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The Scotland Club XV met the Scotland Under 20 team on the back pitches at Murrayfield on Tuesday 23rd January in what was very much a ‘training match’.

Both teams had large squads of players on the touchline and rotated players regularly. The Club XV had a more familiar core, and their cohesiveness, physicality and greater experience helped them to a comfortable win, 41-7.

The Under 20s under new coach Steve Scott (part of the Gala takeover at the top of Scottish coaching with the full XV, Sevens, and 20s all being led by coaches who learned the game in Galashiels) looked to still be fishing from a large pool, before they settle on a squad for the approaching 6 Nations. They will, as this age group often do, learn quickly and improve swiftly as their representative season goes on.

The Club XV benefited from players who have played at this level for a number of seasons. Jack Turley and Ian Moody gave a dynamic lead up front, while behind the scrum Ross Curle
provided regular onfield positional coaching to those around him. Robbie Nelson was an aggressive presence in the centre, and Craig Gossman skipped and sidestepped impressively through some heavy midfield traffic on a number of occasions exploiting his pace to set up opportunities for others around him.

A dominant scrum, with Hawick’s Shaun Muir to the fore, and a commanding presence at scrum-half in Currie’s Charlie Shiel, saw the Club XV score five first-half tries through Shiel, Jamie Forbes (2) and Gossman plus a penalty try after a collapsed maul. The swirling wind made conversions difficult, and Craig Jackson only managed one successfully (plus the automatic conversion for the penalty try) so the Club XV led 29-0 at the break.

Half-time: Club XV 29-0 Scotland U20

They added two more in the second half, both through half-time replacement Tom Gordon of Currie, who both over the ball in rucks, and in loose play had a very impressive showing and will surely have sealed his starting place for the 1st game against Ireland on February 23rd . While the Club XV is inevitably used as a development tool for some BT Academy Players (Shiel, Gordon and Hamish Bain are all effectively ‘full time players’ who played last night), it is pleasing to see it as a reward for solid club players for whom it may well be the pinnacle of their representative careers.

Robbie Nelson is one such player, who was outstanding last night in providing front-foot ball by constantly crossing the gain line and recycling effectively, while Jordan Edmunds and his second half replacement Scott Bickerstaff both showed impressive acceleration with the ball in hand. I was personally delighted to see Ruaridh Leishman (Stirling County) play the second half, as for
me he has been the most consistent player in Premier 1 this season, and last night he put himself about to good effect in both attack and defence.

Where the Under 20s are in terms of preparation is more difficult to judge.

The SQ programme had parachuted in two players from South Africa (loose head Nathan McBeth and standoff Marc Morrison), one from the USA (flanker Bailey Wilson), two from French Academies (lock Ewan Johnson at Racing 92 and scrum-half Charlie Gowling at Stade Francais) and four from the exiles programme in England (Chapman, Gloucester Academy scrum half; Onojaife, a Northampton Academy prop/Number 8; Bradley Clements from Ealing, and Harry Butler from Hartpury).

One senses that some of them have been specifically sought out to cover for areas of weakness in the team, rather than because they necessarily see their long-term future with Scotland now that U20s no longer tie you to the country.

On the other hand, a number of players who have played Under 18 and Under 19 for Scotland and are now playing at universities in England (e.g Jamie Ross, George Bordill, Jake Hennessy, Ben Appleson), or with Aviva Premiership Academy teams (Cameron Redpath, Fraser Strachan, Fraser Dingwall) were missing. Indeed, some of them may have committed to England.

The Under 20s suffered a number of injuries on the night (McLaren, Hughes, Graham were all subbed off early in the first half) as well as losing some in training sessions before the game (Richardson, York, Barretto), so it was difficult to make an assessment of their overall strength.

