World Rugby U20 Championship 2018 Review: What’s next?

Not helped by injuries and the loss of a key player to the full Scotland set-up, the U20s sent one of their youngest and least experienced squads ever to this season’s World Rugby Championship in France. It was always going to be a tough year and priority number one was to avoid relegation. The young lads came up with the goods in fine style against an Irish side who had run out comfortable winners in their previous encounter a few months earlier during the 6 Nations. Victory against Ireland was enough to keep Scotland away from the playoff match to decide which team dropped down to the WR U20 Trophy next year.

The Under 20s in 2019

Nine members of the current squad will be available again for next year’s Championship, which will be held in Argentina. There have only been two occasions in the tournament’s history when Scotland have had more returning players available.

  • Callum McLelland (stand off)
  • Ross Thompson (stand off)
  • Sam Grahamslaw (loosehead prop)
  • Finlay Scott (hooker)
  • Murphy Walker (tighthead prop)
  • Ewan Johnson (lock)
  • Charlie Jupp (lock)
  • Marshall Sykes (lock / blindside flanker)
  • Rory Darge (openside flanker)

All of these players played a decent number of minutes and should see the benefit of their experiences this summer. Rory Darge will be eligible for the 2020 tournament as well. He could become the 8th young Scot (and just the third forward) to play in 3 editions of the Championship.

The pro game and beyond

Currently there are only 3 players in this group who have either played top tier rugby or signed professional terms:

  • Callum McLelland (stand off) – pro deal with Edinburgh
  • Guy Graham (flanker) – pro deal with Newcastle
  • Stafford McDowall (centre) – made his PRO14 debut for Glasgow earlier this season

In addition, Charlie Chapman (scrum half) has played for Hartpury College in the English Championship. Devante Onojaife (number 8) featured in Northampton’s Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign.

This is undoubtedly the lowest pre-tournament hit rate in recent years for an U20s squad. Glasgow regular Matt Fagerson and fellow Warriors’ cap Kaleem Barreto might have added to this area if they’d been available. With such a young group it could be a slower burn than other squads in terms of talent filtering through to the pro ranks but there are still some handy prospects who might break through in future.

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 2008-2017 (excluding the current squad who are really still to make their mark on the pro game):

  • 217 players featured across the 10 tournaments.
  • 130 played at least Championship / Pro D2 level or above – 60%
  • 93 have played in one of the three top European leagues or the Heineken Cup – 43%.
  • 43 have gone on to play Test rugby (39 of them for Scotland) – 20%.

The largest number of future full caps playing in one tournament came in 2009 when a generation that included 11 men who would go on to play Test rugby finished 9th in Japan. It remains to be seen if the 2018 vintage can reach those lofty heights but they should certainly make a healthy contribution to the Scottish game through the two pro teams and the national side.


Tomorrow: the final part of the Scottish Rugby Blog’s look at this year’s 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?

Tags: , ,

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.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW