U20s Six Nations: heroic Scotland give England a fright

Kenny Murray's men score 26 unanswered points between the 32nd and 64th minute but can't hold on for a sensational win

Scotland's Ben Afshar carries under pressure from two English forwards. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ben Afshar in action for Scotland U20s against England. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

England 41

Scotland 36

DAVID BARNES @ Twickenham Stoop

SO CLOSE, but no cigar. A match which bore more than a passing resemblance to that remarkable Calcutta Cup draw at Twickenham in 2019 ended in disappointment and frustration for Scotland, but when the dust settles, Kenny Murray’s side will take huge pride and no little confidence for the rest of the tournament from the way they clawed their way back from 21 points down with half an hour played to eventually take the lead with around 15 minutes left. There is no shame in this final score-line, but what a story it would have been if they had hung on for their first win in 15 outings.

“It’s mixed emotions,” reflected head coach Murray after the match. “Obviously you are proud of the boys’ efforts, but at the same time, when you get yourself ahead on the scoreboard with 11 minutes to go, it’s really disappointing not to win it, if I’m being honest.”

“There was a few tries we shouldn’t have conceded and that’s what killed us in the end,” he added. “I think there was a bit of shell-shock in the first 20 minutes with the pace and the physicality, and we learned what the consequences are of not getting your detail right at this level.

“But we got better and better and the game progressed, and I thought your intensity and physicality when we came out after half-time to really impose ourselves on them was excellent.

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“I don’t think anybody outside the group gave us a chance of coming down here and getting a result beforehand, so we always talked about believing in ourselves. Our theme for this year is ‘fighting for every inch’ and we saw that with guys getting back to make try-saving tackles, and knocking guys out the pitch. So, in terms of effort and mind-set, I can’t fault the team. We just need to take some learnings from that about how we actually win games.”

When England winger Josh Hathaway helped himself to a hat-trick inside the first 14 minutes, the Scots hung in there bravely, scoring an excellent try through second-row Harris McLeod, after a thunderous carry from all-action Rudi Brown and a neat offload from Richie Simpson, and the Scottish stand-off also slotted a breakdown penalty during this period..

However, it looked like the writing was on the wall when England No 8 Chandler Cunningham-South powered home from close range to claim the bonus point with just 20 minutes played, soon followed by blindside flanker Finn Carnduff getting try number five after scrum-half Charlie Bracken was first to react when the ball squirted out the side of a back-pedalling Scottish scrum-five.

At this stage, Scotland couldn’t cope with England’s power and precision in the contact area, but they continued to take the game to their opponents with whatever scraps of possession they could salvage, and their resilience paid off during the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Brown claimed Scotland’s second try of the evening following some powerful running in midfield from No 8 Jonny Morris – who was replaced not long later looking dazed – and another Simpson penalty on the stroke of half-time brought it back to an improbable 11-point game.

England will have been frustrated that some poor decision-making and technical inaccuracies in the red zone prevented them from running away from Scotland on the scoreboard during that first 40. At least three times they broke the line bit then butchered clear try-scoring opportunities, but the Scots also deserve credit for the way they continued to battle against the tide.

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Rested and refreshed, Scotland fired out the blocks after the break do win a sequence of ruck penalties, which eventually created the field position for co-captain Liam McConnell to burrow over, setting up a straight-forward conversion for Simpson which narrowed the gap to just four points.

There was a bout of handbags between that try being scored and the conversion kicked which perhaps reflected England’s sense of frustration and bemusement that opponents they had spent the first half hour of this match steamrollering had somehow found a way to within touching distance.

Scotland had developed a swagger, with Simpson scooping up a kick ahead from England and careering out of his 22 to leave a would-be tackler clutching thin air with an audacious dummy, and it needed a tap-tackle from Rekeiti Ma’asi-White to derail what could have been a dangerous counter-attack.

By now, every breakdown was a proper contest, and Scotland were beginning to dominate territory and possession.

