World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 Review: Forwards

As ever the forwards were the ones called upon to provide the hard graft during the World Rugby U20s Championship and they really stepped up. Providing 60% of the carries and 64% of the tackles the pack put their bodies on the line time and time again during five very physical matches in an incredibly short time frame. Here’s a guide to the players whose stats stood out for Scotland.

Appearances – most minutes:

  1. Callum Hunter-Hill – 400 (5 starts)
  2. Luke Crosbie – 400 (5 starts)
  3. Fraser Renwick – 379 (5 starts)
  4. Matt Fagerson – 377 (5 starts)
  5. George Thornton – 375 (5 starts)

Six of the Scottish pack started all five matches (Alex Craig is the man missing from the list above). Adam Nicol (4 starts, 1 sub) and Tom Dodd (3 starts, 2 subs) were also involved in every game. Compare and contrast with last season’s tournament where only 3 young Scots (Ally Miller, Scott Cummings and Dan Elkington) featured across all the side’s fixtures.

Continuity of selection allowed the Scottish eight to develop as the championship progressed but the huge physical effort to play, rest and recover and then play again just four days later over and over again cannot be underestimated. There will be some very tired bodies among this group and they will surely enjoy a few weeks off before, for most of them, the reality of pre-season training kicks in…

Attack – top carriers:

  1. Matt Fagerson – 12.9 carries per 80 minutes
  2. Tom Dodd – 12.0
  3. George Thornton – 10.0
  4. Alex Craig – 9.3
  5. Luke Crosbie – 9.0

Fagerson and Dodd were the go to options when it came to getting on the front foot – understandably so with each of the back rows breaking 10 tackles. Thornton backed up a strong scrummaging performance with great energy in the loose – ideal in an era where props have to be good at the day job but need to add something elsewhere around the park to justify their place in the side. As things stand, Big George is not in the Scottish Rugby Academy and doesn’t have a pro deal for next season – surely there’s a space for him in the Glasgow Warriors’ propping stocks?

Defence – top tacklers:

  1. Alex Craig – 11.4 tackles per 80 minutes (98% successful)
  2. Bruce Flockhart – 11.0 (94%)
  3. Luke Crosbie – 10.8 (93%)
  4. Matt Fagerson – 10.0 (91%)
  5. Tom Dodd – 8.2 (81%)

Across the last two U20s Junior World Championships, Alex Craig has made 75 tackles and only missed 1. Those are Jonny Gray type numbers. Add in his all round work rate and the comparisons only grow. Crosbie, Fagerson and Dodd also repeat from the top carriers list with Fagerson particularly impressive in averaging double figures in both aspects of the game – and bear in mind Zander’s wee brother will still be eligible to play for the U20s at next season’s tournament.

Discipline – minutes per penalty:

  1. Alex Craig – a penalty every 44 minutes
  2. Adam Nicol – 67 mins
  3. Matt Fagerson – 94 mins
  4. Fraser Renwick – 126 mins
  5. Callum Hunter-Hill & Luke Crosbie – 133 mins

This is normally an area that the props win hand down but Scotland’s improvement at the setpiece slashed the big lads’ penalty count from 22 in the 2016 event to just 8 this time out. George Thornton was only pinged once in 375 minutes which either suggests he is honest as the day is long or some kind of Jedi mind trick on the officials (“These are not the offences you are looking for…”)

All in all a very decent tournament for the future of Scottish rugby. Next up on Friday we’ll take a look at the backs.


Note that only players with a minimum of 80 minutes played are included. Carries and tackles are calculated by dividing number of tackles/carries by number of minutes played and multiplying by 80. Penalties are calculated by number of minutes played divided by number of penalties.

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out how many decimal places to put after Jonny Gray's 99% tackle completion rate.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

10 comments on “World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 Review: Forwards

  1. Ian on

    “These are not the offences you are looking for…” pure gold…..thanks very much for the laugh.

  2. Andy N on

    The academy system has undoubtedly had a huge impact on this age grade and we should see that ripple effect impact the senior squad over the next few years which is hugely encouraging.

    I think the original expectation was that, whilst we would see a few early bolters, it wouldn’t be until 2018/2019 that we would really start to see a difference in terms of the quality of young player coming through to the pro ranks and we certainly seem to be bang on target for that – some of these guys already look like they would quite comfortably hold their own in the senior squad, which at 18 and 19 years old is a stunning success.

    We’ve always had grafters and players with guile, but now we seem to have made huge improvements in the technical ability of the players, and we no longer appear to be boys against men…the physical conditioning of the Scottish players seems to be light years from where it was. Also think that the fact that many of these guys have already cut their teeth in pro rugby gives them a toughness that we didn’t see a few years back….the future is bright, the future is blue.

    • Andy on

      I remember as recently as maybe 5 or 6 years ago where it was taking Scottish Rugby till players were about 23 or 24 to be considered as fully developed and ready for international rugby. This is far too late but has been something that has massively been improved with the new academy system. While I think we are still behind the curve in terms of sheer physical brutality compared to some other countries (my best example of the belief defying Irish physical strength still remains as Paddy Jackson successfully choke tackling Jonny Gray while Alex Dunbar failed to get him to the deck) we are right up there in terms of mobility and fitness. There’s certainly a lot of positives in Scottish Rugby at the moment and I’m hoping that this season we will see the real emergence of Cummings, Bradbury, Ritchie, McCallum, Kinghorn, Horne Jnr and Rae as dependable week in week out players who start pushing for international honours. Fagerson Jnr, Nairn, Graham, Hastings, Wynne, Smith and Hutchinson hopefully to follow those.

      And on a side note, the Lewis Carmichael loan deal to Australia seems to me to have paid off big style. He seems bigger and fitter now and while he might not have the sheer grunt needed to be a top lock, he certainly gets about the park and I think he would make a very good number 6 should we wish to move away from the two 7s model that sometimes sees us getting pushed around by bigger forward packs.

      • FF on

        Hastings better come on quickly as Russell is going to b hard for the SRU to keep beyond this season!

        I think a challenge is giving opportunities to young talent whilst retaining enough Scottish-based stars to keep standards high, and also making sure Scotland squad members who move on don’t get marooned at low level clubs elsewhere. We could do with a development team like Connacht, but no hope to raise the necessary money unless private backers for Edinburgh and glasgow magically appear. Good luck to all the u20s who don’t yet have professional contracts.

      • Cameron on

        Related to that, how many of these guys would we see as perhaps bringing back some sort of a spine to the Edinburgh team? Given the forward pack was reputedly a source of not inconsiderable grit in the under-20’s i’d fancy Cockerill to turn them into pure granite.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a return to the Harlem Globetrotter days of our Heineken Cup semi-finalists but if a team in the mould of Cockerill’s Leicester team was to take shape, I’d be very happy.

  3. Angerine on

    Awesome work Kevin, interesting stuff. Was really impressed by Hunter-Hill. Seems a nice lad off the pitch (Love the way he kept calling the intereviewer “mate” in every post-match chat), but he seemed like a player you’d get totally sick of playing. So many great young locks at the moment (Cummings, Carmichael, and of course the still-ludricrously-young statboy), but if we lack anything in the pack, it’s a bit of bastard. Could that be CHH?

  4. David on

    That’s crazy that Thornton doesn’t have a pro deal yet – he looks pro12 ready to me, based on the fact that he is probably a bit ahead of McCallum this time last year. Let’s hope he gets picked up.

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