AN improved defensive performance is going to be key if Scotland are to make history by defeating France for the first time ever at under-20s level on Friday night, according to the age-grade side’s assistant coach Shade Munro.
With morale high after a thrilling 29-30 victory away to Italy in their last match, and with home advantage at Netherdale on this occasion, the young Scots sense that they have an opportunity against a French side who have also managed just one win from three outings so far in the championship – but they know that a big step-up in their work off the ball is going to be required.
“We’ve improved in every game we’ve played,” said Munro. “Our set-piece has got better, our attack has got better, and our defence is getting better but that is an area that needs to improve more than it is doing currently. It’s one thing scoring 30 points, but if you are conceding 29 that is actually the issue there. You can’t expect to score 30 points every time you play away from home. So, we’ve worked a fair bit on our defence in the last couple of days.
“We can defend, defend, defend, defend, defend, but suddenly there will be a weakness,” he continued. “In modern rugby, you often find you’ve got to defend 20 phases in a row to stop a team, but we’re doing eight or nine then a bad one, then another three and a bad one, then we just run out of steam. We’ve got to be ready for that relentless pressure.
“It’s a physical thing. Teams seem to be more physical than we are but it’s not that we can’t do it – they just have bigger men who are more used to doing it. We’ve got big guys, but they don’t get that on a weekly basis, so it is quite new to them. It is a mindset and that will to keep laying your body on the line … we need everyone to do that.”
While France’s record so far in this Six Nations is nothing to write home about, Munro says the squad are expecting a big step up from the challenge they faced in Italy.
“They are very similar to what you would expect them to be like: big men who are real natural rugby specimens,” he said. “They are really talented rugby players and it is not as structured as against other teams that we play. France are always waiting for a mismatch and then they’ll play, which is something that has never really changed.
“Set-piece wise we have an idea of what they are going to do first up, but what we really have to do is identify their dangerous players – the 8, the 12 and the 15 – and make sure we don’t do stupid things like kicking the ball straight down the full-back’s throat, for example.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 27)
One big thing the Scotland team have in their favour is home advantage, which Munro believes could prove crucial.
“Away teams don’t particularly like going to Gala,” he reasoned. “It will be a real chance for us. Scotland Under-20s have never beaten France – ever – so that’s a real challenge that we’ve laid out for the boys.
“The difference in the confidence during the session we had yesterday – they were buoyant coming in – whereas if they had lost that game 30-29 instead of winning it, meaning they had lost three games in a row, that would have been a real kick in the teeth.
“So, they are really quite buoyant, but the key thing is that we need to improve again for this game. Quite often when you finally get a win, you pat yourself on the back and then have a drop-off. Certainly, with Scottish teams that can happen. So, the challenge for us is to make sure we step it up again.”
Scotland U20s (v France on Friday, at Netherdale, kick-off 8pm GMT): Ollie Smith (Ayrshire Bulls); Rufus McLean (Boroughmuir Bears), 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), Gregor Brown (Boroughmuir Bears), Connor Boyle (Watsonians Rugby), Rory Darge (Southern Knights)©.
Substitutes: Rory Jackson (Watsonians Rugby), George Breese (Stirling Wolves), Alex Maxwell (Stourbridge), Jamie Campbell (Biggar), Jack Hill (Durham University), Kyle McGhie (Boroughmuir Bears), Cameron Scott (Boroughmuir Bears), Harry Paterson (Heriot’s Rugby).