World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 Review: Four to Follow

In this year’s championship Scotland’s U20s featured just one player who had made his top league debut – Jack Blain for Edinburgh. 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 may have the potential to go on and represent the full Scotland side in the future.

Ewan Ashman

Position – Hooker
Height – 6’0″ (1.83m)
Weight – 16st 12lbs (107kg)
Club – Sale Sharks academy

Why he will make it as a pro: There’s a lot to like about Ewan’s performances this summer. The 7 tries stand out, making him Scotland’s top scorer in a single WR U20 tournament as well as 2nd all-time for the dark blues at this level (Jamie Farndale managed 10 tries in 3 Championships). He also made more carries, passes and metres than any other forward as well as being the top performer in the entire squad for defenders beaten- who needs wingers…

Things to work on: If he can keep building his fundamentals – throwing in and scrummaging – his all-round game could make him a very potent weapon indeed.

Opportunities at club level: There’s plenty of competition at his club, Sale, with England U20 hooker Nic Dolly slightly ahead of him in the pecking having already featured in the likes of the Challenge Cup. Hooker is a position where Scottish rugby has only produced in fits and starts and with a lot of late bloomers though. Ewan could be a good fit for either Edinburgh or Glasgow in the next 2 or 3 seasons.

His role model should be: Fraser Brown

Connor Boyle

Position – Flanker
Height – 6’0″ (1.83m)
Weight – 14st 5lb (91kg)
Club – Watsonians (Scottish Rugby Academy stage 3 – Edinburgh)

Why he will make it as a pro: Having picked out fellow openside flanker Rory Darge as one of the four to follow from last season’s group its time to double down on the next generation of number 7s. Connor has shown exceptional maturity and could be the first player to captain Scotland at two WR U20 tournaments if he returns in 2020.

Things to work on: Defence is often a collective effort but he’ll still be keen to up his 80% tackle completion to a minimum of 90% when he hits the next level.

Opportunities at club level: With Rory Darge also attached to the Edinburgh academy set-up it may well be necessary to split this pair of 7s up and send one of them West. With Glasgow’s top two opensides (Callum Gibbins and Chris Fusaro) both in the 30+ bracket there are likely to be chances for new blood in the not too distant future.

His role model should be: Hamish Watson.

Rory McMichael

Position – Wing / centre
Height – 6’4″ (1.92m)
Weight – 14st 7lbs (92kg)
Club – Heriot’s

Why he will make it as a pro: Like fellow winger Jack Blain, Rory is one of a new generation of ‘big’ wingers that Scotland finally seem to be producing with some consistency. That 6’4″ frame should be a benefit in a pro game that is still pretty sizeist. It’s a definite advantage under the high ball though as well as for getting through / round / over defenders.

Things to work on:  He probably still needs to add some kilos but without losing his pace and athleticism. Big, fast and skillful is a fairly irresistible combination.

Opportunities at club level: Edinburgh seem to be shopping outwith the Scottish market for wingers right now but with some short-term options in there and Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn and (from late 2020) Duhan van der Merwe likely to be Scotland regulars there should be minutes available for both McMichael and Blain in the capital in the next couple of seasons.

His role model should be: Tommy Seymour with maybe a nod to Sean Lamont’s defensive prowess thrown in there for good measure.

Matt Davidson

Position – Full back
Height – 5’9″ (1.81m)
Weight – 13st 10lbs (87kg)
Club – London Scottish

Why he will make it as a pro: Matt cut some lovely lines from full back and also functioned well as a second distributor – passing the ball almost twice as often as anyone outside Scotland’s half backs during this tournament. These are both key components in the modern full back’s arsenal which bodes well for his future.

Things to work on: It seems an odd thing to say but he might need to be a little bit more selfish to really showcase his talents. All that passing restricted his own opportunities to carry the ball at times.

Opportunities at club level: If his rumoured move to Glasgow for the start of 2019/20 comes off with Stuart Hogg departed and the core of Glasgow’s back 3 all in the 30+ bracket it would seem Matt’s chances of top league minutes and a pathway to a first team place lie in his own hands.

His role model should be: Bernardo Stortoni – but more realistically he’ll be trying to emulate Stuart Hogg as best he can.


While it wasn’t the outcome they would have been hoping for this summer’s tournament in Argentina will have been huge adventure for Scotland’s young players. Past experience suggests for a fair chunk of this squad this will have been the peak of their rugby career. Hopefully they take some great memories and friendships with them as they move on to other things.

For those continuing on to the first few rungs of the ladder to a professional career there is an awful lot of hard graft ahead. Whatever happens for the players in this group, 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

2 comments on “World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 Review: Four to Follow

  1. Scrummo on

    Boyle was listed at 91kg previously but the world rugby site had him at 96kg for this tournament, I really think he could be the next Hamish Watson if he continues to bulk up as he’s got a carrying game that Darge doesnt. Both superb prospects though.

    Loving the new big backs coming through as well. Potentially we could field a backline in the future of:

    Blain
    McDowell
    McMichael
    Nairn
    Kinghorn

    We probably never will but the shortest would be 6 foot 3 and if McMichael fills out they’d all be over 100kg with none of them a limited crash ball option either. Graham has shown you dont need size but it’s nice to be producing these units now.

    Reply
  2. Stu on

    I am bewildered by you picking McMichael – I couldn’t believe how awful he was against Fiji. There was a two min spell where he made 3 incredibly stupid mistakes, including running in front of our full back who was about to gather a garryowen.

    Fiji picked him out early and focused on him which brought them quite a few points.

    I really dont like criticising young players but including him in your 4 to watch probably sums up why we were relegated

    Reply

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