At the U20s World Cup, in Italy, Scotland have lost twice. Once to a pumped up South Africa side and once to an out of sorts England side.
Two losses is still the most important fact, but I feel myself looking at performances.
Duncan Weir has had a shaky start to the tournament, trying too much too soon as my colleague Rory suggests. But it is not his performance that I am concerned with. Neither is it the performance of rated 8 Tyas or the jinking (and banned) 15 Hogg that is of importance to me. No. I’m looking at the younger generation and wondering if any of them will ever be a superstar.
Will Scotland ever have their own Brian O’Driscoll, again?
By this I don’t mean a talismanic figure who all of the world recognises and is very marketable. One view of any BBC 6N post match analysis will tell you that we already have an easily recognised and marketable figure in Mr Richie Gray.
What I do mean is an exciting back who can unlock defences and doesn’t need to talk because his magnificent feet, hands and head do all the talking for him. Scotland needs a player to unlock the door and we can only get one coming through the ranks.
We tried playing Max Evans at centre and I feel that experiment has run its course. Sure he is quick and can swerve round players but I am certain that he would be a much more explosive weapon working in tandem with Tim Visser on the other wing, next year. A good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un. Imagine if we had both on the wings.
So where do we look for this young and vibrant centre?
Luckily Mark Bennett has been fast-tracked into the 20s and has been snapped up by Clermont Auvergne. His future, at least for the next year, is secure. He has grown into his centre berth at the junior World Cup. He has made breaks. He cut through England a few times. He even had the stamina to continue making breaks and flicks at the closing stages of that game. We now know how good Bennett could be.
Back on these shores, though, there are a few wee nuggets that we have not heard of yet. If Edinburgh Accies victorious Scottish Schools coach Mark Appleson is to be believed, though, there are a couple you should keep an eye on.
“There are some very good signs around in the youth game at the moment that Scottish rugby is in rude health. In the ranks of Under 18 players this season are three players in particular who are set to make a real impact on the game in the next year or so.
You’ve mentioned Bennett, and he certainly has put in some eye-catching performances. He has pace and a deft touch which allowed him to score some memorable tries this season, none better than a 90 metre effort against Heriot’s in the early part of the season.”
A man who has coached top school sides for years, former Leeds and Manchester back Appleson told me what I already knew, having played in that Heriot’s game. When he was pressed to name the most exciting players from the School’s scene, however, his eyes lit up.
“There is an Accies prospect,” Appleson says, smiling. “6 foot winger Jamie Farndale has bypassed the Under 17 development squad and starred in the Under 18 6 Nations campaign, including a memorable win against England, scoring the crucial winning try. He was rewarded with a tier 2 contract with Edinburgh, who clearly saw much promise in his performances. His power and pace will light up Prem 1 next season, whoever he chooses to play for.”
Scotland, it seems, has a few centres and wings to choose from. We may well get our BO’D after all. Again, though, I think forward. For Scotland’s sake.
Are there any stand-offs out there, I ask. “There is Merchiston Castle’s Sam Hidalgo Clyne,” Appleson counters.
“Sam has always possessed a prodigous talent and he was the stand out player on a very competitive schools season. He controls the game beautifully, kicks the ball acurately and for an impressive distance and he has the eye for a break, scoring over 20 tries for Merchiston this season. His contract with the national sevens squad should ensure his continued development.”
Happy days, it would seem.
But why have we heard very little about these guys? I like to think it is because we want to nurture such talents and let them grow. Publicity can be off-putting and pressurizing. The Bennett saga is one the likes of Edinburgh and Glasgow may want to avoid again.
Perhaps this is why I got no response when I asked Ayr’s head coach about their other budding centre star, schoolboy Robbie Fergusson. No one wants to start a gold rush.