SEAN LINEEN has been forced to shuffle his back-row, and chosen to change the balance of his outside backs, ahead of the Scotland Under-20 team’s clash against France at Stade des Alpes in Grenoble on Friday night.
The young Scots put in an encouraging performance in their Six Nations opener against Ireland last Friday, with their scrum and line-out showing up particularly well. They led the match by six points with eight minutes to go – but ultimately paid the price for taking their foot off the pedal on two occasions near the beginning and the end of the second half, when they were ruthlessly exposed by Irish forward power round the edges.
They now take on a French team desperate to regain some pride after a humiliating 59-17 hammering away to England in their opening game of this years Six Nations campaign.
The Scots have nothing to fear but are also acutely aware that they must be ready for a French backlash.
“We’ve taken a lot of positives from last week’s game and built on them in our preparations for what is another huge match against France. It’s always a tough task going away to France, and this game will be no different. They’ll be hurting from their defeat to England, and will be hoping to bounce back in front of their home crowd. We’re expecting a tough battle up-front, and we know first and foremost that we’ll have to match them physically if we are to come away with a result,” said Lineen.
Open-side flanker Matt Fagerson picked up a head knock in the later stages of the Irish match and has not recovered in time to make the cut this week.
The loss of the abrasive 18-year-old (who has already played five games for Glasgow Warriors this season) is undoubtedly a blow – but replacement Bruce Flockhart (who had an injury ravaged start to the season but is now fully fit again) is no shrinking violet, and did enough during his 26 minutes on the park at the tail end of the Ireland game to suggest that he is ready to meet head-on the physical challenge France are sure to pose.
Flockhart will play at blind-side flanker, with Luke Crosbie shifting over to the open-side.
Meanwhile, Stafford McDowall has been elevated from the bench to take on the number fifteen jersey, while Darcy Graham moving to the right wing.
Graham is perhaps the most exciting broken-field runner to emerge through the Scottish system since his townsman Stuart Hogg burst onto the scene five years ago, but it did not quite click for him against the Irish and some of his frustration at not being able to influence proceedings was evident when he attempted to force the issue from an attacking scrum midway through the second half and ended up throwing an uncharacteristically loose pass which was intercepted by Irish winger Jordan Larmour – requiring an excellent cover tackle from Andrew Simmers to curtail a dangerous counter.
This is not to say that Graham was poor against Ireland. Far from it – but neither did we see the best of him. Every effort must be made at all times to ensure that he can exert as much influence on the game as possible, and if that means giving him more freedom on the wing then Scotland’s game-plan needs to be set up with that in mind.
Lineen will be hoping his jack-in-the-box now gets more one-on-one opportunities to demonstrate his scintillating pace and agility.
The inclusion of Stafford McDowall also brings extra bulk to the backline. The former Merchiston Castle schoolboy, who has been operating predominantly in the centre when deployed by Ayr this season, is listed by his club as being 6ft 4inch tall and just over 15½ stone.
Ross McCann drops to the bench as a consequence. Like Graham, McCann also had a frustrating evening against Ireland, and is perhaps paying the price for neglecting an overlap when he could have released Fagerson on his outside to kill the game off as it entered the final ten minutes. On such fine margins do whole games swing at this level. Ireland went on to secure a penalty from the subsequent phase, and from the resulting line-out they launched a devastating series of 15 pick-and-goes, which eventually resulted in Paul Boyle going over for the game’s decisive try.
However, McCann will bounce back. The Edinburgh native – a product of the city’s Royal High School – has fully demonstrated his potency as a finisher when scoring 13 tries for Melrose in the BT Premiership this season, and will look to re-assert those credentials when he joins the fray after Friday’s game has started to break up during the final quarter.
Josh Henderson, who kicked well and asked big question with the ball in hand at times last Friday, retains the number ten jersey; with highly rated Connor Eastgate, who is a member of the Wasps Academy and played two senior games for the club against Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors in the Anglo-Welsh Cup earlier this season, named on the bench after recovering from the ankle injury which kept him out of last week’s game.
Eastgate is 19-years-old and a product of Henley College. He qualifies for Scotland through his grandfather and has already represented the country at under-18 level.
France are the only Six Nations team that Scotland have never beaten at under-20 level.
Scotland U20 team –
15. Stafford McDowall (Ayr)
14. Robbie Nairn (Harlequins)
13. Craig Pringle (Stirling County)
12. Cameron Hutchison (Currie)
11. Darcy Graham (Hawick)
10. Josh Henderson (Glasgow Hawks)
9. Andrew Simmers (Heriot’s)
1. George Thornton (Bishop Burton College)
2. Fraser Renwick (Hawick)
3. Adam Nicol (Stirling County)
4. Alex Craig (Gloucester)
5. Callum Hunter-Hill CAPTAIN (Stirling County)
6. Bruce Flockhart (Glasgow Hawks)
7. Luke Crosbie (Currie)
8. Tom Dodd (Worcester Warriors)
16. Robbie Smith (Ayr)
17. Daniel Winning (Boroughmuir)
18. Fergus Bradbury (Stirling County)
19. Hamish Bain (Currie)
20. Jamie Ure (Boroughmuir)
21. Charlie Shiel (Currie)
22. Connor Eastgate (Wasps)
23. Ross McCann (Melrose)