U20s 6N: Italian pack power puts paid to Scots hopes

Unforced errors add to the agony for Kenny Murray's team as they lose again in Treviso

Robin Mc Clintock
Robin McClintock kept Scotland U20s in touch with two first-half penalties before the Italians pulled away, Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

Italy 27

Scotland 13

A DOMINANT performance up front by Italy stretched Scotland’s losing run in this year’s Under-20 Six Nations to four games. Kenny Murray’s team had no answer to the home side’s power in the scrum, and they might well have lost by a lot more but for their own willingness to fight to the last and the Italians’ profligacy. The young Scots now need to beat Ireland in Cork a week on Sunday to avoid the whitewash that was also inflicted on them last year – meaning that another defeat would take their run of losses into double figures. 

Murray saw signs of promise in the performances of some of his less experienced members of his team, but accepted that his side had shot themselves in the foot with the high number of unforced mistakes they committed. “We knew it was going to be tough,” the head coach said after the loss in Treviso’s Stadio di Monigo. “It was just frustrating that we got a wee bit outmuscled at times in the scrum, and we made a couple of errors at crucial times. 

“Their front row was huge. We’ve not got a couple of our own big players just now, and they would have made a difference.”

Italy v Scotland preview: not just a case of turning up for Townsend’s troops

GHA v Jed: Mollison’s mullet for the chop as regular Premiership season comes to an end

Italy v Scotland: Townsend calls for clarity after van der Merwe suspension

There was an ominous start to the match when Murray Redpath knocked on as he tried to catch the kick-off, and things continued to go wrong from there. With less than five minutes on the clock the young Italians were awarded a scrum penalty, which they sent to touch. The lineout ball was won with ease and fed to Giacomo Ferrari, and the captain powered over the line for the first try of the game, with stand-off Giovanni Sante adding the conversion.

Scotland would continue to play second fiddle in the set piece for the rest of the match, but they were closer to parity in open play, and opened their account through a Robin McClintock penalty after Riccardo Genovese had strayed offside.

Excellent defending by winger Ross McKnight then denied Filippo Lazzarin a try in the left corner after a powerful run by Ross Vintcent, and at the other end another offside decision allowed McClintock to add another three points with a second successful penalty.

But closing the deficit to 7-6 was as close as Scotland came to getting back on terms, and Italy went on to dominate the rest of the half. A Sante penalty midway through the first 40 put the home side into double figures, and then substitute Francois Mey – on for injured full-back Lorenzo Pani – all too easily weaved his way through the visitors’ defence for his team’s second try. Sante converted to make it 17-6.  

Redpath was taken off for a head-injury assessment as half-time approached, and Italy had what would have been their third try of the half chalked off after the TMO ruled that full-back Rizzoli’s effort had been held up. 

With Redpath back on along with two front-row replacements, Scotland went in search of a more assertive start to the second half, but lacked a clear idea of what to do with what possession they had against a dynamic defence. They were just as stumped when it came to dealing with the Italian maul, a weapon which gained the home side substantial ground every time it got going.

Another penalty from Sante took his team’s tally to 20, then after another Italian score was chalked off – this time for a forward pass – captain Ferrari got one that definitely counted. A powerful scrum by the home team saw the Scots pushed off their own ball, and Ferrari had all the time in the world to disengage, pick up, and race to the line unopposed. Sante added two more points and any thought of a fightback was surely over. 

Full-back Kieran Clark and lock Innes Hill came on for their debuts, but neither they nor anyone else in dark blue was able to do much to change the direction of the contest. A break by McKnight just before the hour mark was briefly threatening, but not for the first time an individual initiative lacked sufficient support, and the chance was snuffed out.

Two penalties in quick succession then saw Scotland gain valuable ground, and after a good attack off a lineout Jed Gelderbloom, on again for Redpath, seemed sure to score only to be stripped of possession just short of the line. Edinburgh lock Rudi Brown came on for Max Deehan only to go off for an HIA two minutes later.

Scotland kept playing positively in search of an opening, and got their reward in the final play of the game when Josh Taylor twisted his way over the line following a sustained attack. Christian Townsend converted.

Scorers –

Italy U20: Tries: Ferrari 2, Mey. Cons: Sante 3. Pens: Sante 2.

Scotland U20: Try: Taylor. Con: Townsend. Pens: McClintock 2.

Scoring sequence (Italy U20 first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-3, 7-6, 10-6, 15-6, 17-6 half-time, 20-6, 25-6, 27-6, 27-11, 27-13.

Italy U20: L Pani (F Mey 29); F Vaccari, D Passarella, A Fusari, F Lazzarin; G Sante (N Teneggi 68), A Garbisi (A Cuoghi 74); L Rizzoli (R Bartolini 74), L Frangini (T Scramoncin 66), R Genovese (M Bernardinello 74), A Ortombina (C Berlese 62-71), R Andreoli, G Cenedese (D Odiase 50), R Vintcent, G Ferrari (captain).

