Six Nations U20 Summer Series: Scotland recover respectability after horror start versus Ireland

Kenny Murray's team come up short in final match of campaign but deserve credit for spirited fightback

Scotland Under-20s hooker Patrick Harrison scores his second try against Ireland. Image: ©INPHO/Ben Brady
Scotland Under-20s hooker Patrick Harrison scores his second try against Ireland. Image: ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Ireland 41

Scotland 24

WHATEVER other conclusions we can draw from this Scotland Under-20s cohort, and what their plight says about the health of the game in the country generally, nobody can question their tenacity. At 24-0 down with a man in the sin-bin after 16 minutes, it really did look like a cricket score was on the cards, but they dug deep to salvage some form of respectability.

Ireland undoubtedly took their foot off the gas, and the outcome was never really in doubt, but skipper Rhys Tait and his players can return home from this ‘Summer Series’ campaign in Italy with their heads held high (despite four heavy defeats on the bounce).

“When I was sitting up there after 15-20 minutes, I had my head in my hands,” admitted head coach Kenny Murray. “It was a really disappointing start, but the big thing I spoke to the boys about before the game was about having some character, showing some fight and staying together as a group – that was the three things we had to do to compete today – and I thought it was a great effort to come back and fight through that. But we’ve got to be better at not making so many individual errors, especially that early in the game.”

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It looked like the team were still suffering collective hangover from their mauling by Georgia six days earlier during that traumatic first quarter, and Murray suggested that a late arrival at Stadio di Monigo in Treviso may also have been a contributing factor.

“There was a car accident outside the stadium so it was meant to take us 20 minutes to get there and it ended up being 50 minutes and  we didn’t get here until less than hour before kick-off, which meant we were under a bit of pressure in the warm-up and just a bit flat,” he explained, before also expressing disappointment at the try awarded against his team straight from the restart after hooker Patrick Harrison had opened Scotland’s account on 20 minutes.

“They’re really strict on water breaks here, so after you score a try you are allowed to come to the touchline to get a drink, and the referee allowed them to restart the game before our boys got back on the pitch, which isn’t allowed but the TMO didn’t pick it up and their try was allowed to stand, ” he lamented. “So, ultimately, it was a 10-point game at the end which considering the poor start we had, it is a testament to the boys how they recovered.”

Ireland raced into the lead with just one minute 25 seconds on the clock when centre Daniel Hawkshaw collected Sam Prendergast‘s neat chip over the top and raced home, setting the tone for a whirlwind opening quarter which featured three more tries for the men in green through tight-head prop Scott Wilson, winger Aitzol King and Prendergast. The last of those scores came after Scotland flanker Gregor Hiddleston had been sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball five yard from his own line following a length of the park break from Prendergast.

Ireland were manufacturing quick ball at will and were playing smart, direct rugby. Scotland, meanwhile, were chasing shadows and falling off tackles when they did manage to get close to a green jersey. Any ball they did have to play with was slow and easily mopped up by their opponents.

However, as the game entered its second quarter, Murray’s men finally managed to get a foothold, with their first real period of pressure culminating inHarrison rumbling over at the end of a move which featured a brilliant backhanded offload from Gabe Jones to Duncan Munn just as he was bundled into touch. Euan Cunningham nailed the tricky conversion.

It took just Ireland less than eight seconds to bounce back, with Fionn Gibbons collecting the restart and charging home for a John Leslie-esque try as the Scots refuelled at the touchline, but thereafter there was a definite slowing of green momentum with Diarmuid Mangan being sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away at a ruck in front of his own posts a few minutes later.

Scotland opted for the scrum but Ollie Leatherbarrow knocked-on at the base so that attacking opportunity was lost. However, they kept plugging away and Keiran Clark‘s break down the left would certainly have led to a try had the full-back been able to gather his own chip ahead. Scotland’s perseverance eventually paid off when a penalty to the corner set up Harrison’s second try of the match, his fifth of the tournament, off a line-out drive, with Cunningham once again converting.


Scotland started the second half brightly and a high tackle by Andrew O’Mahony on Rhys Tait gave Cunningham the chance to kick deep into the corner. Alas, the Scots lacked the conviction to claim another try at this point, but they did pull three more points back a few minutes later when Cunningham fired a ruck penalty between the posts. That made it a 12 point game, which was astonishing given the tenor of the first 20 minutes.

But that’s as close as they got, with Mangan bursting over following a quick tap penalty on 53 minutes. However, Ireland could not recapture their early dominance, even after Munn was carded for playing the ball on the deck.

Ireland did score again on 68 minutes when replacement winger Shay McCarthy expertly collected Prendergast’s cross-field kick and dotted down, but Scotland responded in kind just a minute later when Leatherbarrow spun out of a tackle and battled over following a fine break by Andy Stirrat.

With so many replacements, 11 each side, it was inevitable that the game lost its shape ad rhythm during the final 10 minutes.


