IF you were drawing up an ideal schedule for your team at any international tournament, it would certainly not include a meeting with South Africa followed by a match against New Zealand a mere four days later. And, especially after losing 43-19 to the South Africans in their opening Pool C game at the World Championship in Argentina, Scotland Under-20s could be forgiven for approaching this one with a certain amount of trepidation.
According to Carl Hogg, however, his squad are regarding this contest as a chance to show what they can do rather than a threat. The head coach is under no illusions about how tough it will be for his much-changed side, but he is confident they will take inspiration from previous examples of Scottish sides excelling themselves in adversity.
“I think Saturday presents a great opportunity,” Hogg said on Friday after naming a starting line-up which includes just three players who also began Tuesday’s match against South Africa. “We’re not naive – we know that we’re probably not favourites going into the contest – but Scottish sport is littered with events where the teams have overcome the odds, and that’s what we are looking to do.
“There’s no doubt that New Zealand are favourites and probably have more resources at this level, but we’ll look to turn the tables. I think New Zealand are potentially not as strong as South Africa around scrum time, but [Scotland have] a new front row so it’ll be a challenge.
“I think the game will take on a slightly different context: New Zealand like to play with ball in hand, they want to hit half-field contact and then ship the ball left and right. So we have to make sure we’re communicating and scanning in defence. It’s a great learning curve for these players: on a Tuesday you’re playing against a big, physical, direct opposition like South Africa, and then you’re playing New Zealand, which will be different.”
The 12 personnel changes to the team see include a debut in the back row for Jack Hill, and the captaincy being handed to stand-off Nathan Chamberlain – two players whom Hogg sees as having a vital role to play. “Jack has been in and around the squad all Six Nations and has been unlucky not to get a chance before. He played down in Nice in that development game. He has a very high work rate as a back row – his actions off ball will be very high – so it’s a great opportunity, not just for Jack Hill but for everybody, to play potentially one of the best teams in the world.
“Nathan’s down at Hartpury [University], and he played in the BUCS final, which they won. I think it’s good to have a captain in one of the pivotal positions, whether it ‘s the back row, 9 or 10. That ideally suits this side and it gives us some direction.”
Making quite so many changes in a team from one game to the next may appear a drastic decision, but the tight scheduling of the tournament left Hogg with little choice. “Obviously the matches take place in a very short period of time, so right from the outset we planned how to use our resources in the best possible way,” he explained. “We’ve got this game on Saturday having played on Tuesday, then a game the following Wednesday, and then the Monday after that [in the first of the classification matches]. So there’s a lot of high-intensity rugby over a very short period of time.”
Scotland U20 v New Zealand U20, tonight (Sat 8 June), 7.30pm BST, live on world.rugby/u20