The World Rugby u20s Championships in Georgia were undoubtedly the most successful in Scotland’s history. A highest ever 5th place finish. Winning 4 out 5 matches (only losing to eventual champions New Zealand). At least 3 tries scored in every game. The young Scots demonstrated a good mix between sound basics (eg their solid set piece), pragmatism (eg effective use of the rolling maul) and thrilling adventure (eg Ross McCann’s try against Ireland that started from Scotland’s own 22). In many ways though, the real success of the u20s programme will be judged on how many professionals it produces and how many ultimately go on to full international honours. With that in mind here is a look ahead to the future…
The Under 20s in 2018
As is often the case the new u20s coach will be almost starting from scratch next season, with just 6 of the 2017 squad available again for the 2018 tournament (expected to be held in Argentina):
- Patrick Anderson (full back)
- Ross Dunbar (prop)
- Archie Erskine (back row)
- Matt Fagerson (back row)
- Stafford McDowall (centre)
- Robbie Smith (hooker)
Of this group, only Fagerson and McDowall saw significant game time in Georgia. By comparison, the class of 2017 included 10 players with some experience of a previous JWC (itself a reduction from the 13 who crossed over from 2015 to 2016) so this will be a real test of how well the system works in bringing through the next batch of young players without previous exposure.
The pro game and beyond
There are already 6 players in this Scotland u20s group who have either made their pro debut or have signed full-time professional terms (or both):
- Ruaridh Dawson (scrum half) – Newcastle
- Matt Fagerson (back row) – Glasgow (Scottish Rugby Academy)
- Darcy Graham (wing / full back) – Edinburgh
- Callum Hunter-Hill (lock) – Edinburgh
- Blair Kinghorn (full back / stand off) – Edinburgh
- Adam Nicol (prop) – Glasgow (SRA)
Kinghorn is already an established squad member at Edinburgh and, despite still being in the Academy, Fagerson will undoubtedly feature regularly again for the Warriors. Graham will almost certainly see game time in the Pro 12 or Challenge Cup this season. Down at Newcastle, the 3 year contract he recently signed suggest the Falcons see Dawson as a possible long-term answer for them at 9.
Hunter-Hill finds himself in a pretty congested position with 5 senior pros and the 2015 Scotland u20s captain, Lewis Carmichael competing with him for minutes. This could be a season of consolidation in the gym for the former Warrior. Nicol is currently the third ranked tighthead prop at Glasgow. There’s a good chance the Warriors will sign another experienced pro in this position before next season starts but Adam will still have chances to feature in the black and blue even as he continues his Academy-based development work.
The obvious choice for the first of this group to break through to full international honours would be Kinghorn who should play his 50th game for Edinburgh next season and has far more experience than any of the other 20s. It’s just possible though that the precocious Fagerson might beat him to a Scotland jersey. Graham and Nicol will not be far behind.
Previous success rate
To add some context to expectations about this batch of players it’s worthwhile looking back at how successful Scotland have been in the past with bringing through their under 20s. Over at On Top Of The Moon there is a full breakdown here of how many players have progressed into the pro setup and how many have won full caps.
In summary these are the total numbers for 2008-2014 (excluding the 2015/16/17 squads who are really still to make their mark on the full international game):
- 152 players were selected for the initial squads for the 8 tournaments.
- 97 played at least Championship / Pro D2 level or above – 64%
- 73 went on to play in one of the three top European leagues – 48%.
- 28 have subsequently played for Scotland – 18%.
The largest number of full caps playing in one tournament came in 2009 when a generation that included 10 future full internationals finished 9th in Japan. Looking at the 2017 group it’s not inconceivable that they could match or even exceed that total in the coming years.
Tomorrow: the final part of the Scottish Rugby Blog’s look at the under 20s and it’s time to pick out Four To Follow – who from this season’s squad will be next to make their breakthrough?