World Rugby U20 Championship 2018 Review: Scotland’s Forwards

There was plenty of hard graft for Scotland’s forwards in this season’s World Rugby U20 Championship. Taking on some of the biggest packs in the tournament the young Scots did their best to counteract some significant discrepancies in size. Here’s a guide to the players whose individual stats stood out for Scotland.

Appearances – most minutes

1= Devante Onojaife (number 8) – 320 minutes
1= Rory Darge (openside flanker) – 320
3. Marshall Sykes (lock / blindside flanker) – 293
4. Finlay Richardson (tighthead prop) – 272
5. Jamie Hodgson (lock) – 266

Head coach Bryan Redpath shuffled his pack far more this season than John Dalziel did in last year’s edition of the U20s. Six Scottish forwards started all five matches in Georgia during the 2017 tournament. This time round nobody started more than four games – and of those that did only Northampton’s Devante Onojaife and Edinburgh Accies’ Finlay Richardson played a part in all five fixtures.

Last year’s continuity of selection certainly allowed the Scottish eight to grow stronger as the championship progressed. This season was more about development though – and spreading the experience across a wider group. With 7 of the Scottish forwards still eligible for the 2019 tournament in Argentina this hopefully provides a good base to build on.

Attack – top carriers*

  1. Ewan Johnson (lock) – 11.0 carries per 80 minutes
  2. Jamie Hodgson (lock) – 10.6
  3. Devant Onojaife (number 8) – 10.3
  4. Sam Grahamslaw (loosehead prop) – 9.3
  5. Guy Graham (flanker) – 9.1

Ewan Johnson and Jamie Hodgson followed up a demonstration of their fearsome workrates during the 6 Nations with more of the same in France. While their stats may be similar the 2 players make an interesting contrast. At 118kg and currently in the Stade Francais academy Ewan looks to be well on the road to the professional game. He’s a relatively recent convert to the sport though and will need to continue upskilling whereas Edinburgh Accies’ Jamie has taken a more traditional route thus far and his rugby skills are better developed. At 105kg his main improvements will need to be around strength and conditioning.

Defence – top tacklers*

  1. Martin Hughes (blindside flanker) – 15.1 tackles per 80 minutes (97% successful)
  2. Rory Darge (openside flanker) – 11.7 (91%)
  3. Marshall Sykes (lock / blindside flanker) – 11.6 (100%)
  4. Ross Dunbar (loosehead prop) – 11.5 (90%)
  5. Charlie Jupp (lock) – 11.3 (93%)

Martin Hughes quietly went about his business in his 3 starts at blindside, chopping down pretty much anything that came his way. The young man from Heriot’s had the overall highest rate for carries + tackles at 23.4 per game which is a very solid workload indeed.

In terms of consistency Marshall Sykes was the stand out though. The 18-year old from St. Joseph’s College was perfect, making 31 tackles without a miss through the first 4 rounds of the tournament. He’s a similar player to Alex Craig who was incredibly reliable with his defensive work in the previous 2 tournaments for Scotland. Where Marshall has the advantage is that he’s probably still got a bit more physical development to go. Enough size to dominate allied to those sort of tackle stats could take a player a long way in the pro game.

Discipline – minutes per penalty*

  1. Murphy Walker (tighthead prop) – a penalty every 27 minutes
  2. Sam Grahamslaw (loosehead prop) – 27 mins
  3. Ross Dunbar (loosehead prop) – 29 mins
  4. Devante Onojaife (number 8) – 30 mins
  5. Marshall Sykes (lock / blindside flanker) – 53 mins

It was a very tough tournament for the big(ish) lads in the front row with the Scottish scrum under extreme pressure throughout all their matches. The outlier in this respect was tighthead prop Finlay Richardson (Edinburgh Accies) who only conceded a single penalty in 204 minutes across the first four rounds of the championship. With loosehead Shaun Gunn and tighthead Euan McLaren also part of this age group (but absent through injury) and schoolboy Murphy Walker still some growing to do there remains a possibility that this generation might send some front rowers to the pro game.

Next up tomorrow we’ll take a look at the backs.

* Unfortunately, ESPN hasn’t provided stats for Scotland’s last match against Georgia so the marked stats are only for the first 4 rounds against Italy, Argentina, England and Ireland.

Note that only players with a minimum of 80 minutes played are included. Carries and tackles are calculated by dividing number of tackles/carries by number of minutes played and multiplying by 80. Penalties are calculated by the number of minutes played divided by the number of penalties.

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
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