AFTER taking on the might of South Africa then New Zealand in the first two rounds of this year’s World Rugby U20 Championship campaign – and just about holding their own in both matches – Scotland will feel battle-hardened and full of belief as they enter their final pool match against Georgia tomorrow [Wednesday] afternoon [kick-off 2.30pm BST].
But head coach Carl Hogg has warned his players that anyone expecting an easy ride against the east Europeans is in for a rude awakening.
Scotland need to win – probably with a bonus point – and hope that one of Argentina, Wales, Ireland and England drop points, in order to qualify for the fifth to eighth place play-offs next week.
Otherwise, they will end up in the ninth to twelfth place play-offs, which brings with it the threat of finishing bottom and being relegated out of this competition next year. Scotland finished 10th in the competition in 2018 and while Hogg would dearly love this side to match the best ever finish of fifth in 2017, he says that looking too far ahead is the road to ruin.
“I’m not smart enough to work out X, Y and Z – I just know we need to win a game of rugby,” he stated. “People have probably got a perception about Georgia, but I’ve watched their previous games and they’ve got a big, big physical forward pack. A lot of them look matured, across the front-row but also in the back five. It’s going to be a real challenge for us.
“There is a lot of similarities between South Africa and Georgia,” he added. “The Georgians maybe don’t have the same firepower behind the pack, so we’re expecting a very much forward-orientated battle, and the challenge is to get the game on our agenda.
“We want to play with pace, at high-tempo, keep the ball in hand and put pressure on their front five.
“They’ve got one or two individuals outside – their stand-off is a very tidy little kicker out of hand, while the full-back has got the pace to be a real threat and has a big left boot on him, so here is talent out there – but their strength does lie in their forward pack. We’ve just got to make sure we play in the right areas and don’t give them starting points to impose their game.”
Hogg has restored the side which started in Scotland’s opener, but insisted that the 12 fringe players who got their chance against New Zealand did well enough when scoring five tries in that 52-33 made selection much harder than anticipated.
Scotland’s lune-out functioned well against South Africa, but their scrum really struggled, so there is going to be a big onus on prop Euan McLaren and Murphy Walker – two of the more experienced members of the squad – to step up to the plate against Georgia.
“The first two games, everybody has had the opportunity to play and put their hand up,” said Hogg. “Obviously, we’ve gone back largely to the team who played against South Africa and in the Six Nations, but there were long discussions and debates about certain positions after the way they played against New Zealand.
“What that does is give me and the other coaches a huge amount of confidence that we can go to the bench early, knowing guys are in good nick and good mental space.”
With such an intense schedule, it is inevitable that some players will be carrying knocks at this stage, but Hogg expects to have a full complement of the 28 players in the squad to choose from for the eight substitutions he is permitted to make during the match.
“There are a couple who will be close to the line, but the medics are hopeful they can turn them around. It’s very much about managing a squad. We’ve got no significant injuries from Saturday which is a bonus. We played some good rugby and came through with a clean bill of health,” he concluded.