World Rugby U20 Championships: Four to Follow – progress report

After the last three editions of the World Rugby U20 Championship, I’ve picked out four players who hadn’t already made their debut in a top tier league who might go on to make the breakthrough to the pro ranks. For this season’s four to follow check out this article. For an update on how the 2017 and 2016 picks have progressed, read on…

2017 picks:

Ruaridh Dawson, Matt Fagerson, Callum Hunter-Hill, Blair Kinghorn and Adam Nicol had already played in the PRO12 or Premiership prior to the tournament kicking off (and Fagerson and Kinghorn are now full Scotland caps). These are the 4 players from the 2017 squad that were tipped to be the next to play at the top level:

George Thornton (loosehead prop)

Signed on with Wasps’ academy following the 2017 tournament where he and tighthead Adam Nicol provided possibly the solidest scrummaging base that Scotland have had at this age grade.

20 stone looseheads who can carry well and contribute around the pitch are worth their (considerable) weight in gold so of the 8 young men on this list, big George seems the likeliest option to go on to a full Scotland cap. The most significant issue might be stopping England getting there first…

Alex Craig (lock / blindside flanker)

As a part of Gloucester’s academy, Alex has been dual-registered with Hartpury College and featured regularly in the Championship last season. He finds himself in a tough position though – Jonny Gray aside, second row tends to be a role that requires physical and mental maturity, so patience is required when developing.

There’s also the size issue – he maybe needs a touch more explosiveness to be a blindside flanker at the top level and is a bit below the height of most Test locks. His work rate is outstanding though and someone like Tim Swinson gives an example of how a player with a bit of dog in them can make it in the international arena – and cover the back row too.

Connor Eastgate (standoff)

It was never going to be easy being a young tyro in the Wasps’ academy waiting to break through in a key position like 10. When a player like Danny Cipriani moves on they just sign another global superstar in Lima Sopoaga.

Hopefully learning from the likes of Cipriani and Jimmy Gopperth has served Connor well but now he’s moving north, reportedly to play for Yorkshire Carnegie. This should mean he gets the regular minutes that will allow him to develop his all-round game and control at standoff. It’s still a position with shorter list than most when it comes to potential Scotland candidates so Gregor Townsend will be keeping a close eye on his progress.

Stafford McDowall (centre and full back)

A key player in 2017 as a 19-year old, Stafford returned to skipper Scotland for the 2018 tournament having made his debut for Glasgow Warriors in between. He can play a bit and among Scottish backs he’s now an almost unique proposition of size and skill.

The smart money may well be on the young centre getting a pro deal with Glasgow at some point this season. Then the real fun starts: seeing just how far he can go.

2016 picks:

Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn and Jamie Ritchie had all played in the PRO12 or Premiership before the tournament started (and 2 years later Scott is the only one of that group who has still to make his Scotland debut). These were the 4 young men tipped to follow them into top-tier action:

Andrew Davidson (lock / blindside flanker)

After the 2016 tournament, Andrew decided to split up his long-term (school, club, Scotland age grade) second row partnership with Scott Cummings and head to Newcastle. He made his Premiership debut in the season just past but may still have cast envious eyes at his former partner in crime Scott who has more than 30 top-level games for Glasgow under his belt and was involved in the Scotland squad for the 2018 Six Nations.

Andy has still got time on his side but he’ll be looking for regular meaningful minutes at a good level over the next couple of seasons.

Matt Smith (flanker)

It took Matt just a matter of months following the U20s to make his pro debut. Having signed a full-time deal midway through the 2016/17 campaign he came off the bench against the Ospreys a few weeks later and followed up with a try double in his second match!

With PRO14 and Champions Cup experience now under his belt he starts the coming season as an integral part of the Warriors’ squad. His next target has to be to usurp Chris Fusaro as the go-to bench back row option for Dave Rennie, and then to start pushing Callum Gibbins for that 7 jersey.

Hugh Fraser (scrum half)

Hugh actually signed a full-time contract with Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh ahead of the start of the 2017/18 season. However, off-field opportunities presented themselves and he decided to take a step back from rugby in order to focus on a career in commercial property before he could feature for the capital club.

Ben Robbins (wing)

One of a number of players who spent time with London Scottish following the U20s, Ben had a brief spell down in the Championship before returning to Scotland to play for Currie Chieftains. He’s been a stand out at that level but opportunities in the pro game haven’t been there for him.

An excellent athlete, the raw physical ability is undoubtedly there so a chance still remains he might progress further. He should get the opportunity to feature in the Super Six with three Edinburgh based clubs to hop to.

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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.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

26 comments on “World Rugby U20 Championships: Four to Follow – progress report

  1. Moody Blue on

    Ah, the gift of hindsight. Looking at the progress of Murray McCallum, Darcy Graham, Charlie Shiel and Luke Crosbie out of these two squads you would maybe say they have progressed a bit further some of the four you chose from each year group to follow. Hugh Fraser is the big disappointment, rugby wise. Player of the tournament if I remember rightly? Who can blame him though if he sees a career that means more to him. I think both Craig and Davidson can do a job at 6 for a professional team going forward. I reckon Smith, McDowall and Thornton will play for Scotland. Eastgate, as you say, has a crucial couple of years. I thought I picked up he was going to do a degree at Leeds and just play BUCS rugby for a year, but you may be right, that Yorkshire Carnegie will benefit from him as well. Thoroughly enjoyable articles, thanks.

