KENNY MURRAY has made five selection and three enforced changes to his Scotland Under-20s team after last weekend’s heavy loss to Ireland ahead of Sunday’s Six Nations finale against Italy at Scotstoun.
In the backline, Kerr Johnston (who impressed during last year’s Six Nations but missed the start of this campaign with a lower limb injury) makes his first appearance of this championship in place of Logan Jarvie on the right wing, while Richie Simpson and Ben Afshar have recovered from the injuries they picked up earlier in the campaign to return at half-back.
In the pack, Eben Cairns will make his Scotland U20 debut at tight-head, replacing his Glasgow Hawks club-mate Moby Ogunlaja who has a foot injury, Jerry Blyth Lafferty gets a chance from the start at hooker with Corey Tait dropping to the bench, Jake Parkinson is suspended after his red-carding against Ireland and Harris McLeod drops to the bench so it is all change in the second-row with Eddie Erskine and Ruaraidh Hart starting, and Rudi Brown is concussed so Sam Derrick starts at openside flanker.
“We want the guys who have not been playing to come in and put their hat in the ring,” said Murray. “It was a really disappointing performance last week, albeit Ireland are a good side, but when we reflected on the game it was just a really poor performance from us, we were disappointed, but we are where we are.
“We want to come out this week and restore a bit of pride, that is what we have spoken about in terms of our mindset this week. The boys have trained well and worked hard and taken the review on the chin and I can’t fault their efforts this week.
“The last two games have been really tough, that second half in France we got blown away and then we didn’t really get going in the Ireland game at all and everyone gets down about it, the coaches get down, the players get down, but we had a really good chat when we came back into camp this week about our focus and our mindset and at the end of the day we are all in it together. It is not the players’ fault these results, it is not any individuals’ fault, we are all in this together and that’s been our mindset this week.
“We are going out there to obviously get a win, but it’ll be a very tough game as anyone who has watched Italy will know they probably have the best set piece in the competition so it’ll be a real battle up front,” he added. “We have to match that physicality and put down a marker in terms of how well we can play.”
With that in mind, it is going to be a particularly big test for debutant Cairns at tight-head. “He is under-19 so he’ll be back next year,” explained Murray. “He is originally from Ardrossan rugby club and then joined Glasgow Hawks and has been training there and just not had enough game time as a young prop at a good level yet. He played against us for Glasgow A in January and he has been in camp with us a while, so he is getting his opportunity this week.
“It’s a big challenge, in Scottish Rugby we don’t have a huge amount of props to choose from so we have to make sure we work with the guys we’ve got and help them through.”
Scotland U20s (v Ireland at Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow, on Sunday @ 2pm): D King; K Johnston, D Munn (co-captain), K Yule, G Gwynn; R Simpson, B Afshar; C Davidson, J Blyth-Lafferty, E Cairns, E Erskine, R Hart, L McConnell (co-captain), S Derrick, J Morris. Substitutes: C Tait, M Surry, R Deans, H McLeod, E Guy, C Clare, B Salmon, W Robinson.