Six Nations U20 Summer Series: young Scots steamrollered by Italy

Losing streak is now 12 matches and Georgia next Wednesday presents a daunting challenge

Scotland’s Josh Taylor is unable to prevent Italy's third try. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Scotland’s Josh Taylor is unable to prevent Italy's third try. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Scotland 14

Italy 34

PACK power proved decisive as Italy marched to a six-tries-to-two victory, which extended Scotland’s losing streak at this level to 12 games, stretching all the way back to March 2019.

A second-minute try from winger Federico Cumineti set the ball rolling for the Azzurri, but the other five touch-downs came directly from the host nation’s muscular line-out maul. To their credit, the young Scots kept battling to the end, as demonstrated by Andy Stirratt‘s injury-time consolation score, but this was another demoralisingly one-sided encounter which highlights once again the failing of the development pathway in this country.

The Scots flew out to this Summer Series full of hope that they could stride forward after a tough Six Nations whitewash, with plenty being made of the increased number of players who had been given exposure to Super6 in recent months, but this heavy defeat allied to the 45-15 drubbing by Wales on Saturday indicates that the gap has grown rather than been reduced.


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Time and again, players cracked under pressure, but the key difference was in physicality levels. “In terms of what we need to be doing to get better, we need to look at our domestic game preparation and how we are preparing these guys,” said head coach Kenny Murray. “Physically, we’re not there at the moment at under-20 level. Every team we play is a lot more physical and better conditioned than us, so that’s a big thing. At the end of the day, we just need to be bringing through better quality players to compete at this level, so there is a lot of work to be done.”

Scotland have an opportunity to lift the gloom when they play their final pool match against also winless Georgia next Wednesday, but that is a big ask for this beleaguered squad.

“They [Georgia] had a line-out to win in the last play of the game against Wales today so they are obviously going to be tough,” conceded Murray. “They are another big side but there are opportunities there as well, so we’re going too come out and have a go. There is no easy games at this level. We have to brush ourselves down, learn our lessons, and move on.”

It started ominously for Scotland with Italy taking the lead when clean line-out ball was shipped right across the park for winger Cumineti to muscle past opposite number Kerr Johnston on his way to the line, with only one minute and 22 seconds on the clock.

And when the Azzurri scrum blew the Scottish eight apart just three minutes later, it looked like the writing was on the wall already for Murray’s men, but they managed to hang in there for the next 20 minutes – helped by some opposition inaccuracy – before Italy eventually doubled their account through second-row Alessandro Ortombina, who got the downward pressure off a line-out maul.

Whenever the Scots had possession, they found themselves running into a brick wall, until a couple of flashes of inspiration managed to pierce their opponents’ previously untroubled defence just before the half hour mark.

Ben Afshar’s broke from a quick tap-penalty and when he was eventually brought down, Patrick Harrison followed the scrum-half’s lead by picking up at the base of the ruck and taking route one before the Italian’s had set. The hooker then showed some impressive pace to round the final man to touch down under the posts.

Euan Cunningham’s straight-forward conversion from right in front of the posts briefly hauled it back to a three-point game, but Scotland then lost lock Josh Taylor to the sin-bin, paying the price for persistent team infringements, with nine penalties conceded in the first half alone and 16 in the match overall. Italy took immediate advantage when hooker Lapo Frangini touched down at the conclusion of another powerful line-out drive.

Scotland threatened again just before the break, but Harrison lost the ball in contact five yards from the Italian line, and it felt like a match-defining moment.

 

The second-half was a stalemate, with both teams struggling to impose themselves, until Italy once again made serious headwaythrough their line-out drive on 65 minutes, with replacement hooker Tommaso Scramonsin getting the final touch.

That definitively killed off Scotland, with Giovanni Cenedese and Scramonsin, again, both taking advantage of that totally dominated line-out drive to add to Italy’s account.

that injury-time try from Stirratt provided scant consolation, although an optimist could argue that it provided the young Scots with some momentum to take into their final pool match against also winless Georgia on Wednesday.

 

Teams –

Scotland : G Jones (K Clark 73); R McKnight (B Salmon 50),  D Munn, A Stirrat, K Johnston; E Cunningham (C Townsend 50), B Afshar (F Burgess 73); I Carmichael (J Lascelles 59), P Harrison (D Hood 57), G Scougall (A Rogers 65), J Taylor (J Spurway 72),  M Williamson, L McConnell (M Deehan 57), R Tait (R Brown 64), O Leatherbarrow ( G Hiddleston 54).

Italy: L Pani; A Gesi (D Passarella, 64), C Mey, F Lazzarin, F Cuminetti ((T Simoni 72); G Sante ( N Teneggi 11), S Battara (F Bozzoni 72); R Bartolini (L Rizzoli 54), L Frangini (T Scramonsin 43), V Bizzotto (R Genovese 49), A Ortombina (F Ruffolo 68), A Mattioli (C Berlese 64), F Lovorenti (G Marini, 54), M Rubinato (G Cenedese 57), R Vintcent.

 

Scorers –

Scotland: Try: Harrison, Stirratt; Con: Cunningham, Townsend

Italy: Tries: Cuminetti, Ortombina, Frangini, Scramonsin 2, Cenedese; Cons: Teneggi 2.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10; 7-15 (h-t) 7-20; 7-22; 7-27; 7-29; 7-34; 12-34; 14-34.

 

Yellow cards –

Scotland: Taylor (32mins)


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About David Barnes 2991 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.

22 Comments

  1. Nepotism in the pathways doesn’t help. I’ve seen some of these players with well known surnames play for a number of years now and are clearly no better than other boys out there playing in the conferences. But as has been discussed in here before, once you get put in the system at 15 its hard to be dropped and even harder for any late developers to get a look in.

  2. Seems we’ll be recruiting full internationalists from the southern hemisphere for the foreseeable

  3. As an interested outsider, I was sad to see no one looking for gaps/ possibilities, lads seem too worried about not making mistakes… so naturally make more. First Scottish team I’ve seen not trying things. Italy were always up quick in a smothering line, a couple of short chips early on may stop them all flying up and maybe a gap or two might appear. Sad mistake filled game… watched the under 18’s trying different options not long since. As the saying goes “things can only get better “ 🤞🏽

  4. Any natural ability shown as a youngster is just about coached out of them .
    That’s what ‘s wrong .
    I want to see heads up rugby .. take chances rugby .not a team full of boring pick up fall down grunt grunt ‘gym monkeys ‘

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  5. Need a clear out of the whole backroom staff within Scottish rugby Headquarters, it’s not working and hasn’t done so since the early 2000’s. Also it’s now quite clear that Logan, Sebastien and Quincy from the private schools can’t handle the physicality…. put scottish club side players up against that last night and they would’ve handled the physicality alot better. Yes, they would likely of also lost out in the end too but at least the passion, sweat, blood and sheer determination to represent the country would’ve been on display for the whole game!

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  6. Hi left the field this will never change with the current set up.The main problem there is no pathway in scotland other than super 6 at present.Most of these boys have had limited game time in super 6 .Unless we make changes in super 6.And stop importing players from all corners it’s not going to change.I find Ian milne comments funny regarding setup at scrums. Maybe he needs to get his tracksuit looked out and give his experience to these boys. It certainly will be alot better than their getting at the moment.

  7. Well one thing our part-time professional players should be is “more physical and better conditioned” – after all, Murrayfield have oversight of the Super 6 player contracts and also a say in how the franchises are operated.

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    • Interesting comment Pegj. All the commentary about Super 6 is how much more physical the games are. Even if that is the case, many of these players haven’t played that much. The sprint series gave them some playing time but cramming in 5 or so matches doesn’t make for better players.

      It would be helpful if the “strategy” for player development was shared with the wider rugby community so we can at least have some understanding of what they are trying to work towards.

      • Interesting comment Pegj. All the commentary about Super 6 is how much more physical the games are. Even if that is the case, many of these players haven’t played that much. The sprint series gave them some playing time but cramming in 5 or so matches doesn’t make for better players.

        It would be helpful if the “strategy” for player development was shared with the wider rugby community so we can at least have some understanding of what they are trying to work towards.

  8. Pretty tough watch with the young Scots making basic errors with what appeared to be a very passive game plan. Little to no line speed and aggression. Players waiting for the carry rather than protecting the ball meant no control (and no chance to make the carry).

    Can’t understand why other nations seem so much more powerful at the same stage?

    From what I understand the pathway system doesn’t do a lot of full contact training or even scrag, so the coaches won’t know who has the guts for a physical match and the players wouldn’t have the experience to execute it.

    Very disappointing!

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  9. The game itself was a truly disappointing spectacle from so many perspectives , the skill level of both teams overall was very poor , the game was punctuated by regular errors , both physical and judgement. Scotland were convincingly beaten in the set piece and the scrum was exceptionally poor. If Kenny Murray suggests Scotland are lacking physically why then does their game plan appear fixated with blunt physical confrontation. There was very little guile and deception plays and the perception that attackers should attack space rather that seek out physical contact appeared lost on this Scotland team.
    Unfortunately through the age grades the priority has always been to overlook good rugby skills and instead to select “manboys” – players that are big and fast but not necessarily particularly skilful or good technical rugby players – the difficulty when we get to 20’s is that physicality normally evens out and nullifies the “manboys”. By this time we have rejected many of the more skilful players and reduced our player pool so much we have very few alternatives other than attempt and fail to physically match these teams.
    The inability of the players in this team to be able to hold onto ball in contact , execute basic skills like tackling , passing , kicking and throwing is there for all to see and is a sad reflection of our mini and youth development strategies.
    To see an U20 game where the winning team scores all but one of its six tries from 5 metre line out mails is truly uninspiring although it has to be said that this is exactly the method that Scotland scored their tries against Wales – thoroughly depressing.
    Where is the skill , ambition and bravery in these performances ….there isn’t any. Scotland now don’t even look a good fit for the second tier of these 20’s competitions and it is very possible that Georgia could beat Scotland.

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    • Agree with a lot you say. I’m not convinced the way Italy play in the U20’s will translate into success in the senior side, physicality evens up. Scotland have a style that suits us, it was lost for many years til Vern and now Gregor took charge. It is important that out U20’s try and replicate that style. The players need more help, that there is no doubt and hopefully with Super 6 that may go part of the way. Some of the private schools I believe have strength and conditioning as part of their rugby programme which is great, somehow we need to get it introduced across the board but it all takes time and the right people to produce these programmes.

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      • I am sorry but to argue that ‘hopefully with Super 6 that may go part of the way’ is not what is required: part of the way!
        There needs to be an identifiable path for emerging players not a bit here and a bit there, part of the way isn’t what Dodson and Co. sold us, just because some marketing suit stuck ‘Super’ in front of the number 6 doesn’t mean that it is.
        The Super6 from the games I have seen have had such a spread of ability with an apparent chopping and changing of players that there doesn’t appear to be any continuity.
        Playing with players like George Horne coming back from injury one week and A. N. Other the following week is not going to produce anything other than a confusing picture, surely there needs to be continuity or a different system, S6 doesn’t seem to know whether it is Fish or Foul, sorry I couldn’t resist the pun.

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  10. First thing to remember is that the U20’s is about producing players for the senior stage, something we have done quite well recently.
    Physicality has always been an issue in Scottish rugby and with professionalism it is becoming more important. However watching the game I was very disappointed in the organisation in our play, especially in the set piece.

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  11. Whilst the Super6 is a stepping stone for the U20’s it does not prepare any of the players for the physicality of these games. Most Super6 games are far flowing, moving the ball out of contact, these games are much more confrontational and all about winning the gain line. If anything the Super6 coaches need to change their game plans and approach otherwise this losing streak could go on for some time.

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    • The only thing I would say is that the game is evolving and top teams are playing a more expansive game. I Italians were very efficient and as I said in my earlier comment I thought we looked disorganised.

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      • Agree we looked incredibly disorganised. Said it many times but lets get in a coach who specialises in and understands age group rugby. Its not a home for out of work or soon to be out of work senior coaches. Someone like Peter Walton would be ideal, and Pathway Director John Fletcher knows him well. It’s also mildly astonishing that in one breath we castigate the Academies for not giving game time and turning players in to gym monkeys and then we say we are out muscled every game. Are these lads taking enough responsibility for their own condition?

  12. Kenny Murray is spot on – we need better prep and development of our young players – that means the SRU giving funding to the Premiership clubs to participate actively in this , while working in conjunction with the schools , Academies ( and Pro sides ) – developing a pathway that picks up the early and later developers and is owned by all the key bodies of Scottish rugby

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    • Gloucester have just announced Peter Walton is leaving their academy this Summer. we can but hope…

    • Why the Premiership clubs? I just found out that Glasgow has put 16 academy players to Hawks, including two good stand-offs! How are they both going to get game time and learn?

      • If that is correct then here’s a theory.

        Speculation but if you wanted to move to a Super8 and you wanted one of those 8 to be Glasgow based at say Scotstoun – then they need to finish top 2 of Prem.

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