Wait. Don’t skip over this one, it’s not all doom and gloom!
The last time these teams met at age grade level the whipping administered was upwards of 70 points, and this time our plucky Bravehearts were facing a bulked up junior Bokke. The South African team has been picked to bully its way to a tournament victory by an expectant Rainbow nation clearly awaiting a World Cup double this year. Behind the pack they had pace and skill, much of it already blooded at Super 15 level. And if you think that was stuffed with cliches, then you clearly didn’t listen to the imported commentary on Sky the other day. Never been to Scotland? I ask you, where do they find them?!
Despite a distinct lack of swords, blue paint or bare bums, Scotland did actually display no small amount of determination in defence after going in at half time 21-0 down, enough to suggest that our national tradition of gritty rearguard actions will be in safe hands, if nothing else.
Having seen most of this team in action in the U20 Six Nations earlier in the year, the pack looked a bit more settled than they had then, with Robert McAlpine standing out in the second row, another big lump in the Richie Gray mode (harder to spot though). James Tyas of Bath was given a lot less space or time than he had in the Six Nations but is still looking like a quality ball carrying Number 8.
The backs were arguably boosted by the addition of Duncan Weir (unavailable on Magners duty in the spring), as well as several players (Hogg, Bennett) who had secured pro-contracts since then. In spite of a few good line-breaks through a big stubborn South African defensive line, the team were still worryingly aware of their own need to score merely to stay in touch, which (along with a slippery ball) resulted in many knock-ons, fumbles and turnovers as they tried to force everything. On the other hand, the South Africans stuck to their tactical plan and took the points when they were on offer, turning up the intensity as required within the 22. Great game management, in other words.
Weir in particular seemed to play at captain as if he had to create everything, which didn’t always work and possibly wasn’t true – this is a pretty decent group of players getting time to grow together. When he went off with a blood injury early in the second half, the backs all shuffled in and replacement on the wing Keir Gossman made several good breaks as they seemed to relax, pointing to an original wide gameplan that might have been a little less headless chicken. Perhaps it was because the match was out of sight by that point, but still it might be worth letting one of the Six Nations captains do the shouting and let Weir concentrate on running the game as we have seen him do for Glasgow.
Despite the loss, I would say a) Peter Wright’s team actually looked a lot better than they did in March, against a Springbok team superior to anything they played against in that tournament (bar possibly England) and b) well, it was only 33 points. England and Ireland are also in Scotland’s pool, so bottom of the heap with no wins is still a distinct possibility. But the experience these young players gain will be invaluable, allowing them early recognition of the standards – and disparity in performance levels – they will continue to face and have to try and overcome if they continue through to senior Test level, even against the other Home nations.
Scotland will now face England in the IRB Junior World Championship on Tuesday 14 June at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso (kick-off 6.10pm local time, 1710 GMT, coverage on Sky Sports).
Let the Braveheartery commence.