Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


World Rugby U20s Championship 2017: What’s next?

Connor Eastgate U20s
Scotland fly-half Connor Eastgate scores a try against Ireland in their must-win Pool B match at AIA Arena on day two of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 in Kutaisi, Georgia, on 4 June. Photo: Badri Ketiladze / World Rugby.

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?

11 Responses

  1. Kevin

    13 of the NZ 23 squad for the second test on Saturday came through their u20s team.

    I think it’s only a relevant stat now for Scotland seeing as we are finally sorting out our academies etc. But in the past there were certainly quite a few age-group players who really shouldn’t have been there.

    Hopefully a thing of the past now.

  2. Given our weakness at tighthead beyond Nel and Fagerson is Nicol a genuine prospect? How big is he? As an aside is Bhatti or Rae a tighthead and again a reasonable prospect?

    Anyone know how tall and heavy Fagerson is? Given our lack of big ball carries I’d be interested to know.

    1. McCallum at Edinburgh is a tighthead, although he often played loosehead for the U20s as he was directly up against Zander. He is a great prospect and performed exceptionally well in the Pro12 last season for his age. I expect him to continue to kick on this season, probably as second choice Edinburgh tighthead.

    2. Nicol has a lot of potential. Like David says Wikipedia has him at over 20 stone. I think that might be a bit off – SRU have him at 110kg (so 17st 5lbs) which maybe looks a bit closer to the mark. Bear in mind he’s still only 19. A season of conditioning with Glasgow and I think he’ll be able to go to 120kg, maybe bigger, and still be pretty mobile.

      Bhatti is a loosehead. Looked handy in his cameos for Glasgow last season and should see plenty of minutes in 2017/18. Rae is a tighthead and has really come on as scrummager over the past couple of seasons. Now just needs to add a bit more workrate outwith the setpiece and he will be a very solid backup for Zander at Glasgow. David’s mentioned McCallum who looked good last season at TH. Hopefully Rory Sutherland gets back from injury soon to take over the number 1 jersey for Edinburgh and Scotland.

      If WP Nel can get us through to the RWC in Japan we’re building a pretty decent group of props for the next 2 World Cup cycles from 2019-2027.

      If we’re talking Matt Fagerson he’s 6’2″ and 15st 6lbs (98kg per the SRU website – although that looks low to me, possibly out of date). Only 18 still so has some growing to do. Carries stronger than you’d think for his weight. Big call now whether to add a bit more muscle and play him as an openside or pack on a couple more stone and use him more as a number 8.

  3. In answer to your question, according to Wikipedia:
    Zander is 6 ft 1 and 19 st 1
    Murray McCallum is 6 ft 2 and 18 st 6
    Adam Nicol is 6 ft 1 and 20 st 2

    All big lads.

  4. Considering that as recently as the 2016 AI’s Scotland were having to turn to Moray Low the front row pipeline for the next couple of years looks much more promising. Agree that MacCallum has looked the part right through the u20’s and now with Edinburgh. Looking for him to be challenging Zander as Nel’s successor. Berghan has the size and still young enough to improve in his position. As you say Rae has improved massively over last 2 years and hopefully can take it up another level this season as he’s likely to get more game time at Glasgow even assuming they are going to sign another tighthead,
    Nicol does look very promising although didn’t think he’s signed for Glasgow – stage 3 Academy contract and Stirling County is he not? Thought Thornton outshone him in u20’s this year particularly outwith scrum although suppose that’s what you would expect from the loosehead. And not forgetting Jack Owlett who played a few times for Exeter Braves in the Aviva A league this year while studying at Uni.

    Excellent series of articles on the u20’s, Kevin. Might well be a step backwards for them next year although from very brief highlights I’ve see the u18’s have a couple of potential stars – thought Jack Blain looked genuinely outstanding on the wing.

  5. Cheers for the replies lads. So we could be looking at:

    TH: Nel, Fagerson, McCallum, Rae, Nicol, Berghan

    LH: Dickinson, Sutherland, Reid, Dell, Allan, Bhatti

    That’s a long way from the days of Douglas, Kerr and Craig Smith! Hopefully we see some potential at hooker coming through as Ford retires to match what we have replacing Nel and Dickinson. Malcolm looks alright at Glasgow. I wonder why Bryce switched to TH given he’d just broken into the national side at hooker and at 120kg would be a good “big option” as opposed to the more mobile Brown.

    1. There’s been a lot of talk about needing back-up for 10 & 15 shirts but I think one of the biggest issues is to get competition at hooker. Ford will surely retire in a couple of seasons, which really just leaves Brown. As highlighted above, there seems to be depth developing in LH & TH props, just need some middle men!
      It’s so important the academy players push through given we only have 2 pro teams & when new residency rules kick in, then project players might not seem such a viable option. Really need 2/3 good options at both clubs to feed into the national team & not be afraid if some Scottish talent heads south. A resurgent Edinburgh is vital for Scotland’s future development and on paper, Cockerill at least has a potentially great set of forwards to work on. Maybe some of the surplus backs talent could do with spreading around a bit to give everyone some game time & perhaps the likes of Taylor or even Bennett might want to consider using their talents in the back 3 to ensure they actually get a test spot.

  6. What’s Dodd like as an 8. Is he a genuine prospect? Will he play for Scotland or England? Will he push on and compete with Denton at Worcester?

    1. Have to say I didn’t know too much about him until he turned out during the 6 Nations but he’s been the u20s most consistent ball carrier in the forwards. Doesn’t have the same level of involvement defensively though so that could be something to work on. Next steps for him will be to, at minimum, get some Anglo-Welsh Cup involvement for Worcester this season and then try and win himself a full-time contract somewhere for 2018/19.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion