WHAT a difference a game makes. In 80 mind-blowing minutes against England a fortnight ago, the Scotland Under-20s team not only salvaged their Six Nations campaign which had looked in danger of turning into a tartan massacre after heavy defeats to Wales (36-3) and France (19-69), but also blew the race for the championship title wide open.
Next stop is Donnybrook in Dublin and the young Scots are determined to prove that their Myreside miracle can be a repeated against an Ireland side with an identical win-loss ratio (1:2), although the men in green have been more competitive than their opponents when losing to the same teams during the last month (34-24 against France and 38-41 against Wales).
The Scots caught England out with their aggression and powerful mauling game. They will have to produce those same weapons again tonight, but having lost the element of surprise they know that they will also have to showcase a bit more threat along the back-line.
Head coach Stevie Scott joked this week that it was about time the backs contributed some tries after his pack claimed all four scores a fortnight ago, but it wasn’t all in jest – there was a kernel of truth to his words. With the great Paul O’Connell part of the Irish Under-20s coaching set-up, you can bet your bottom dollar they will have spent plenty of time preparing for Scotland’s route-one approach, which served them so well against an England side full of wonderful athletes but perhaps lacking when it came to rugby nous.
“We are dying to get the ball,” stressed full-back Paddy Dewhirst. “We are an attacking team but when we’ve got a dominant forward platform like that there is not much point taking the ball away from the big boys. It will be nice to see if we can chuck the ball about a bit wider, especially on a 4G pitch – we’re looking forward to it.”
“We’re definitely looking to see if we can have a crack out wide, but we also have to respect the power of our forwards.”
“The boys are on a high, we are enjoying our rugby – we’re training and playing hard, so there has been no drop-off after the England game. The boys are keen to get better and you can see that with the way we have all gone about our business this week.
“It was hard coming off the back of the France game. They dominated us for a good 60-minutes, but the towards the end of the game we started to get back in it and scored a few tries, so we could feel that there was something there but we needed to show it straight away.”
“Going into the England game, we concentrated on what we had to work on and, on the day, we executed it well. But there was a still a couple of slips which we have gone over this week – we know we have to cut out those errors to take it forward again against Ireland.”
Dewhirst has had the number 15 jersey on his back in all three of Scotland’s games so far and says he is getting used to the roll after coming through the ranks at Ayr as a stand-off.
“Before coming here, I thought I was a ten, but I’ve been chucked in at 15 with these boys and fallen in love with it. I feel like more of an attacking threat – I’m enjoying having my hands on the ball in a bit of space,” he said, before explaining that his experience at first-receiver has helped him adapt to the new position, “You kind of know when a ten is going to shape up to kick – you can read the wee cues during the game – so having experience in that position has definitely helped.”
The big challenge has been in defence.
“It was quite daunting at first, but a lot of it was just working hard off the ball to get in position. That’s the difficult bit, once you are there it is just about making the tackle if they do decide to run at you … which is unusual.”
If Dewhirst is on a steep learning curve as a full-back, he has certainly been helped by the company he is keeping in camp. The under-20s have been training against the full Scotland side which means he has had a chance to get up close and personal with one of the best in the business in Stuart Hogg.
“It is class. It is so fun,” said the youngster, breaking into a broad smile which reminds you that he is still a teenager getting his first taste of the big time. “It is very fast – in the first session they ran around us twice and we didn’t have a clue what was going, but you definitely learn from it – you learn to think a lot quicker and to execute your skills under pressure.
“If you look at Blair Kinghorn, he was in the Under-20s and now he’s got a call up to the Scotland team. He has been playing well. Then George Horne has been called into the training squad as well after playing well for Glasgow- and he was in the under-20s fairly recently as well. So, it is possible – it is about putting in the work and the extras at the end as well.”
Dewhirst started his rugby career at Cumnock Rugby Club but joined Ayr just before going to secondary school and has never looked back. He left Wellington School in the summer of 2016 so in his second year of senior rugby. He is an established 1st XV squad member but is yet to nail down a regular starting spot for the Millbrae outfit. He is a stage two [part-time] member of the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy and is also an assistant development officer at Ayr – working under club stalwart Frazier Climo.
“He’s helped me a lot as a coach and as a player. He’s played bacl three and at ten so definitely helped me make the switch to 15,” said Dewhirst.