    • Kevin Millar on

      At the time I was convinced Fraser would really go places. We’ve had a few of the high octane, threatening scrum halves like Price, Vellacott, Horne and Shiel but Fraser seemed the closest to a Laidlaw-esque type who would really control a game. I thought he would have been a perfect fit for Edinburgh.

  2. Scrummo on

    Craig listed on Gloucester’s site as 198cm and 112kg so he’d only need to add half a stone to a stone to be a ‘full size lock’. Butler is another Scotland qualified lock they have down there with good size. Anyone know why he didn’t make the squad for the under 20s?

    Good article.

    • Kevin Millar on

      Butler was involved for the 6 Nations but Charlie Jupp and Marshall Sykes both went ahead of him for the WR U20 Championship. Not sure if it was injury or form selections but Jupp and Sykes certainly justified their places. Butler will still be eligible for the U20s next year – although so will Johnson, Jupp and Sykes so lock is going to be a real battle for places!

  3. Neil on

    Is that all the glasgow signings done for the season ? If so this would be my first choice 23.

    1. Oli Kebble
    2. Fraser Brown
    3. Zander Fagerson
    4. Jonny Gray
    5. Brian Alainu’uese
    6. Ryan Wilson
    7. Callum Gibbins (Captain)
    8. Adam Ashe
    9. George Horne
    10. Adam Hastings
    11. Tommy Seymour
    12. Alex Dunbar
    13. Huw Jones
    14. DTH Van Der Merwe
    15. Stuart Hogg

    16. George Turner
    17. Jamie Bhatti
    18. Adam Nicol
    19. Scott Cummings
    20. Matt Fagerson
    21. Nick Frisby
    22. Peter Horne
    23. Lee Jones

    Very hard to leave out players like Price, Matawalu and Johnson.

    That pack has our best carriers but it still feels like we are missing that monster atm. I would argue that Jonny Gray / Ryan Wilson are the worst balls carriers out of that pack.

    Who would yous pick ?

  4. Neil on

    Would love to see Glasgow sign up Amanaki Mafi from the Rebels. A very quick number 8 but also with alot of power who would work well in the Glasgow system especially linking up with Horne it could be a world class 8-9 combo.

    Struggled at Bath but is one of the top carriers in Super Rugby and could come cheaper than his real value due to some club issues atm.

    • Alanyst on

      Ryan Wilson can take him on a chip shop tour.

      Given he might be doing time for bashing a teammate, perhaps not the best influence on team culture…

    • TeamCam on

      Mafi is a great player but an awful person. I think a stand up guy like Rennie who’s trying to build a strong, positive culture wouldn’t risk contaminating it with a player like Mafi.

      • FF on

        Timani spoke about the details of the assault and its a shocker – claims he feared for his life as Mafi and his brother beat him, bundled him into a car and drove him around Dunedin as the assault continued. Mafi looks likely to be jailed, miss the RWC and probably end his test career. It is the THIRD time he has assaulted a team mate or medical staff. Dragging rugby’s name through the mud.

        Also, at REC sevens a Samoan player assaulted a Welsh player in the tunnel after the game and is being investigated by police and two other players who belong to the Rebels squad have also been reprimanded for a serious fight. What the hell is going on??? Rugby seriously can’t look down its nose at football any longer after a week like this.

      • Neil on

        To be fair he did say somthing inappropriate infront of Mafis Sister in Mafis house.

        Not reason to go as far as he did and not trying to justify it… but he was provoked.

      • FF on

        Timani couldn’t have said anything that would justify a sustained attack of this nature, if his account is true. This is real thuggery and Mafi and his brother should be seeing jail time. Shame for Japan who will lose their best player.

  5. David on

    I’m not sure that Frisby has jumped ahead of Price in the pecking order. Frisby will start the season as third choice IMO, and will have to earn the right to be in the 23.

    I’m also not sure Brian is quite there as a first choice. I think him and Cummings will rotate along with Swinson.

    I think Fagerson will continue to cover along the back row, and may be ahead of Ashe in the pecking order until Ashe can prove his fitness consistently.

    Other than that, broadly I agree. If your 23 is correct, I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed – it’s a good squad!

  6. Ben F on

    A heidbanger at Glasgow would be no bad thing. Give the Irish and Welsh a genuine reason to complain. Think of the benefits .

    He would pull in the crowds, ‘come on down to scotstoun , 50 points a game and numerous 30 man brawls’.

    He would keep the resident queenbee at Scotstoun in place and allow the others to play like a team. For the last reason alone , I am for it.

    Maybe a stand up guy like Rennie recognises when his hands are tied, the mark of his class is knowing there is more than one way to restore 15 man rugby. Bring it on .

  7. Ben F on

    On current form Price is a liability however who is ‘Frisby’ and what is his pedigree. This is the Glasgow Warriors not the Boys Brigade first fifteen.

    Neil , what are you doing joining the fantasy selectors in here ! Get out of it man that is for the likes , of you know who , I would hate to see a credible (did I really say that ) guy like you go over to the dark side.

  8. Not rocket science on

    Jeez, just read that Sydney Morning Herald account of the Mafi attack. If it’s true he should get a lengthy ban, and significant jail time.

    • Neil on

      He could be the abrasive number 8 Glasgow have been looking for though and give Glasgow a real hard dirty edge.

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