For the third time in this tournament Scotland face off against a Six Nations side they encountered just a few short months ago. After wins over Ireland and Italy in the pool stages now it’s the turn of Wales with both teams looking to make it into the playoff for 5th place.
The last clash between the Celtic cousins at Broadwood turned into a defences optional free-for-all with nearly a century of points scored as the Welsh emerged victorious 65-34 (and 8 tries to 6). So far in the WR u20 Championship, Scotland have shown a significant step up into their performance levels from February and March. So where can they still improve to allow them to wipe out that 31 point differential against Wales from last time out?
The young Scots have been devastating in attack at times. The quadruple threat out wide of Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Ross McCann and Robbie Nairn can break from anywhere and in Conor Eastgate and Stafford McDowell there are the players on the inside with the passing and offloading game to release them. The commitment to moving the ball has at times meant a high number of handling errors though, contributing to turning the ball over to the opposition 16 times per game in the pool stages. With a strong mauling game and powerful back row carriers like Matt Fagerson and Tom Dodd to call upon this game might see the coaches call for a little more circumspection and picking just the right moments to launch those lethal strike runners.
Scotland came into the tournament with plenty of options to select from in the back 3 and at half back – but with fewer alternatives in midfield. John Dalziel has got around this by deploying Ross McCann (nominally a winger) at outside centre. It’s certainly helped to spark Scotland’s attack but, combined with the unfamiliarity of some of the combinations, there have been defensive miscommunications and breakdowns for the Scots. For the players playing outside of McDowell at inside centre their tackle completion percentage currently stands at just 51%. It’s likely this will need to be significantly better to ensure there is no repeat of the sight of Welsh tries racking up.
The success rate for kicks at goal has been a lowly 40% so far in the Championship, with 6 made and 9 missed. This hasn’t been a result-changing factor so far but it didn’t help when the side were trying to stay within striking distance of the Baby Blacks and it contributed heavily to some very tense final moments in the other 2 pool matches where the games could have gone either way – despite Scotland dominating territory and possession. It’s important that skipper, Callum Hunter-Hill feels he can rely on his kickers to keep the scoreboard ticking over and Scotland gather points on as many possessions in the Welsh half as possible.
There is one other factor that will play an increasingly significant role in these matches during the latter stages – tiredness. The tournament setup has these young lads playing a game every 4 days in much higher temperatures than a Scottish summer. The competitive nature of Scotland’s pool has meant limited opportunities for John Dalziel to rotate and mange his resources so there will almost certainly be some changes for these last 2 games.
Conditions in Manchester may have been less of an issue but the attritional nature of matches every 4 days played a big part in Scotland losing the majority of their first choice side through injury before they reached the final game of last season’s tournament. In fact achieving the goal of making the middle tier of the Championship has left the Scots short in the latter stages for the both the previous 2 seasons – can this campaign’s edition of the u20s become the first ever to win a playoff match in the 5th to 8th tier?
Heres the unchanged team John Dalziell has named to play Wales:
15. Blair Kinghorn, 14.Robbie Nairn, 13. Ross McCann, 12. Stafford McDowall, 11. Darcy Graham, 10. Connor Eastgate, 9. Andrew Simmers; 1. George Thornton, 2. Fraser Renwick, 3. Adam Nicol, 4. Alex Craig, 5. Callum Hunter-Hill (captain), 6. Luke Crosbie, 7. Matt Fagerson, 8. Tom Dodd.
Replacements: 16. Robbie Smith, 17. Fergus Bradbury, 18. Daniel Winning, 19. Hamish Bain, 20. Archie Erskine, 21. Charlie Shiel, 22. Josh Henderson, 23. Lewis Berg
The match kicks off at 3pm UK time on Tuesday 13th June. ITV4 have the rights to the latter stages of the tournament but will be showing the England v South Africa match which kicks off at the same time. Streaming by World Rugby may be geoblocked due to rights issues but these are the places to try to see if there is any live coverage:
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Scottish Rugby’s Facebook page as they often post updates.