Their one try of the evening came from replacement prop Shaun Gunn, and there were some periods where their forwards competed well in the loose, though they struggled most of the night in the scrum. Ewan Johnson looked a lock of serious physicality, and Devante Onojaife could provide them with some dynamism in the back row. For the Under 20s to flourish it will need their spine of Stafford McDowall, Kaleem Barretto, Robbie Smith, Jamie Hodgson and Matt Fagerson all to be playing and all to be on top of their game. Ross Thompson was given the 10 shirt for the first half last night, and Callum McLelland and Grant Hughes both had opportunities in the pivot position in the second half. They will need to decide who they are going to trust most in this position for the season. They will also, like the senior XV, need to find a couple of props able to stay fit enough to perform consistently for the whole international season.

If only we had as many props available for our international teams as we have BT sponsored staff, who swarmed around the pitch in such large numbers last night one wondered again if there wasn’t enough money being consumed in backroom staff at Murrayfield to fund a third professional team…

Club XV: J Forbes (Currie); J Edmunds (Boroughmuir), R Curle (Stirling Co), R Nelson (Currie), C Gossman (Ayr); C Jackson (Melrose), C Shiel (Currie); S Muir (Hawick), R Graham (Watsonians), S Longwell (Ayr), J Turley (Heriots), I Moody (Melrose), N Irvine Hess (Melrose), P McCallum (Ayr), G Runcziman (Melrose).
Replacements: S Bickerstaff (Marr), M McAndrew (Melrose), D Armstrong (Ayr), N Fraser (Watsonians), S Cessford (Heriots), J Matthews (Boroughmuir), R Anderson (Melrose), H Bain (Currie), R Leishman (Stirling Co), T Gordon (Currie), R Drummond (Watsonians).

Under 20s XV: P Dewhirst (Ayr); G Faulds (Currie), R McMichael (Hawks), S McDowall (Ayr), K Rowe (Hawks); R Thompson (Hawks), C Chapman (Gloucester); N McBeth (Lions, SA), R Smith
(Ayr), E McLaren (Ayr), E Johnson (Racing 92), J Hodgson (Watsonians), M Hughes (Heriots), D Onojaife (Northampton), G Graham (Hawick).
Replacements: S Gunn (Edinburgh A), F Hobbis (Watsonians), B Clements (Ealing), P Cairncross (Hawks), H Butler (Hartpury), D Marek (Boroughmuir), B Wilson (Utah, USA), C Gowling (Stade Francais), G Munro (Hawick), C McLelland (Edinburgh), G Hughes (Stirling Co), R Yourston (Jed), M New (Hawks), S Yawayawa (Hawks), L Trotter (Stirling Co), M Morrison (Lions, SA).

14 Responses

  1. On a completely separate note does anyone think that Gregor Hunter and Harry Leonard have just disappeared over the last few years? I can remember a time when Edinburgh were playing Leonard as the starting No.10 every week and he was in the Scotland U20 set up, now he’s 25 and has been effectively exiled to Rosslyn Park.

    Hunter has been playing his rugby (until 2016) at Glasgow Hawks and now at 26 has taken up a Rugby Development Officer role at Hawick.

    Maybe others will disagree but I think having been given the oppurtunities to shine that the likes of Finn Russell is getting these guys would have flourished and dare I even argue that Harry Leonard would be our starting No.10 today. I would also argue that this is the reason why we can’t allow young 10/15’s like Blair Kinghorn slip through our hands just because we have Finn Russell just now, think about this at 25 years of age Dan Parks was our savouir and we would not even dream of letting anyone else near that Jersey but after the 2011 RWC when we tried to bring Jackson in it became somewhat of a gamble every time he took to the field due to his lack of experience from an early age. I’ve argued this point with other long standing Scotland fans who say its too early to blood players.

    Blood Younger Players Later = Average Short Term = Average Longer Term
    Blood Younger Players Now = Worse Short Term = Good Longer Term

    A player of 20 in the modern game should be achieving around 40-50 caps by the time he reaches 25, this will ensure that we can start to shorten the lifespan of our players meaning that we won’t have to play guys (starting) at 30 years +.

