World Rugby U20s Championship 2018 Review: Four to Follow

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.

Marshall Sykes

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

Rory Darge

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.

Callum McLelland

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.

Logan Trotter

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!

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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

14 comments on “World Rugby U20s Championship 2018 Review: Four to Follow

  1. thebigiam on

    Nice work, Kevin. I didn’t manage to catch much of the U20s this year, but I’m always interested to see the young kids who might make the break through. I’m one of the rare ones (I suspect) who quite enjoys seeing how the youngsters cope in the Pro14 during the international windows.

    Anyway, a lot of hard work has gone into these articles, and I wanted to say that I appreciate it. I’ll keep an eye out for the young talent coming though (including, I hope one of last year’s graduates – I’d really like to see Robbie Nairn get a run for Glasgow).

    Reply
    • Kevin Millar on

      Thanks! I think it’s worth taking a good look at the U20s as it’s such an important stage for Scotland. 23 of the 32 players who featured on this summer’s tour of the Americas had played in the U20 Championships for Scotland at some point (25 if you include Dell for SA U20s and Hamilton for Wales U20s!)

      Reply
      • Merlot on

        Great to have a look into the crystal ball as to who may be wearing the shirt in the future. As with thebigiam I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to keep an eye on the U20s as Kevin will do it for me!
        I notice you did something similar last year so it would have been a nice touch to see how your “picks” from 2017 were progressing. Did you do something from 2016 too?

    • TheSamsquamtch on

      I agree I think it is one of the interesting things about the rugby calendar vs say football. Given the absence of key players for much of regular season, it becomes far more of a squad game with opportunities for young players and fringe players to play an important role. Horne and Hastings were great to watch last season for example.

      Reply
  2. Ben F on

    I watched some u20 matchs and it is free flowing. Good to see a win over Ireland who as we know have a very mature youth set up.

    Reply
  3. Jamie on

    I think Darge will make it, he looked real quality and give his age was shining brightly in games.

    Hutchinson will also make it, if you can defend as well as his stats are, you will make the grade.

    Reply
  4. Dave on

    Interesting articles Kevin. Do you know when they’re going to announce the stage 3 academy players for next season? It’s usually been announced by now.

    Reply
  5. Kevin Millar on

    Very late this year! It looks like the clubs etc. already know – Ayr’s announcements of their new signings have confirmed that Marshall Sykes (see above) and Ollie Smith (centre who was at Strathallan and played for Scotland U18 last season) will be Stage 3 Academy players. Not quite sure why they haven’t announced the full list. Possibly waiting for a gap in the Scotland / Glasgow / Edinburgh news?

    Reply

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