Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland’s U20 Squad Analysed

Scotland U20s prepare to defend - pic © AFD Imaging
Scotland U20s prepare to defend - pic © AFD Imaging

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,

12 Responses

  1. Good article. Interesting to see our prop crisis continues even through the age grades! Big shoes for these young lads to fill as well. Last year’s front row of Nicol-Renwick-Thornton was very destructive and all three looked like prospects. Even Dunbar and Bradbury the other props looked useful though I’m not sure where they are now.

  2. Thanks for a very informative article Moody Blue. For those of us south of the border it is hard enough to keep up to date with Edinburgh/Glasgow news, let alone the goings-on with young players making their way in Prem 1.

    On your final rhetorical question, I think this is going to become a bigger issue going forward. As a young player, given the riches available from a contract in the English Prem you can’t necessarily blame players heading south on the condition that they are ‘English Qualified’ to fill quota’s from the RFU.

    With a finite number of slots available at Glasgow and Edinburgh, we’re going to find more and more of our better young being lost to England, or at least opting to make themselves available for England for a period of time, and then choosing to come back to us if they reach a certain age and haven’t been given a cap by then.

    1. The problem here is the Saxons, where these guys can get tied to England by going on a development tour in the summer even if they never get a full cap.

      I’d love to see us park our tanks on the RFU’s lawn (so to speak) and offer someone like Cam Redpath a pro deal with Glasgow. England benefited from Bath nabbing Zach Mercer straight out of Merchiston, we should be looking for similar opportunities

  3. I’ve heard the South Africans are completely devastated at the prospect of potentially losing Nathan MacBeth who claim he was expected to become one of the greats of South African rugby. Never seen him play -all I know is he is massive and contracted to one of the biggest clubs in South Africa- but if a big Rugby Nation with the big pool of players South Africa have to choose from are devastated to miss out on him then this can only mean he truly is a great prospect.

    He is going back to South Africa in the summer to honor his contract with the Golden Lions to honor his contract. Not sure how long he has left on it but now he is no longer a South African player his 1st team chances there may be little so I hope Glasgow can bring him in soon (Edinburgh have Dell, Marfo and Sutherland so no shortage of looseheads there). Lets see how he performs in the junior six nations before getting too excited but he could be the world class loosehead we have been crying out for.

    1. Playing for any national U20s does not tie a player to that country, so this lad will still be able to play for either national side post the U20s season.

      Here’s hoping that players like him, Dunbar, McLaren, Richardson, Walker et al develop strongly to provide Scotland much needed depth in the prop positions moving forward.

      1. * Only in the case that the effective 2nd XV if you will of that country isn’t the U20s squad i.e.: if Scotland didn’t have the A team setup then by default the U20s squad would act as this team, thus meaning that those players would be tied to Scotland, much like the Steven Shingler scenario with Wales.

  4. Fascinating article, full of a lot of interesting detail. (I suspect Mark Appleson will be delighted with a second adolescence though, The Leeds Uni student might be his son Ben!).

    Development of younger players is never an exact science and good luck to all those players in their future careers.

    Just one gripe …I’m disgusted at those Scotland rugby “fans” who have rejoiced on social media in the “SRU’s U20s” being thrashed by the Club XV the other night. Short memories, those fans…the U20s won that fixture for the previous two years and a considerable number of the Club XV represented the U20s themselves in prior times. Shameful that some are so anti the SRU that they seize any opportunity to cheer on the defeat of a Scottish representative side, especially one filled with aspiring young players, many of whom play in Scottish club rugby themselves!

  5. Home work has been done for this article but the work that was put into a report a couple of year ago funded by the sru on the drop off of young players going from age grade rugby to senior rugby has been forgotten about, Scottish rugby needs to invest more time following university players who qualify at this age but have put education first, or the young guys who have taken a career option and get pushed out of there club after serving there time to allow Academy players to get game time in the premiership and bring funding and kudos to the club by sticking a shirt on them and claiming them for their club. We need an under 21 league to allow the 3 years after the under 18,s for players to find themselves and evolve naturally rather than forcing them through breaking them and losing them, the old skool of thought that its in the breeding with us waiting on some son or grandson of a legend to appear doesn’t work and we don’t have the time, there a lot more young talent in Scotland out there some happy to play in 1st division or uni rugby. Marr working their way through the divisions with a tight bunch of guys wanting to play and succeeding to premiership level only to be diluted at the top. This leaves the question of super six good or bad for the future of club rugby and that’s where we should be looking, keep up the work moody blue its only by raising questions that we will get answers.

  6. There are a number of talents missing from the Scottish U20 line up. Aaron Tait who has made the first team for Loughborough BUCS first team after playing regional rugby in NZ for a year where he was regarded as a top talent even in their circles has not figured back home in Scotland

    1. Well maybe he could enter the raffle for a place in the big team next week. Names are coming out the hat on Thursday.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion