SCOTLAND suffered a morale-denting defeat in the second round of the Men’s Six Nations U18 Festival at the Energia Stadium in Dublin, after finishing second best by some margin to a France side playing total rugby that emphasised the difference in skill levels, physicality and sheer rugby nous between the two countries.
Inevitably, this set-back will raise further questions about the structure of age-grade rugby in Scotland and, in turn, given the finite resources coming through and the ever rising standards being achieved in the other Six Nations countries, about the ability of the under-20s to compete strongly at international level.
The Scots came into this second round game having performed reasonably well in their loss to Ireland last Saturday, but against France they were never allowed to play with the same freedom, such was Les Bleus’ pace in both attack and defence, their power play up front and their sheer skill with ball in hand.
France oozed confidence throughout the game, playing front-foot rugby that in the end brought them eight tries, albeit aided by a Scotland side that seemed off the pace and which paid the price for tentative engagement in defence behind the scrum. Scotland’s cause was also not helped by a red card shown to the Peebles loosehead prop Ben White in the last quarter for allegedly throwing a punch, but by that stage in the game the Scots were already trailing by a massive margin.
In defeat there were still several noteworthy performances, the pick of these from prop Jerry Blythe Lafferty, who is still an under-17 player, second-row Charlie Moss, hooker Seb Stephen and flanker Freddy Douglas. It was not a day., however, for Scotland’s backs, who were shut down by the French defence and who struggled to impose themselves on the game.
“France are a really good team, one of the top sides in the world at this level. This was a new level of speed and physicality for this group of players, but they will be the better for it,” observed Ross Miller, the Scotland under-18 head coach. “We probably conceded some scores too easily,” he added.
“Throughout the game we struggled to create tempo. Their line-speed was very good, so we found it difficult to hold on to possession. But overall we didn’t have enough ball. However, I thought our maul try was very good” suggested Miller, who now has four days in which to build back self-belief within his squad before facing Wales in the third and final round of the festival on Sunday. Wales lost 48-17 to Ireland in their second round game, significantly a much greater margin of defeat than Scotland experienced against the Irish.
France wasted little time before putting points on the board with a stylish try by full back Ugo Pacome barely two minutes into the game. A penalty try for taking down an unstoppable rolling maul added to the Scots’ agonies before tries by winger Johanne Wasserman and their outstanding No 8 Elyjah Ibsaiene made it 26-0 for Les Bleus with the clock showing only 14 minutes played.
Scotland fared better in the second quarter and had a chance of a score when skipper Jack Brown chipped ahead only for the ball to bounce over the dead-ball line. However, the slight gain in momentum was confirmed when the Scots drove a line-out giving Stephen his side’s only try, Brown adding the extras from wide out.
But no sooner had Scotland got themselves into the game than France made an immediate reply after gaining possession from the restart and ending with Les Bleus’ impressive Stade Toulousain centre Kalvin Gourgues gathering a kick ahead to score and convert for a 33-5 half time lead.
Gourgues then scored a wonderful individual try before Wasserman claimed his second, France signing off with yet another skilful score, this time from replacement full back Xan Mousques to complete a sumptuous win.
Scotland U18: J Brown CAPTAIN (George Watson’s College); S Lewini (Queen Victoria School), J Ventisei (St Aloysius/GHA RFC), J Hocking (Edinburgh Rugby), F Watson (Biggar RFC); I Coates (Merchiston Castle), H Patterson (Hawick RFC); K Ando (SC Frankfurt 1880/Sedbergh), S Stephen (Glenalmond College/Aberdeen Grammar RFC), O Blyth-Lafferty (Boroughmuir RFC), B Godsell (Gloucester Academy/Marling), C Moss (Marlow Rugby/Shiplake College/Wasps), N Torkington (Stirling County RFC), F Douglas (Stewart’s Melville College), O Duncan (Edinburgh Academy). Replacements from: O McKenna (St Aloysius), F Mcintosh (George Watson’s College), B White (Peebles RFC), F Wilson (Gala RFC), F Spurway (Glenalmond College), F Wood (George Heriot’s School), H Alderson (Stewart’s Melville College), M Urwin (St Aloysius), L McEwan-Peters (Yorkshire Academy/Wellington College), T Russell (Stewart’s Melville College), S Rockley (London Irish/Bishop Wand/London Irish Academy).