NINETEEN-year-old Scotland under-20s winger Jamie Farndale has a number of things going for him.
Weighing in at 94kg, he’s a big lad, he is properly quick and he knows how to turn a half chance into five points. The Scot emerged from last season’s Junior World Championships as the top try scorer with six to his name (two more than anyone else) despite being two years younger and playing for a side that is usually under the cosh at this level. And still his biggest asset remains the fact that he is not Welsh.
For some reason the Principality churns out teenage wingers with production line regularity. The likes of Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Tom Prydie were all capped as teenagers, with the latter turning out for the full Welsh Test team two years before he made his debut for the national under-20 side.
Farndale can’t quite match that but his return to the Scotland under-20s, after missing the entire Six Nations with a broken leg, will boost the squad ahead of the U20 World Championships which start in France this week. The Edinburgh apprentice has already had his first taste of professional rugby after coming off the bench against Cardiff at the tail end of the 2011-12 season. Since returning from injury he has only played one warm-up game, against Ireland a few weeks back, but Farndale insists he’s over the leg-break.
“It was odd when it happened,” he recalls, “because I heard this crack and I looked around me to see who was injured before I realised that it was me. It wasn’t painful at first until I reached down and all I could feel was soft tissue [where the bone should have been] and then it hurt alright.
“I was a little apprehensive at first in the Ireland match but I am now 100 per cent fit in my own mind and looking forward to the World Championships. I had added about five kilogrammes of muscle when I was out of action and the injury hasn’t hampered my speed any so hopefully I am a better player now than I was before.
“I feel that my greatest asset is not my pace or my skills, which have come on a long way even from last year, but my work ethic. If you tell me something I’ll take it on board and work on improving that aspect of my game.”
Farndale, right, isn’t alone in highlighting his can-do attitude and coachability because the under-20s boss Sean Lineen repeats the same mantra when asked about his young protégé.
“I’ve only worked with Jamie for the last couple of months because of his injury,” says Lineen, “but he is quick, he has a huge appetite for work and I can see him going a long way in the professional ranks. He was outstanding at RM Condor.”
Lineen had utilised the Royal Marines and their base at Condor with Glasgow and he took his under-20s squad to the same place for a thorough examination of their inner souls of the type that the elite regiments specialise in. According to the coach it was a useful exercise in team bonding with an emphasis on improving communication skills as an (non-optional) extra. According to Farndale it was the toughest two days of his life without exception and this from a man who has broken both the bones in his leg.
All that bonding should come in handy because Scotland face a tough pool, opening against Argentina, who have just beaten South Africa in a three-match series, Samoa and Wales. The latter were the only team to wallop them in the recent Six Nations. The young Scots were close to England at the final whistle and were leading France 10-3 at half time before going down 13-10 and they bested both Ireland and Italy so this side is highly competitive.
If the youngsters are looking for inspiration then a quick glance at the Lions squad should suffice because 13 of the tourists came through the U20 World Championships including all three Scots. In fact Sean Maitland won the championship back in 2008… in the all black shirt of New Zealand of course.
Scott Johnson admitted that he was tempted to take some young players to South Africa with the senior squad but instead he left well alone to the delight of Lineen. This squad should stand up and be counted with a number of players who are expected to go a long way in the pro-ranks, including Jonny Gray, Mark Bennett, Adam Ashe and, of course, one flying winger with a nose for the try line.