Teams –

Ireland: P Campbell (R Malone 63); A King (S McCarthy 46), F Gibbons, D Hawkshaw, G Coomber (H West 54); S Prendergast, A O’Mahony (M Moloney 50); G Hadden (K Ryan 55, O Michel, 72), J Hanlon (J McCormick 54, D Rhys Hey 72), S Wilson (J Mawhinney 60), C Irvine ( R O’Sullivan 68), A McNamee, D Mangan, R Crothers, L McLoughlin (G Shaw 72).

Scotland: K Clark; K Johnston (T Glendinning 76), D Munn, A Stirrat, G Jones (R McKnight 56); E Cunningham, B Afshar (F Burgess 72); I Carmichael ( J Lascelles 50, A Rogers 72), P Harrison (D Hood 60), C Norrie (G Scougall 45), J Taylor (J Spurway 66), M Williamson, R Tait (L McConnell 50), G Hiddleston (T Brown 50), O Leatherbarrow (R Brown 72).

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy)


Scorers –

Ireland: Tries: Hawkshaw, Wilson, King, Pendergast, Gibbons, Mangan, McCarthy; Cons: Pendergast 3.

Scotland: Try: Harrison 2, Leatherbarrow; Con: Cunningham 3; Pen: Cunningham.

Scoring sequence (Ireland first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 24-0; 24-5; 24-7; 29-7; 29-12; 29-14 (h-t) 29-17; 34-17; 39-17; 41-17; 41-22; 41-24.


Yellow cards –

Ireland: Mangan (26mins)

Scotland: Hiddleston (15mins), Munn (58mins)

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About David Barnes 3804 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. It’s a sad day when a 41-24 whipping counts as ‘respectability’. Is there no shame?

  2. The 1st 20 minutes tells you all you need to know about the problem. There was no motivation, no gameplan, in fact they should have ben sent out with tackle shields for an Irish training session. Thats down to coaching and coaches, not SRU / S6 / Dodson or any other pet hate on these boards. That the lads pulled themselves back towards respectability is to their credit, though.

  3. “Super 6 creates a really exciting performance programme for promising young players. They’re coming through a very strong academy pathway but it can’t end there. We need to deliver a compelling playing environment in Scotland.“

    Sean Lineen 16 Aug 2018

    • Sean might have had this vision but it ain’t working
      because the Super 6 “clubs” want to win too much ( despite
      fact there is no relegation ! ) and therefore won’t give
      the young players enough game time which they
      desperately need .

    • Sean might have had this vision but it ain’t working
      because the Super 6 “ clubs” want to win too much ( despite
      the fact there is no relegation ) and as a result younger players are not selected for game time which they need to mature

  4. Instead of comparing to teams like Ireland and what they do to succeed at this level, why not look at Italy? Really on the up and just beat England again today. 2 pro teams and similar situation below 2 pro teams but making rapid strides

  5. Lets be honest losing to Ireland is no surprise whatsoever, its the 14 game losing streak and the nature of some of the other thrashings thats concerning.
    Unfortunately when it comes to Ireland and Wales any win against them has turned into a once in a decade achievement, whether it be the senior team / under age team / womens team. Its a harsh reality of simply how far off the pace we have fallen in the professional era and how strong theyve become

  6. Listen, I get it is pretty depressing losing so many in a row, and there are questions to be asked about the pathways, but if you look at a XV from the last 3 seasons Under 20s it’s not too shabby –
    O Smith; R McLean, M Currie, (C Redpath), J Blain; R Thompson, J Dobie; A N Other, E Ashman, M Walker, C Henderson, M Sykes,G Brown, B Muncaster, R Darge;

    Not too shabby. Admittedly Cameron Redpath came through the English system, but has opted for Scotland, and it looks like Grahamslaw and Lambert are going to have to take a step back, but if we can produce an international XV from every 3 years age groups we are not doing everything bad.

    • But its not just about producing an international XV is it though…we want them to win and that is lacking, and has been for over 20 years.

      Performance cultures are started at the top commercially and technically. This does not exist in the SRU. I don’t care what anyone says. I live and coach in Ireland and the fruits of their labours over the last 20 years are very apparent.

      My own club here in Ireland, from a town of c14K population and a membership of just over 1,000, has currently 5 successful pro’s playing in Ireland with two being internationals, a few abroad, a 7’s Olympian, and another 10 or so ex-pro’s all with winners medals and cups. That’s not an isolated story.

      It has come from years of not accepting anything other than high performance…but doing so from the ground up. From Minis through Youths, to Senior Rugby. Its a culture of game time, skills appropriate to their age grade and unity.

      If we are so great why have we not won six triple crowns, 3 grand slams & 4 outright six nations titles in that period like Ireland?

      I am sick of hearing the excuses from all corners about us being “not that bad” or “trying hard”. Its cultural, and until that changes nothing will change.

      • Completely agree Grant and it all begins at the top where we need leadership more interested in the performance on the field rather than the performance in his bank account.

