STEVIE SCOTT has challenged his Scotland Under-20s team to demonstrate just how far they have progressed during the last two months by picking up a rare away win against Italy in their final match of this year’s Six Nations campaign, in Bari on Friday afternoon.
The young Scots got off to an ominous start to their time together when they were hammered 41-7 by the Scotland Club XV in a warm-up match in late January, and things initially deteriorated when they lost 36-3 away to Wales and 19-69 at home to France, at the start of the Six Nations, but a shock 24-17 victory over England – built on a ferocious forwards performance – transformed the whole tenor of their season.
They couldn’t quite back up that result last weekend in Ireland, but Scott says he was encouraged by the way his players bounced back from a slow start in that game to earn a bonus point and be in with a shout of snatching another famous victory at the end.
“The big question last week was how we travelled, and we got caught in the first 20 minutes when we gave them two early scores, which meant we were always playing catch-up – but there was loads of positives to take out of that game,” said head coach Scott. “I think it is the best we have attacked yet. We created a lot of opportunities and we thoroughly deserved the bonus point, but we are disappointed that we didn’t win the game, because we had a chance to do that.”
“This group has grown miles from the start of this process. Where they are now, compared to when they first came into camp is a credit to them as a team,” he continued.
“It has really highlighted to me what you can do with a group if they are well coached in the right environment. When you compare how we were against the Club XV when we got battered to where we are now, we are clearly making some good strides forward – although we recognise that we are not the finished article by any means.”
“It would be a really good championship for us if we can win this game [in Italy]. Two wins in this Six Nations and a bonus point in Ireland with a team which has 20 minutes of pro rugby experience between them would be a great achievement.”
Italy are clearly nobody’s mugs, however, having secured a gritty 7-18 win last Friday night over the same Wales team which took 36 points of Scotland just over a month ago.
“It was a tough night conditions-wise but they were similar to us against England in that they got belief as the game went on,” reflected Scott. “Passion is a big thing in Italian rugby so if you give them a way into the game – with poor discipline – then they will grow and grow. So, we need to make sure we are really disciplined this weekend.”
“We finished training yesterday by running 15 against 15, working through how we want to start the game – receiving kick-offs, exiting, defending their line-out, defending their maul, turning the ball over – we just tried to emphasise the point that how we start this game is going to be crucial.”
Scott added that a few played from the Under-20s Development XV which drew 10-10 with Romania in Greenock on Sunday may be involved in the trip to Italy.
“One or two of those boys will get an opportunity this weekend, just to get a feel for where they are. The next thing coming over the horizon is the World Championships [which kicks-off at the end of May] so we need to see who is putting their hand up for that,” he explained.
Given that Scotland’s opening match of that tournament is against Italy, Friday’s game could be a useful marker.
“We’ll have three or four guys who will come into this squad for the World Cup – there’s a couple long term injuries to return and hopefully Matt Fagerson will be available – but most of the squad will be pretty much like it is at the moment,” confirmed Scott.