ORGANISED CHAOS is the name of the game for the Scotland Under-20s team in their do-or-die World Championship clash against Fiji tomorrow afternoon. It is – without doubt – the most important game so far in their fledgling rugby careers, but head coach Carl Hogg has urged his team to resist the natural human tendency to veer towards caution when so much is on the line.
Defeat means Scotland will be relegated out of this top-tier competition and leave next year’s team competing in the World Trophy, against lesser rugby lights such as Brazil, Portugal, Hong Kong and Uruguay.
The Under-20s programme is a key development tool for Scotland’s best young players, and also a major draw for dual-qualified players such as No 8 Tom Marshall, flanker Marshall Sykes, second-row Ewan Johnson, hooker Ewan Ashman and centre Cameron Anderson from this year’s crop. In previous years, players such as recent Glasgow Warriors signing George Thornton and full Scotland squad member Rory Hutchinson have come through the programme.
While the young Scots will still be able to compete in the Six Nations, the World Championship is what everything is geared and not being involved would be a massive blow with potentially far-reaching consequences.
“All of the players and coaching staff understand the importance of this fixture,” said Hogg. “We understand that this result is pivotal for the next couple of years of under-20s rugby and we have 14 boys in the current squad who will be directly affected by the outcome [because they are eligible to play Under-20s rugby again next year].
“But it is also an opportunity to go out there and perform.We have shown glimpses of what this group can do in the first two matches with South Africa and New Zealand, we now need to go out and perform to our optimum level. There is significance and importance on the fixture, but we want to perform at a level we can be proud of.”
“We’ve got to allow the players the freedom to go out and play. We have to make sure that we get our game on the field. I believe that if we get our game on the field then we’ll get the positive result we are after.”
While the campaign started encouragingly for Scotland, the last two outings have been pretty disappointing with the team slumping to defeats against Georgia and Italy, in pretty appalling weather and underfoot conditions. While Hogg is confident that his players have learned and improved from the experience, he also believes that this weekend’s match will present a very different kind of proposition.
“I think people need to recognise that the like of Georgia or Italy are, certainly at under-20s level, strong sides,” said Hogg.“They bring a different type of rugby from South Africa or New Zealand, so they have a huge set-piece and scrum and if you can’t navigate around that then it is hard to get the game on your agenda the way you want it.
“We have a group that are used to playing high-tempo, multi-phase rugby and sometimes the opposition dictates that you can’t get the game there. We are built to move and play, but we have learnt from this competition that you have to play differently if the weather or opposition dictates. We have to adapt and overcome obstacles.
Seizing the moment
“This Saturday does give us an opportunity to play the game that we want to play,” he continued.“Fiji want to play an unstructured almost chaotic game, they are world class at sevens and they want to make the XVs game similar, so we have to play with pace and control.
“The thought process behind this team [selection] is we want to try and get some fluency back in our attack. I’ve looked at our selection and it gives us some consistency and some cohesion that allows us to play with fluency.
“We think we can attack Fiji with ball in hand, but we have got to be very alert defensively because we need to expect the unexpected. Fiji will do things that other teams would not even think about doing and they are dangerous.
“You are not going to have 80 minutes of complete control at Test level, so it is about the ability to be nice and robust defensively, and to take your opportunities when they come along.
“If we look at the games where we’ve played well, the score-line has got away from us and we’ve been able to play some very attractive rugby in a catch-up scenario. The question now is: Can we play that attractive rugby with freedom earlier in the game, whilst still being robust and resilient in defence?”
The torrential rain which blighted Monday’s match has now cleared up and Hogg anticipates that his team will get to run out on a dry track after the game switched from the sodden main pitch at Club Old Resian in Rosario to the adjacent 2nd XV/warm-up pitch – although he was pointedly circumspect when asked about the general quality of the surface. “Um, it’s okay,” he said, rather unconvincingly.
Hogg has made two personnel changes to the side which started against Italy, with Matt Davidson recalled at full-back and Ross Bundy comes coming into the second-row for Cameron Henderson, who is still going through the HIA protocol.
“Ross is what I call a hybrid player – he can play six or eight, but also move into the second-row,” explained Hogg. “It is going to be a big challenge for him. He’s going to call the line-out in Cammy Henderson’s absence so we’re asking him to show that he’s got that leadership and element of control, as well as the fiery nature he brings to the contest.
“There’s no doubt that Ross is always up for the fight in games, and it is about whether he can also have that strategic element of control as a line-out caller.”