    1. I think in the past our under 20 teams used to get blown away by the other teams at their level leading to our players breaking through at club level and therefore international level later. These days the academies are churning out players who at a younger age are better (and bigger) than in previous years. Think of the likes of Z.Fagerson and J.Gray who have been playing at full international level for years. Then you have guys like Cummings, McCallum, Crosbie and M.Fagerson who you can just tell will force their way into squad selections at a far younger age than some of the current players.

    2. I don’t think Gregor hunter or Harry Leonard suffered from a lack of opportunities. Hunter’s career was totally derailed by serious injury (like Alex Blair’s a few years earlier). Leonard got first team chances at Edinburgh with Bradley in charge but joined Leeds – I think after he fell out of favour with Solomons. If you can’t throve at championship level it suggests you aren’t cut out for top level pro-rugby.

      We’ve got a clutch of potential young FHs out of the u-20s – Eastgate (Wasps academy), Henderson (Stade Nicoise bizarrely), Kinghorn (if he gets a shot there) and didn’t Rory Hutchison at saints sometimes play FH too? Need at least one of this age group to estsablish themselves at FH, I guess Eastgate is most likely too along with Hastings.

      1. I entirely agree with that, I would say that Kinghorn is now being treated as a Fullback so could see him being a deputy for Hogg/Russell for a few years prior to getting any proper game time, with regards to Eastgate, Henderson and Hastings I think we should be trying to fast track these guys maybe during the 6N at some point and definitely during the summer / autumn.

    3. Hunter was injured quite a bit, but from what I can remember both Hunter and Leonard got quite a bit of game time.

    4. “Blood Younger Players Later = Average Short Term = Average Longer Term
      Blood Younger Players Now = Worse Short Term = Good Longer Term”

      We are surely pass the stage of building and looking to win now? Caps should be earned and we have genuine competition for most positions now.

  2. That club XV is a good side. If our pro teams are short during the 6N then they could do a lot worse than give a few of these lads a go from the bench. R.Nelson is a cracking centre and Muir would deputise on the loosehead side for Edinburgh capably I feel.

    Anyone have any thoughts on the players in the under 20 team? There is some big shoes to fill with the likes of Nicol who destroyed scrums last year now too old and Crosbie stepping up but McDowell will be a key man I feel.

    1. I have played against McDowell previously in his days with Stewartry RFC, he was always a big player (for his position) at Centre / Fly Half, I would never have said that he was up to playing at Pro or U20 level though, same goes with the likes of Robbie Smith in his Newton Stewart days.

      This may cause a bit of controversy but I can’t help but feel that guys playing for the likes of Ayr will always get recognised over better players who are not making it through at regional level, I have seen Smith being dominated in his position at Hooker / Prop but because of his size (and due to playing with Ayr) he gets selected over better players. The system needs to change for the better

      1. That’s interesting to hear. I have to say given the Robbie Smith hype I’ve read I was surprised when it was Grant Stewart stepping up recently but perhaps what you’ve seen is why one was chosen over the over. Stewart certainly doing well with his chance.

    2. McDowell was getting rave reviews from the Glasgow coaching staff during pre-season… so he must be doing something right

      1. I think McDowell is an ok player for what he is but don’t think he’s up to the level he is playing, he should be sent to Edinburgh IMHO, let him play for a club like Melrose or Edinburgh Accies for half a season, then blood him into the Edinburgh 1st XV as a No.10 (not a No.12) as Kyle has mentioned above in his Stewartry days he was used a player who would just run at people, really with no skill (no offence meant) I think he has now developed the skills required to play at No.10 and could potentially flourish at Edinburgh, whilst Glasgow are focussing on getting the trophy cabinet filled up let Edinburgh bring the young talent through.

  3. So he’s not good enough to play centre for the under 20s but you think he should play 10 for Edinburgh?

    From what I’ve seen of him he looks a very promising player. He’s a big guy with pretty decent hands.

      1. He has played 10 most of the way through his youth career and he has decent hands from what I’ve seen of him from U13-U20s.

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