World Rugby U20 Championships: Four to Follow – progress report 2019

After the last four editions of the World Rugby U20 Championship I’ve picked out four players who hadn’t already made their debut in a top tier league who might go on to make the breakthrough to the pro ranks. For this season’s four to follow check out this article. For an update on how our previous selections have progressed, read on…

2018 picks:

Stafford MacDowall was the only player from the 2018 squad who had already played in the PRO14, Premiership or Top 14 prior to the U20s’ tournament kicking off. These were the 4 players from that group highlighted to be next to play at the top level:

Marshall Sykes (lock / blindside flanker)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Last season – Ayr (BT Prem) and Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 3 (Glasgow)
Next season – Ayr (Super 6) and SRA Stage 3 (Glasgow)

Marshall was straight out of school when he joined up with Ayr and the Scottish Rugby Academy at the start of the campaign just past. After a strong start to his club career – and just at the point when a second row injury crisis might have seen him involved for Glasgow – he was struck down with a knee injury that wrote off the remaining 7 months of his domestic season.

The big lock / back row hybrid made a return just in time for the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina (and it really was only just as he wasn’t even considered ready to go for the warm up game against Old Glory). It will be back to the grind soon and hopefully a strong preseason plus plenty of game time for Ayr in the Super 6 will see him close in on a PRO14 debut with Glasgow during in the not too distant future.

Rory Darge (openside flanker)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Last season – Melrose (BT Prem) and Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 3 (Edinburgh)
Next season – Melrose (Super 6) and SRA Stage 3 (Edinburgh)

Unfortunately a similar tale of woe to that of Marshall Sykes. Rory’s knee injury was a couple of months further down the line though – which meant he did not make it back for this summer’s U20s action. Prior to that he had been in great form for Melrose and had trained with Edinburgh during the November Test window.

Openside remains a position that is ripe for the next generation to break in to. As discussed in the 2019 Four to Follow, Rory will have fellow number 7 Connor Boyle pushing him all the way. Given the expected shortage in numbers in the back row for Edinburgh during international periods, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that one (or even both) of these young flankers could make their PRO14 debuts during the coming season.

Callum McLelland (standoff)

Made top league debut? Yes – unfortunately in Rugby League’s Challenge Cup rather than Rugby Union…
Last season – Edinburgh then Leeds Rhinos (Rugby League)
Next season – Leeds Rhinos (Rugby League)

The one that got away for Edinburgh. Clearly moving from Rugby League was never going to be an easy transition. His onfield work for Scotland U20s certainly seemed more than up to scratch for the requirements of Union though. If his heart still lay with League then there’s probably not much that could be done. If he’d stuck around then it’s more than likely he would have played in the PRO14 at some point last season.

Logan Trotter (wing / full back)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Last season – Stirling County (BT Prem) and Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 3 (Glasgow)
Next season – Stirling County (Super 6) and SRA Stage 3

The third of last season’s Four to suffer injury issues. Logan, possibly crucially, missed preseason and the first 3 months of the campaign – just at the point he might have consolidated a solid World Rugby U20 Championship. He put in some strong displays for Stirling County once he was back out on the pitch and has recently been confirmed among their first batch of Super 6 players.

Glasgow will be missing a few back 3 players during the upcoming World Cup so there will be opportunities available. The rumoured arrivals of Matt Davidson (from London Scottish) and Rufus McLean (in the Academy set-up attached to the Warriors) mean that competition will be fierce to fill any gaps. Logan will need to be on top form in the Super 6 to push his case for PRO14 game time.

2017 picks:

Ruaridh Dawson, Matt Fagerson, Callum Hunter-Hill, Blair Kinghorn and Adam Nicol had already played in the PRO12 or Premiership prior to the tournament kicking off (Fagerson and Kinghorn are now full Scotland caps). These were the 4 players from the 2017 squad that we tipped would follow them to play at the top level:

George Thornton (loosehead prop)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Last season – Wasps academy
Next season – Glasgow Warriors

Having seen Premiership Rugby Cup action out of Wasps’ academy system George has now joined up on a full-time contract with Glasgow. While not the high profile signing Warriors’ fans seem to be craving, the big man has massive potential and could end up as a dominant scrummaging force for his new club. Will almost certainly see PRO14 action this season.

