U20 World Champs: Carl Hogg says Scots can turn tables on South Africa

Head coach believes his side have continued to progress since Six Nations and are ready to claim a first ever win over Baby Boks

Scotland Under-20s head coach Carl Hogg is in a bullish frame of mind as he looks ahead to the start of his team's Junior World Championship campaign. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

SCOTLAND have never beaten South Africa at Under-20s level. In fact, the closest they have come in four attempts was a 33-0 loss in Padova, Italy, during the 2011 Junior World Championship. The other three matches have ended in humbling 72-3 (in 2008), 73-0 (in 2010) and 61-5 (in 2014) losses, meaning that the aggregate score between the teams is 239-8 over the series, which gives an indication of just how big a challenge Carl Hogg’s side face in Rosario tomorrow [Tuesday].

Having said all that, things have moved on since the last of those heavy defeats to the Baby Boks five years ago, with the SRUs academy and scouting structures now far more effective at preparing Scottish age-grade teams to punch above their weight against the traditional southern hemisphere superpowers – as evidenced by the plucky 42-20 loss to New Zealand in the opening match of the 2017 World Championship, and the victories achieved over Australia in both 2016 and 2017.

Gone – hopefully forever – are the days that Scotland were nothing more than canon-fodder for the big-hitters during the early rounds of the Junior World Championship. They are now genuinely competitive, and Hogg is adamant that his side have what it takes to claim a major scalp this time round.

“Without a doubt,” he replied, when asked if South Africa are beatable. “But we will have to get a lot of elements right to get the result.

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“We are very confident, we’ve trained very well, and we understand their strengths,” the former Melrose, Leeds and Scotland back-row continued. “We believe we have a game-plan that can be successful.

“They are big, physical, power athletes. Their game-shape is to have forward runners off nine, so they like to be direct. We know there is going to be a big set-piece challenge. So, it very much mirrors their senior side.

“We’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to set our agenda, we’ve got to play with speed and high-tempo, and we’ve got make sure we can keep the ball in play for long periods of time. I believe if we can do those things then we can really stretch them and really make our imprint on the game.

“Defensively we have to make sure we are accurate with our low tackles and not get caught upright in that physical challenge.”

Room for improvement

Scotland managed just one win, over Wales, during their recent Six Nations campaign. But there was clear signs of progress in term’s of both belief and understanding during the course of the championship – and Hogg is quietly confident that has carried on into the preparation for this tournament.

“You like to think so, but the real test always comes with games,” he said. “Everyone will tell you they have had the best preseason ever until you hit that first game. I am very confident in the group – we have trained well – we had a good run out in Nice against a France development side about six weeks ago, we had an internal game, and then that fixture against Old Glory DC last Monday. We have to push ourselves to a different level from the Six Nations, but I believe we are capable of doing that.

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“We’ve had an opportunity to look at players who didn’t feature in the Six Nations. There were a few close calls in a number of positions, but, ultimately, we thought this was the strongest side to open the tournament with.”

New faces add real value

Two of the three changes to the starting XV which took on England in the final match of this year’s Six Nations are in the back-row, with Marshall Sykes recovering from a long-term knee injury to play blindside flanker, and Tom Marshall getting the nod at No 8.

“I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t seen a huge amount of Marshall [Sykes] because he has been injured most if the season, but I’ve been very impressed with him in training,” explained Hogg. “He’s a very diligent young man around the group – wants to know his role and his detail – and I’m sure he’ll bring a huge amount of physical edge, which is what we will require tomorrow morning.

“Tom is a converted back who has moved into the back-row and he’s got really good footballing ability. He’s got the ability to step close to defenders, so he gets us over that gain-line with his carries, and he’s a smart player. He brings a good balance to the back-row.”

Kwagga van Niekerk, who was a stalwart for Scotland in the back-row during the Six Nations, is named on the bench against the country where he was born and raised. ‘He’s had a few issues injury-wise over the last month to six weeks, so he’s not done as much preparation as he would like and we would like,” revealed Hogg. “It is really a case of holding him back and introducing him at the back-end of the game. I’m sure he’ll make a big impact off the bench.

The other change from the England game is at inside centre where Stirling County’s Grant Hughes – who also struggled with injury during the Six Nations – comes in for Robbie McCallum.

“Grant is very much a typical New Zealand second five-eighth who does a lot of talking a lot of communicating and our shape is much, much better when Grant is there at 12,” said Hogg.“Robbie McCallum is unclucky because he played very well against Old Glory – leaving him out was one of the big headaches we had in selection – but we think Grant’s communication and organisation is going to be important against South Africa.”

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About David Barnes 2992 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.