Steve Scott has announced a squad of 28 players to represent Scotland in the 6 Nations Under 20 championship in the next few weeks.
It immediately highlights what a fraught business Elite Player Development is in rugby. Players originally identified at Under 16 level as being of significant potential, can have disappeared just 4 years later, through injury, loss of interest, or failure to develop physically to a level capable of playing professional rugby. A still photo of any age group can be misleading, because of ‘temporary omissions’ due to issues of form or fitness; much more helpful is the dynamic video of an age group developing through their age grade programme.
If we take Premier 1 fixtures as the minimum standard of adult rugby it is astonishing to discover that, apart from Matt Fagerson, no individual in this age group has played more than 25 adult competitive games.
Fagerson is, of course, a freak, at least in Scottish rugby development terms. Within a month of leaving school he had played his first game of rugby for Glasgow Warriors. It seems he is now too valuable to the Warriors during the 6 Nations to be excused for Scotland U20 games. Like Blair Kinghorn last year, he will hopefully return to the side for the Junior World Cup in the summer.
Fagerson was one of 8 players who turned out for the Under 20s last year who are still eligible this year. Four of them are included – Stafford McDowall (who with 24 appearances for Ayr is the most experienced player in the squad), Robbie Smith (Ayr, 17), Logan Trotter (Stirling Co, 18) and Archie Erskine (Boroughmuir, 9).
The others who played last year but are not included this year are Cameron Hutchinson (Currie) and Ross Dunbar (Boroughmuir) – both injured at present – and Patrick Anderson (Melrose) who in a highly competitive back division at Melrose has barely had any 1st XV rugby.
Of the other full-time BT Academy players who are eligible, two are included, Sam Yawayawa (Hawks, 13) and Kaleem Barreto (Marr, 14), and three are omitted, Euan McLaren (Ayr) and Dan York (Hawks) who are both injured and are both yet to make a senior 1st XV appearance, and Gary Munro (Hawick, 12) who started the season as a scrum half but after the green machine’s early season struggles has found himself playing on the wing recently, from where he has scored a lot of tries.
It appears Scotland U20 don’t rate him highly enough as either a 9 or a 14 to include him. His versatility could have been handy though as the 3rd scrum-half in the squad.
Yawayawa is one of three players in the squad who played at Under 16 level for Scotland. The Boroughmuir teenager then went south to the Leicester Academy, and while there turned out for England U18, but this season has returned north to the BT Academy. The other two from that team are Mark New (Hawks, 6) and Alex Gregory (Northumbria University) who missed a whole year of development through injury but appears to be hitting his straps again in the BUCS League.
By the time this group reached under 18 level three others of this squad were in the team – Charlie Gowling (Stade Francais Academy), Jamie Hodgson (Watsonians, 13) and Dan Marek (Boroughmuir, 15). Each of these has taken a very different rugby development path – Gowling was at Sedburgh school, before enlisting in France. Hodgson is a Stewarts Melville graduate, who played one year with the FPs in National 1 before moving to Watsonians for Premier 1 rugby. Marek was in the Bath academy before coming north last year for his rugby development, first at Currie and now with Boroughmuir.
Six of the squad appeared at international level for the first time last year with the Under 19s development team. Kyle Rowe (Hawks, 14) Paddy Dewhirst (Ayr, 17)
Fin Hobbis (Watsonians, 10) Bradley Clements (Ealing), Shaun Gunn & Finlay Richardson (both Edinburgh Accies).
Richardson is actually still eligible for the Under 19s this year, and has stepped up a level from his age group along with Rory McMichael (Hawks), Ross Thompson (Hawks, 14) and Martin Hughes (Heriots, 14).
The squad is completed by eight players who are making their first appearance in a Scotland international age grade side. Callum McLelland was plucked from Rugby League this year and given an Edinburgh contract. His rugby union experience is limited to two substitute appearances for Hawick. Guy Graham – brother of Gary and son of George – also joined Hawick this year but he had been playing rugby union in Carlisle before, and has so far made 14 appearances for Hawick. Charlie Chapman (Gloucester) Harry Butler (Hartpury) and Devant Onojaife (Northampton) come from English clubs and are all dual qualified for England as well. Nathan MacBeth comes from the Lions in South Africa, and is dual-qualified with the Springbocks. Ewan Johnson has appeared from Racing 92, and appears to be a Scot who has grown up with his family in France. Finally Murphy Walker, the Strathallan School Captain, has been called up because of the numerous injuries in the front row. Like Euan McLaren last year, he comes with a big reputation. Let’s hope he doesn’t have the injury problems the highly promising McLaren has encountered since he stepped up from schoolboy to senior rugby.
There are very few in the squad who have not benefited from the ‘finishing school’ of a fee-paying, rugby-playing school. Some won scholarships because of their rugby ability. Others had the privilege of attending from a young age. In terms of regional development, Caledonia again prove their worth with six of the squad beginning their representative journey from that region.
Among those regularly appearing in Premier 1 who have not been included in the squad are Kyle Brunton (Hawick, 21) Paul Cairncross (Hawks, 15) Euan Fox (Watsonians, 10) Bruce Sorbie (Stirling Co, 7) and Jamie Miller (Watsonians, 12). Sorbie is injured. Brunton appears to have lost confidence in the Hawick malaise at the start of the season. Fox and Miller have stood out in the fast-improving Watsonians team and must count themselves unlucky not to be included.
Of those who appeared for Scotland at younger age grades, a number are now playing in England, with some excelling and some perhaps not quite being good enough to make the professional grade.
From the Under 16s, Aaron Tait is at Loughborough, Callum Eastwood and Jamie Ross at Northumbria.
From the Under 18s Fraser Dingwall and Cameron Redpath are now in the England U20 squad, while Mark Appleson is playing at Leeds University.
From the Under 19s Jake Hennessy is at Cambridge and George Bordill at Northumbria.
Will we ever see any of them in a Scotland jersey again?
The full squad:
BACKS: P Dewhirst, L Trotter, K Rowe, S Yawayawa, R McMichael, S McDowall, M New, R Thompson, C McLelland, K Barreto, C Chapman, C Gowling.
FORWARDS: S Gunn, F Richardson, F Hobbis, M Walker, N MacBeth, R Smith, B Clements, J Hodgson, H Butler, A Gregory, E Thomson, A Erskine, D Marek,
M Hughes, G Graham, D Onojaife,