Scotland U20: R Mc Clintock (K Clark 53); R McKnight, D Munn (T Glendinning 73), A Stirrat, B Evans; C Townsend, M Redpath (J Gelderbloom 34-40, 55); M Jones (A Rogers 74), G Hiddleston (D Hood 41), G Scougall (C Norrie 41), J Taylor, M Williamson (I Hill 53), M Deehan (R Brown 66, M Deehan 68), T Brown, R Tait (captain). 

Referee: A Barrett-Theron (South Africa).

Italy v Scotland preview: not just a case of turning up for Townsend’s troops

About Stuart Bathgate 1412 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. Some very good observations here. Notably “Once you’re in it’s hard to get out” and “The Academy process actually succeeds in reducing the player pool in Scotland”.
    These are both very true. The system is far too focused on age grade squads and those players who stand out in the annual selection sessions. There should be far more district rugby to widen the player pool.
    The SRU coaches never scout the Club Conference games on a Sunday, a competition format the SRU forced on the youth game. Many of these games feature some very talented boys, many are late developers who struggled to shine in the U15 pathways selection games but are flying at U16, U18 age.
    Will the SRU be scouting the upcoming National Cup final day at Murrayfield I wonder to see if there are any nuggets in the West or Boroughmuir teams they have missed?
    The private schools all employ ex SRU coaches and players who in turn, recommend their players to the age grade coaches. Most of the excellent club coaches out there don’t have access to that netowrk.

    There are some excellent club players out there being coached by some excellent coaches. Maybe the selectors should widen the net instead of relying on their usual sources.

  2. Last season the powers that be said we have selected a young U20 squad so they get experience and we will see the benefits this season. Well that has not worked out we will have 10 defeats if we lose to Ireland next weekend. It is now time that a lot of the Teflon coaches move over and give other coaches the opportunity. They get moved from one job to the other failure is failure and we are failing our age grade players from 16s all the way up. How long can the spin doctors at the SRU keep this rubbish up as it is very obvious that our system is not fit for purpose as it is.

  3. It’s not all doom and gloom. We are doing something right if we are producing Rory Darge, Jamie Dobie, Rufus McLean, Ollie Smith and Connor Boyle. So have a bit of faith in the Academy process & the greenhouse environment the scholarships at Merchi, Stew Mel and Strathallan provide. But I do agree we need a wider playing base, and we need more playing time. A lot of these lads look undercooked, but others like Ben Pickles (Selkirk) Callum Inglis (Marr), Ian Carmichael (Hawks) and Conor Sutherland (Hawick) who have played nearly ever week in premier 1 this season dont seem to have had a look in.

  4. The Academy process actually succeeds in reducing the player pool in Scotland. From a fairly young age there are excessive demands to attend regional conditioning / weight sessions at ridiculous times of the day.
    There is no realisation from these Academies of any given players preexisting commitments to club / school activity and training , other sports etc and this in turn means players are physically overextended and forced into making a choice between participating in an Academy process or sacrificing other sports.
    Popular opinion on sports development highlights the importance of playing multiple sports as long as possible but unfortunately all sports in Scotland are guilty of trying to get players to specialise much too early and as such place demands on players that are not possible and in turn force the players into choices they should not really have to make.
    All the Academy process does in rugby is succeed in reducing the player pool.
    Rugby in Scotland has to understand that there may be multiple options / routes to achieving conditioning , speed and strength training and that just because players are not able to commit to an Academy process , it does not mean they are not doing the required conditioning etc or any less ambitious about where they want to be in rugby.
    We need a process that look at every option with regards selection and also giving players regular decent playing opportunities. Players in the U20 age grade and below need consistent playing opportunities , they don’t need to be sitting on a bench getting partial game time.
    Far too many players involved in this U20 process have been bit part players with their Super 6 sides , clubs etc.
    The Super 6 and then the subsequent playing opportunities offered to those dropping back to clubs in the premiership can in no way be considered adequate preparation for a highly competitive U20 competition. The current system is completely unfit for purpose and little wonder the players have looked “uncooked “ in comparison to the other countries.
    The prime example of this is U20 reserve full back Kieran Clark who has actually been out injured with ankle surgery since before Xmas.
    I would like to understand the coaching wisdom in suggesting that it is appropriate to throw this lad straight back into an U20 game without any playing time beforehand. It’s not the players fault and good luck to him but this type of player management is woeful and to be honest serves to highlight how limited the player pool is that it is deemed necessary that a player is thrown back in to this environment without adequate preparatory playing opportunities..
    The SRU staff tasked with youth development really need to go back to the drawing board and create a more even playing field across Scotland and understand that Academies and Public schools don’t generate the volume of players to facilitate a thriving and competitive player pool , indeed they probably do the opposite as talented players that cannot afford fee paying schools simply disappear from the SRU vision …

  5. I would really like to see evidence that the SRU recognises there is a crisis in our u20 specifically and youth development more generally and makes it their priority to turn around. Even more so than the competitiveness of the pro-sides, this is what will risk holding Scotland back at test level in the next 5-10 years.