There was desperate scenes on the English try-line when Ben Afshar used a penalty advantage to chance a chip kick over the top and the ball bounced awkwardly before eventually being touched down by home captain Lewis Chessum.

Play was brought back for that earlier English offence with Simpson doing the necessary to bring his team to within a point, and Scotland were straight back on the attack from the restart when replacement hooker Jerry Blyth-Lafferty carried from near halfway to just five metres from the try-line.

Scotland couldn’t capitalise with a try but they were awarded another penalty and Simpson once again fired home the kick to establish an astonishing two-point lead. The age-old chant of ‘Scotland, Scotland’ now reverberated around the Stoop.

England tried to tighten things up and trundled a maul 20-yards but couldn’t get to deck and Scotland were awarded the turnover, then a crazy home offside for failing to retreat for a clearance kick allowed Simpson to strike again to make the gap five-points.

It was heady stuff, but England were never going to go down without a fight, and they started to build through the phases to eventually recapture the initiative when a long period of pressure culminated in Monty Bradbury sending Elliot over on the right, and the conversion edging the hosts back into the lead.

Harris then missed the chance of three more easy points from a scrum-penalty right in front of the points, meaning the Scots were still in the contest with five minutes to go – if they could only get out of their own half.

But England now had this game by the throat, and it took a sensational last gasp tackle from William Robinson to prevent Tristian Woodman on the line, with Sam Derrick following up to bundle Bracken into touch.

England eventually settled for a late penalty from Harris, but Scotland thoroughly deserved their losing bonus-point.

Teams –

England: S Harris; T Elliot, R Ma’asi-White, J Woodward (L Johnson 67), J Hathaway; M Bradbury, C Bracken ; A McArthur (A Opoku-Fordjour 51), F Theobald-Thomas (C Scott, 51), T Hoyt (A Fasogbon 51), D Eite, L Chessum, F Carnduff ( 56), G Fisilau, C Cunningham-South.

Scotland: D King (F Burgess 61); W Robinson, D Munn, K Yule, A Caqusau (G Gwynn 53); R Simpson, B Afshar; M Surry (C Davidson 51), C Tait (J Blyth-Lafferty 51), C Norrie (M Ogunlaja 51), J Parkinson (E Erskine 70), H McLeod (R Hart 18), L McConnell, R Brown, J Morris (S Derrick 39).


Scorers –

England: Tries: Hathaway 3, Cunningham-South, Carnduff, Elliot; Con: Harris 4; Pen: Harris.

Scotland: Try: McLeod, Brown, McConnell; Con: Simpson 3; Pen; Simpson 5.

Scoring sequence (England first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 10-7; 12-7; 12-10; 17-10; 22-10; 24-10; 29-10; 31-10; 31-15; 31-17; 31-20 (h-t) 31-25; 31-27; 31-30; 31-33; 31-36; 36-36; 38-36; 41-36,

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About David Barnes 3911 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.


  1. Incredible performance from the Scottish boys. All the more impressive considering how lamentably poor the scrum was which was even worse when the replacements came surely we have better scrummagers than that. The French and Italians will be licking there lips unless we get better or make changes.

    • Looking at the Italy v France game the sizes of some of the pack on both teams looked as if the Boys will be in for a hard day at the office and the Wales v Ireland game didn’t indicate anything other than there has to be a concentrated effort on SQ Youth Rugby they have to beat Wales next up because they look to be the weakest link from the edited versions of the weekends games.

  2. Went to game and wow what an effort from the Scottish boys
    Who shouldn’t be able to cope with that HUGE English team
    The commitment after 25 minutes was breath taking , what a Differance the 2 new coaches have made well done to the 3 coaches

    10 , 12 Both hollers and the back row were outstanding , as were the rest

  3. Loved the mentality on show from Scotland after the rabbit in the headlights stuff early on. Englands big players disappeared when the screw was turned. Very impressive at 10, 12 and 15 also Brown when he went to 8. That’s not to take away from the rest who who also excelled.

