After flirting with relegation for most years bar a purple patch from 2015 to 2017 Scotland have finally dropped into the second tier World Rugby U20 Trophy next season.
How much of an impact will this have? It’s hard to be sure at this stage but Scotland will still play in the U20 Six Nations. In the summer though instead of a group in the Championship with Australia, England and Ireland it will be the likes of Kenya, Uruguay and Brazil. The young Scots will have to seize the opportunity of going into a tournament with a winning mindset and positive intent and fight their way back to the top tier.
In terms of the longer term prospects for this group there should still be enough opportunities to allow the key players to develop. The most recent excursion for a Tier 1 side to the Trophy was Italy in 2013. That year’s generation of the Azzurri’s U20s contained plenty of players who have gone onto full Test honours, including Michele Campagnaro, Edoardo Padovani, Maxime Mbanda and at least half a dozen others.
Scotland’s relegation should in no way mean a lost generation of players
The Under 20s in 2020
Twelve members of the current squad will be available again next season for Scotland’s tilt at the Trophy. That’s a lot when compare to just 4 returnees in 2018 and 2019.
- Ollie Smith (full back / centre)
- Jack Blain (wing)
- Robbie McCallum (centre)
- Nathan Chamberlain (stand off)
- Roan Frostwick (scrum half)
- Mak Wilson (tighthead prop)
- Ewan Ashman (hooker)
- Rory Jackson (hooker)
- Cameron Henderson (lock)
- Jack Hill (back row / lock)
- Connor Boyle (back row)
- Teddy Leatherbarrow (back row)
Add in flanker Rory Darge (who played in the 2018 Championship, missed the current one through injury and yet will still be an U20 next year!) as well as full back Rufus McLean and scrum half Kyle McGhie (who both played in the 2019 U20 Six Nations) and Scotland will be sending a far more experienced squad to try and win promotion.
The pro game and beyond
Currently there is only one player in this group who has either played top tier rugby or is confirmed as having signed professional terms:
- Jack Blain (wing) – made his PRO14 debut for Edinburgh earlier this season.
Matt Davidson (full back) has been heavily rumoured as one of Glasgow’s signings for next season.
In addition, Cameron Anderson (centre – Wasps); Teddy Leatherbarrow (flanker – Sale); and Tom Marshall (number 8 – Newcastle) have played Premisership Rugby Cup for their clubs. Nathan Chamberlain (stand off – Hartpury, dual-registered from Bristol) and Matt Davidson (full back – London Scottish) have featured in the Greene King IPA Championship while Kwagga van Niekerk (back row) has run out for the Golden Lions in the Supersport Rugby Challenge.
There’s been relatively slim pickings for these guys. Part of it is the relative youth of the squad. Part of it is lack of opportunities. The 2015 to 2017 run of U20s have hoovered up a lot of the slots and the minutes with the two Scottish pro teams, leaving few chances of even fleeting appearances for the latest batch of youngsters.
Last season there were 95 players across the Edinburgh and Glasgow squads:
- 20 non-Scots qualified
- 42 older capped internationals
- 8 older non-capped players
- 22 from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 under 20s
- 3 from the same age range who didn’t play for Scotland U20s
That’s not to say that there won’t be some gaps for the class of 2019 (and 2020) to fill with some positions having less depth than others. The next part of this review will look at four to follow and a big part of the shortlist selection will come down to where the spaces are most likely to lie in the pro team squads.
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 2008-2019:
- 243 players featured across the 12 tournaments.
- 141 have played at least Championship / Pro D2 level or above – 58%
- 107 have played in one of the three top European leagues or the Heineken Cup – 44%.
- 48 have gone on to play Test rugby (44 of them for Scotland) – 20%.
The largest number of future full caps featuring 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. As things stand with the pro team squads already fairly stuffed the 2019 group may struggle to match those kind of numbers. There’s no reason to suspect that they won’t still make a fairly significant contribution to Scottish rugby over the next decade though.
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?