Alex Craig (lock / blindside flanker)

Made top league debut? Yes – Champions Cup
Last season – Gloucester academy
Next season – Gloucester

Good progress for Alex this year having played in his first Champions Cup match and signed a full-time pro contact with Gloucester to step up from their academy system. He’s been highly spoken of by the coaching staff down there and may have had more game time in 2018/19 but for an injury not long after his first team debut.

Connor Eastgate (standoff)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Last season – Plymouth Albion (National League 1)
Next season – Plymouth Albion (National League 1)

After a rumoured move to Yorkshire Carnegie (probably a lucky escape avoiding the shenanigans there) it was in fact Plymouth where Connor pitched up. There’s certainly a long way to go between National League 1 and one of the top tier competitions but at just 21 it’s too early to write off his chances completely just yet.

Stafford McDowall (centre and full back)

Made top league debut? Yes – PRO14 and Champions Cup
Last season – Glasgow Warriors (stepped up from SRA midway through the season)
Next season – Glasgow Warriors

The Scottish Rugby Academy’s breakthrough player of last season had made his PRO14 debut during 2017/18 but added his first start and a couple of Champions Cup games among a dozen appearances during 2018/19. Having already been involved in Scotland training squads, it’s only a matter of time before he joins the growing list of recent U20s who have gone on to full international honours.

2016 picks:

Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn and Jamie Ritchie had all played in the PRO12 or Premiership before the tournament started (and 2 years later Scott is the only one of that group who has still to make his Scotland debut – and that should follow this summer). These were the 4 young men tipped to follow them into top-tier action:

Andrew Davidson (lock / blindside flanker)

Made top league debut? Yes – PRO14 and Premiership
Last season – Newcastle
Next season – Glasgow Warriors

A very busy 2018/19 for Andy who became Warrior number 298 while on loan to Glasgow during the Autumn before returning to Newcastle and picking up regular game time across the rest of the season. He capped it all off by signing up full-time with the Warriors from the start of 2019/20. This should hopefully help get him back on pace with old pal Scott Cummings for future Scotland honours.

Matt Smith (flanker)

Made top league debut? Yes – PRO14 and Champions Cup
Last season – Glasgow Warriors
Next season – Glasgow Warriors

Matt made his Glasgow debut back in 2017 and now has 25 appearances for the club under his belt. Shoulder surgery wrecked the latter half of his 2018/19 campaign but he should be back for the start of next season and will continue to push Callum Gibbins and Chris Fusaro for game time in the Warriors’ number 7 shirt.

Hugh Fraser (scrum half)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Retired from professional rugby

The one that got away for Edinburgh – part 2. Hugh actually signed a full-time contract with Richard Cockerill’s side ahead of the start of the 2017/18 season. However, off-field opportunities presented themselves and he decided to take a step back from rugby in order to focus on a career in commercial property before he could feature for the capital club.

Ben Robbins (wing / full back)

Made top league debut? Not yet
Last season – Currie Chieftains (BT Prem)
Next season – Rotherham Titans (National League 1)

After ripping it up for Currie Chieftains last season (including 5 tries in one game against Hawick) the flying winger has decided to go with Rotherham Titans in the Championship rather than finding a Super 6 team to play semi-pro with. His pace and power mean that he remains an interesting prospect and it will be informative to see if he flourishes in a full-time professional environment.

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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 Championships: Four to Follow – progress report 2019

  1. The Chiel on

    Enjoyed reading this – a real roller coaster for some of the selections. Fingers crossed for those who have suffered injuries.
    One wee bit of pedantry for Ben Robbins – Rotherham are English National 1, not the Championship.

  2. The Chiel on

    Just also to add that from the class of 2018, Charlie Gowling ( scrum half ) has just been signed by London Scottish after a stint with Beziers in the D2 in France

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