      • Well said Grant .
        We’re still in the ‘dark ages’ regarding players
        Too many in the system are in because they’re connected somehow to previous players or coaches .
        And also where you come from ie the private school route .
        There are players out there be it from mini .midi .youths .that never ever get a fair crack at it .
        As I’ve said many times it’s too cliquey ..too many in jobs in Murrayfield filled with people who aren’t up to it
        Ps .
        What’s Dodson going to do about it .
        Answer .absolutely zilch .
        Too busy lining his pockets

  7. Dom its nothing to do with the premier clubs.Its all down to the academies/super 6 clubs.If they think these boys are not going to get enough game time at super 6.Then they should be directing these boys to the premier.There have been a couple of players that dropped from super 6 last year for this reason.The premier clubs will greet these boys with open arms.

    • Agreed. I wasn’t criticising Premier clubs for this it was more a plea for those managing the pipeline to be engaged with the Premiership

  8. Sorry but how many excuses can be put out there for not performing in this tournament

    The system , the super 6 , a car crash , individual errors
    From the outside looking in this is a squad that on paper was far better than last year however still drastically under achieved , tactically not at the races in this tournament , also the complete lack in confidence to let the players heads up rugby and play what’s in front of them and to be direct and DROP certain players that seam to be bullet proof

    Surley the coaches need to look in the mirror as well , as every blaming the SRU system .

    • Any natural flare and ability is coached out of them to be robot gym monkeys .
      Get to this stage and it’s worked.
      Just look at the results

  9. Well played lads. Simple difference was more gain line power yards from Ireland and seemingly no plan for the short kick into space. None. Now either that was lack of line speed on the Irish 10, allowing Ireland too much quick ball or perhaps failing in tactical plan from coaching?

  10. It was always going to be about the performance rather than the result today, so well done to the guys for sticking in. Given the previous 3 games they could have easily folded and didn’t.

    Which brings us back to the setup, structure and strategy for youth into senior rugby. You learn little in the training field and gym versus actually playing. So seems pretty obvious to me that the young guys need more game time. That inevitably means asking the Premier clubs to help out.

    • Dom, Premiership clubs are open to help/get any of those players, it’s the Academies not releasing them just in case you didn’t know. Totally agree those guys will only develop playing rugby, 100% !

      • Lewis – my comment is in no way a criticism of the Premier clubs.

        What I’m asking for is some joined up thinking here. These players aren’t getting enough game time when they become senior players. This isn’t a new problem.

        One of the rationales for Super 6 was to give the pathway guys more game time. This doesn’t appear to be happening. If not in Super 6 the next step is Premier clubs

  11. 17 point gap at the end to me is not respectability. This has nothing to do with the lads themselves. This speaks to a bigger problem down the line. The culture of performance does not come from holding back on a pathway in terms of funding or resource.

    If these lads are not developed enough for a full senior cap in a couple of years time then who is? They should be knocking on the door already and marking coaches cards.

    The only other path available is for somebody’s Granny being from Hawick or Cupar.

    I feel for these lads as they are still boys…I really do. But is says a lot about our union that Ireland, a country roughly the same population as ours, can produce a team like that at U20. I’d say 75% of those Irish lads will go on to decent pro careers and 50% will get a few senior caps within the next few years.

    It really bothers me that this is where we are…the fruits of their labours should be clear to see and a new senior squad should already be in the minds of the coaching staff as an evolution of the current one.

    Will any of these lads see a Scotland ‘A’ let alone a full test squad?

    • Having one bad season at U20 is not terminal. Having 3or more back to back is. What would be worthwhile is analysis on trends over a number of years in comparison to the performance of U16 and U2o. Was the current U20 cadre similarly uncompetitive at U16 and U18 level or has there been a deterioration as they have moved through the age groups? The SRU has a duty to grow the club game and nurture the talents from the clubs as the future international players. They cannot rely on other national union developing future Scottish players.

  12. As the article said the lads were slow to get into their stride but they stuck at it and was it a lack of attention that led to the ‘water-break’ try or was it a fault of the officials? From memory it even caught the Camera and Tv. Director out as well as they seemed to miss the kick off. I rather thought the Irish 3rd try had an element of double movement but perhaps my interpretation of that is wrong.
    Did the Irish take their foot of the gas or did we pick our game up significantly, giving the lads the benefit of the doubt I think the latter especially as they were always under pressure, even before the game with many comments writing their chances off so well done for not folding when 24 points down.

  13. 14 defeats on the bounce for the Scotland Under 20s. Something in the entire age grade set up and coaching structures is simply not fit for purpose. Today’s defeat is by no means the worst of the 14 losses, Ireland actually do everything better than us in terms of their entire approach to rugby (set up, structures, coaching, funding) and their under 20s are simply better than ours and there is far far more depth in their ranks. The SRU are presiding over an absolute shambles and if something doesnt change soon Scotland are destined for Tier 2 and maybe sooner than we think. Final note to the boys who played today, they battled hard to bring themselves back into the game so well done – this whole mess is not of their doing


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