In this year’s championship Scotland’s U20s featured just one player who had made his top league debut – Stafford McDowall for Glasgow Warriors. So who among the rest of the current squad is likely to follow him in cracking the next level? Time to try and pick out 2 forwards and 2 backs who will make their breakthrough in the PRO14, Premiership or Top 14 in the coming seasons – and who look like they could have the potential to go on and represent the full Scotland side in the future.
Position – Lock / blindside flanker
Height – 6’6″ (199cm)
Weight – 16st 12lbs (107kg)
Club – Ayr (from next season, just finished 6th form at St. Joseph’s College)
Why he will make it as a pro: Work rate and consistency – which are essential factors for a lock. He was the U20s top performer in defence with 31 tackles made and none missed in the first 4 matches; made some effective carries; and functioned well in the lineout to boot.
Things to work on: Front 5 players are increasingly being asked to take on a decision-making, distributing role (Jonny Gray passes around 40% of the time he touches the ball) so if he can add some of this to his game he’ll be well on his way to being an ideal fit for the prototypical modern lock.
Opportunities at club level: It’s unconfirmed at the moment but his move from school in England to Ayr for the start of next season suggests he will be joining the Scottish Rugby Academy (Glasgow & the West). That will put him firmly on the radar of Glasgow Warriors with an eye on a call-up in the next couple of years.
His role model should be: Jonny Gray
Position – Flanker
Height – 6’1″ (186cm)
Weight – 14st 9lb (93kg)
Club – Melrose (Scottish Rugby Academy stage 2)
Why he will make it as a pro: Despite being the youngest man in this season’s Scotland U20s squad – and the only one who will be eligible for both the 2019 and 2020 Championships – he was first choice in his position throughout the campaign. That level of precociousness is unusual in Scottish rugby, especially among forwards, and indicate a pretty significant potential.
Things to work on: 93kg will not go very far for a back row at pro level. He’ll need to add at least 5kg of muscle (probably more like 10kg in an ideal world) while still retaining his speed. Hopefully he likes eating!
Opportunities at club level: There has been a bit of a production line of talent filling up places in the back row for Edinburgh and Glasgow. Specialist opensides have probably been the rarest among those ranks though. He may need to be patient but the chances should come.
His role model should be: John Barclay.
Position – Stand off
Height – 5’10” (178cm)
Weight – 14st 2lbs (90kg)
Club – Edinburgh
Why he will make it as a pro: Well he’s already on a full-time contract with Edinburgh – although still to make his debut. More than that given his background in rugby league (he was signed from Castleford Tigers) he’s got the ability to take the ball to the line that’s de rigeuer for 10s these days.
Things to work on: The kicking game in rugby union is very different from league with a lot more responsibility to consistently hit touch. He’ll spend plenty of time with Edinburgh backs coach (and former stand off) Duncan Hodge practicing these skills over the next couple of seasons
Opportunities at club level: As things stand he will be the top-ranked Scottish qualified fly half in Edinburgh’s squad. That will put him at a slight advantage against New Zealander Simon Hickey and South African Jaco Van Der Walt who will be his competition at 10. He’s still going to need to earn his place over these more experienced players though.
His role model should be: Stepping outside the Scottish bubble for a minute Owen Farrell seems the obvious choice.
Position – Wing (has also played full back)
Height – 6’1″ (186cm)
Weight – 13st 12lbs (88kg)
Club – Stirling County (Scottish Rugby Academy stage 2)
Why he will make it as a pro: 4 tries in 8 games for the U20s; a regular on the scoresheet for his club. He knows his way to the try line – which is still the fundamental currency for any good winger.
Things to work on: Arguably Scotland’s first choice back 3 right now features three players whose favoured role is full back, so continually developing a multidimensional skillset (including excellent positioning and a sound kicking game) on top of that ability to bag tries is a must.
Opportunities at club level: Pretty good all things considered. Wing is almost certainly the position Scotland and the pro teams have struggled most to consistently produce the very top level of players. Glasgow’s principal trio in this position will all be the wrong side of 30 at the start of the 2018/19 season and opportunity could well knock soon for a talented young winger.
His role model should be: Sean Maitland. Although maybe just a touch less laid back…
For some of this season’s squad, France 2018 will end up as the high point of their time playing rugby. For others it will just have been a stepping stone to a future professional career – and for the very best among them full Scotland caps beckon. Whatever happens hopefully they enjoyed their adventure together this summer and best of luck to all of them for the future from us here at the Scottish Rugby Blog!