Relegation for Scotland was not the result anyone was looking for from the 2019 World Rugby U20 Championship. A perfect storm seemed to envelop the young Scots this time out. A pretty dreadful pool and injuries among an already very young squad; the improvement in the strength of teams in the bottom half of the draw was outwith their control. Defensive struggles and, at times, a lack of organisation should have been more within their hands to make the best of.
Later in the week we’ll take a look at what the impact of dropping out of the top tier might be but first up a look at some of the key stats and what they might tell us about who were the strongest performers from this group.
Appearances – most minutes
- Jack Blain (wing) – 400 minutes
- Rory McMichael (wing / centre) – 370
- Ross Thompson (stand off) – 341
- Ewan Johnson (lock) – 370 minutes
- Ewan Ashman (hooker) – 337
- Tom Marshall (number 8) – 294
As the only player with a top league appearance behind him (for Edinburgh) Jack Blain came into this tournament as Scotland’s danger man. With 4 tries he backed up his attacking credentials. There’s work to do in defence though as he was one of a number of Scottish backs whose tackle completion rate dipped below 60%.
Ewan Johnson was ever present this time round after 2 starts in the 2017 tournament. The other Ewan (Ashman of that ilk) was maybe the most interesting ‘discovery’ of this year for the U20s. No less than 7 tries allied to a high work rate and in a position that the Scottish production line has been relatively sparse.
Attack – top carriers*
- Ollie Smith (full back) – 13.0 carries per 80 minutes
- Robbie McCallum (centre) – 11.7
- Grant Hughes (centre) – 11.1
- Kwagga ven Niekerk (back row) – 15.0 carries per 80 minutes
- Will Hurd (TH prop) – 12.2
- Ewan Ashman (hooker) – 11.8
Ollie Smith’s numbers all came from a single appearance against New Zealand. He will return for the U20s next year and the Ayr outside back might expect to be a little more involved as Scotland look to bounce back quickly from what will hopefully be a brief excursion to the World Rugby U20 Trophy.
With a lot of his minutes coming from the bench, Kwagga van Niekerk did well to get heavily involved in games. It’s a surprisingly difficult skill and some players can struggle to get up to the pace of matches in substitute appearances. It will be interesting to see how much further contact Scottish rugby has with the big back row from South Africa’s Golden Lions.
Defence – top tacklers*
- Robbie McCallum (centre) – 7.4 tackles per 80 minutes (75% successful)
- Grant Hughes (centre) – 6.8 (73%)
- Ross Thompson (stand off) – 6.4 (88%)
- Teddy Leatherbarrow (openside flanker) – 15.2 tackles per 80 minutes (83% successful)
- Andrew Nimmo (LH prop) – 13.0 (89%)
- Tom Marshall (number 8) – 12.7 (94%)
This was the area that Scotland seemed to come unstuck. The forwards’ tackle completion rate dropped to 85% from 91% in the 2018 tournament. For the backs the numbers were 65% this year versus 80% last time round.
In that context the percentages of Ross Thompson for the backs and Tom Marshall in the forwards stand out. Ross had a strong showing in this facet of the game last season as well, making 100% of his tackles (in the 4 games that stats were available).
For Tom he will need those kind of numbers (and probably better) to stand out at Newcastle alongside fellow Scottish back rows John Hardie, Gary Graham and Guy Graham. He’s shown enough to make him an interesting prospect for what is a tough road to travel from age grade international to full-time professional.
* Unfortunately ESPN haven’t provided stats for Scotland’s match against Georgia. The marked stats are only for the games against South Africa, New Zealand, Italy and Fiji.
Note that only players with a minimum of 80 minutes played are included. Carries and tackles are calculated by dividing the number of tackles/carries by number of minutes played and multiplying by 80.