  6. It’s a big problem that our amateurs and sprinkling of semi pros are coming up against players who (in this case) play in the professional top 10.

    Scottish Rugby needs to think about addressing this.

    Super 6 was supposed to help but not many of our players feature in it.

  7. I wonder what it’s going to take for change to happen with our young player system. It must be obvious that the current approach isn’t working.

    Here’s an idea – get players playing! If Super 6 is so fantastic make it an U23 competition so these players get game time.

    Or more realistically make them available for club rugby. It’s better to be playing meaningful games than holding bags in training

    The academy model is broken and not producing players to the quality or depth that we need.

  8. Set piece simply not good enough , many of these boys are semi pro , Academy players so that should mean they have high level basic skills as a pre requisite , this does not appear to be the case.
    Difficult for a back line to function off a poor set piece but even when Scotland did generate some phase play and quicker ball they looked indecisive and disorganised. Again there was a lack of options to change anything from the bench and to repeat the same processes with the same players and expect a different outcome is truly the definition of madness. Two big wingers who don’t come in looking for work or provide an additional attacking option off 9, 10 or 12. Wingers have to go looking for work in todays game and need coached to do so, no point having big wingers if they only get the ball twice in a game…
    The midfield looked lost , the Townsend / Redpath partnership has been afforded more opportunities that performances have deserved and now with only a very strong Ireland to face – there will undoubtedly be further excuses about putting untried / untested players into that game – so likely no change there. I would have liked to have seen Euan Cunningham from SC get some game time at 10 and there must be other fly half options that can operate at the same level as current incumbents. At the very least have a genuine stand-off option on the bench…
    I thought Tait and T. Brown battled gamely but there is a lack of footwork from the Scottish forwards , players nowadays cannot just charge into a defence without having the skill to create opportunities to work an offload etc , far too often just head down and charge.
    The coaching staff have to take a huge amount of responsibility for these displays and some of the tactics / decision making has been baffling. I don’t feel they have utilised the squad well and need to cast their net a bit wider than Academy players and Ealing Trailfinders …
    There are players operating in the Scottish club game that could operate in this environment but they are discarded early in the “selection” process as many are not in the “Academy “
    The U20 1872 cup was notable for the omission of many players easily better and playing a higher level of rugby than many of those actually selected and there was never any explanation for this…
    To me it looks like they have their long term project players and they don’t see anyone else…
    Rugby is a late development sport therefore pinning hopes and basing selection on an Academy group that is harder to get out of than to get into is naive at best.it is obvious how the qualities prioritised in this group is size and pace but there is more to rugby than this and far too many very decent rugby players are discarded because they are viewed as not fast or big enough… it is some of these players that were required last night that offer something a wee bit different..
    Scotland is in for a challenging few years with a limited 20’s squad , an 18’s squad that has been deprived of over a year of competitive rugby because of Covid which is extremely damaging for development at this age and also the knock on effect of this barren period on the younger year groups as well.

    • Some great insight GRob. You can’t afford to have a narrow selection approach when the playing base is so small. There seems to a be a strength and conditioning gap between us and the other sides, they just look bigger. The boys always give their all and never stop trying, they’re just currently a level below the other teams.

    • Nail and head there for me tbh. Regarding Euan Cunningham I’ve seen a lot of him from age grade and sometimes think it’s almost a waste putting him at ten as he does fantastic work with ball in hand and the ten is normally giving the ball to someone else. If we don’t put him at ten would like to see him at 12 just to let him loose so to speak. Other point I would make is that throughout the 6n people have been more than just critical of Townsend at 10….it’s bordering on bullying just because they are unhappy with his dad. No ten can mitigate for a pack that is consistently blown away at set piece and contact area. There are some fantastic players in our 20s squad but they have stalled due to their competitors being rejected too young and not growing up with enough meaningful competition. Anyone who hasn’t watched the Leinster u18 cup games on Freeports should dip in and see how far behind we really are with our narrow approach to youth development.

      • There’s a saying in Scottish Rugby and it seems to be true
        Once you’re in it’s hard to get out .
        Plain to see it’s not happening in certain areas of pitch in this squad …. But nothing changes .why. ?
        Are management scared drop people ?

        Colin Hill
        You’re spot on with ‘Jobs for the Boys ‘
        If you fail in one department SRU just move you to another part of the Murrayfield set up

    • This where you come from .who you play for .who you know has went on for years in Scotland .
      Many players over the years have never been given the chances others have had then been dissolusioned and lost to the game
      Even the Coaching staff in Scotland teams & super 6 is a jobs for the boys set up .
      It doesn’t matter if you fail you just get moved in house to another job

  9. That was a hard day at the office for the boys , have to salute their character for hanging in but the Italians looked albeit so would I have on a set piece platform like that. A few bright spots McLintock, Tait, Brown did their best but some poise and patience in attack would help the team a lot.


Comments are closed.