WHILE the 2020 World Under-20 Championship, scheduled to begin in the last week of June, fell victim to the coronavirus lockdown on 20th March, there has still been no decision on the fate of the second-tier Trophy competition, which is scheduled to take place on Spain’s Mediterranean coast in late September.
Scotland are due to join seven other countries in the Trophy – among them Hong Kong and host nation Spain – and after enjoying a very encouraging Six Nations campaign, the apogee of which was their astonishing 52-17 win over Wales in the final round, they would surely go into the tournament as red-hot favourites to win. However, if the Trophy does go ahead and Scotland do indeed win the competition, it now seems doubtful that they would receive the big prize which is promotion back into the main competition.
The mechanism in ‘normal’ years is that the country which finishes last in the World Under-20 Championship is relegated to the following year’s Trophy event while the winner of the Trophy gains promotion to the Championship. But, of course, without an Under-20 Championship, there can be no relegation and hence no room for a promoted country, unless the organisers can deal with the arithmetically tricky problem of a 13 team tournament in 2021.
Scotland ended up in the Trophy competition for the first time ever this year after finishing 12th from 12 in last year’s main event in Argentina. It was a disheartening experience at the time, and with 10 of that squad returning to the Under-20s programme again this year, there was a deep-rooted desire within the group to right that wrong.
Without the carrot of promotion, questions will be raised about the value to Scottish rugby of sending a full strength team to play in Spain in September. There is a fairly compelling argument that both the players and the league would benefit much more from having the likes of Rory Darge (Southern Knights), Conor Boyle (Watsonians), Jack Blain (Heriot’s), Cameron Henderson (Stirling County), Ollie Smith (Ayrshire Bulls) and Robbie McCallum (Boroughmuir Bears) playing Super6 rugby at the start of next season instead, following a prolonged spell of inactivity.
While the logic of having an Under-20s Trophy this year does not stand up from a Scottish perspective, there could still be a case for going ahead with the competition from the point of view that it provides a global competition among second tier countries, and with it an impetus for rugby development within these nations.
Either way, it is a huge shame for the Scottish players involved, who tend to have only one, or sometimes two, cracks at playing at this level.
It is a similarly frustrating situation for Scotland’s best Under-18 players, who were meant to be kicking off their three-match Six Nations Festival campaign in Marcoussis (France) on Saturday, but are now stuck at home twiddling their thumbs instead.