  4. Simply a pleasure to see a squad containing just 5 imports give such a competitive showing. It didn’t look like a flash in pan either so credit to players and coaches alike.

    Hopefully this is a sign that in 5-10 years time the days of senior Scotland squads having more foreign developed players than the rest of Tier1 combined will be consigned to the wastebin of history. I am so thankful to the English league imposing restrictions on non-EQ players as it is forcing the SRU to give Scottish lads a fair shake.

    • what nonsense
      The SRU’s job is to make us as competitive as possible, and if that means backing lads living elsewhere with a scottish parent/grandparent so be it. The best get picked.

  5. poor restarts as mentioned, and also rabbits in the headlights is the right description for the first half hour. Once the lads got to the pace of the game, they were brilliant.
    Coped with the huge physical presence of the English pack, and ran them ragged.
    Loads of heroes but I’ll mention just 2.
    Yule is going to be a real handful. Quick and very direct – and still eligible for the under 18s
    And Simpson. The real deal at 10

  6. @GreenHawk- Hawks are just super hoovering up every young player west of livingston…. They could teach the super6 teams a thing or two about hoovering….None of the players in the 20s from hawks have been at Balgray for longer than 8 months….head out the sand son….head out the sand.

  7. A tremendous effort from a Scotland side that fought their way back into the game after handing the opposition at least two scores if not three early doors, what is it with Scottish sides and failure to get Kick offs and restarts secured?
    You have to wonder what would have been if the lads hadn’t had that dreadful first 20 minutes and a bit of a brain fade when in the lead with about 10 minutes to go.
    All the pressure in those last minutes came from a player rolling that extra yard in the tackle when there was no need for it, arguably that gave England the momentum they needed giving them a kick down into the corner. The defending over those last minutes was tremendous especially when right on the line two England players were denied a try by superb efforts.
    A great shame against an England side that physically looked the business but were brought down to size by tenacity and but for the shaky start were there for the beating. Tidy up the mistakes and they will be a force to be reckoned with.

  8. I tip my hat the the Scotland team. I thought we were dead and buried in the first half being decidedly second best in all aspects.

    The 2nd half though! Amazing effort. Hopefully that gives some confidence for the rest of the tournament.

  9. Fantastic game, showed real character, skill, power, to not just fight back but get ahead – to score 26 unanswered points v England at their home – tremendous. Hope that this gives them the confidence to push on.

  10. Amazing effort from the U20s after such a horror start. They just couldn’t turn the screw in the minutes that matter but when they look back, they’ll see they’ve a lot to be proud of.

  11. Fitting riposte to the Dads Army brigade crying “we’re doomed”.
    Away from home against a bigger, more worldly wise team, this was anyone’s game & but for tiring in the final period of play could have been a deserved shock to the men in white.
    Well played Scotland & well done Kenny Murray for getting them so close.

    • Only caught the 2nd half but it was nice to see our boys looking the part at this level with their speed and power, hopefully a sign the Super-6 is helping to finally bridge that gap, time will tell.

      Would encourage anyone who missed the game to watch it, some real prospects who I imagine will be pros sooner rather than later, very entertaining game.

      • @Angrygala2 I’m not sure how many of the lads actually play regular Super 6 rugby – I think very few. Glasgow Hawks of the Premiership had three players in the squad tonight, with at least one more certain to follow during the campaign (although I can think of at least 3 others that would slot in nicely). The club is doing a fantastic job with young players.

      • Also only caught the 2nd half. Sounded like it was a home crowd for the most part- looks like the Scots really quietened the crowd!

  12. What a great game it was indeed… but I’m become increasingly saddened by the full front row changes that are now commonplace in most games three massive lads, who can’t play a full game change for three massive lads who can’t play a full game… always remember a mate saying the big lads are good but the last 20 minutes will be ours. No wonder smaller fast skilled players are getting squeezed out, and the massive collisions are getting too prevalent 🤔


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