward that,” Lineen added.
Meanwhile, Thomas Lambert – who has flown across from Australia to be part of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign – gets a start at loose-head with Alex Maxwell dropping to the bench. “There were pros and cons for both of them last week, but they are good lads and we are looking at how best to use our four props throughout the game,” said Lineen.
Tighthead prop Dan Gamble was a late call-off last weekend and it now looks likely that he will miss the remainder of the championship.
“It is a neck injury and he’ll be out for a couple of months,” explained Lineen. “It happened playing club rugby, we tried to manage it, but we did the best thing and sent him for an MRI scan and he’s not right. He needs a little bit of a break to recover.
“We will just have to manage it. He is young and when your shoulder/neck are feeling a bit tender it is not worth any risk.”
Despite the absence of Gamble against Ireland, the Scots scrummaged well to get the upper-hand there, and Lineen knows that a repeat of that set-piece performance will be required if the team are to have any chance against England.
“There is a lot of good technical work going on, a lot of focus on the scrum,” he said. “Mak Wilson started at tight-head, he played last year, but maybe he is more mature now, and he surprised himself I think with how well he did.
“He is a modern tighthead and give him a bit of confidence and he’ll get better and better. I was really impressed by the scrum, but it will be a big challenge this week.”
Lineen also had words of praise for second-row Kieran Watt’s performance against Ireland. “He worked so hard to get into shape and last week he made 17 tackles, no misses and 18 carries,” he said. “I love seeing guys working hard, coming through the club game and delivering.”
Scotland U20s (v England on Friday, at Myreside, kick-off 7:30pm): Ollie Smith (Ayrshire Bulls); Harry Paterson (Heriot’s Rugby), Matthew Currie (Watsonians Rugby), Robbie McCallum (Boroughmuir Bears), Jacob Henry (Southern Knights); Nathan Chamberlain (Hartpury College/Bristol Bears), Roan Frostwick (Watsonians Rugby); Thomas Lambert (Sydney University), Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Mak Wilson (Southern Knights), Kieran Watt (Watsonians Rugby), Cameron Henderson (Stirling County), Jack Hill (Durham University), Connor Boyle (Watsonians Rugby), Rory Darge (Southern Knights)©.
Substitutes: Rory Jackson (Watsonians Rugby), George Breese (Stirling Wolves), Alex Maxwell (Stourbridge), Jamie Campbell (Biggar), Gregor Brown (Boroughmuir Bears), Kyle McGhie (Boroughmuir Bears), Cameron Scott (Boroughmuir Bears), Max Priestly (Glasgow Hawks).