As the senior Scotland rugby squad prepares to jet off to the Far East for their summer tour, the Scotland Under-20s are already in Georgia, who are hosting the annual age-grade championships this year.
The squad is coached by John Dalziel, who has the tricky task of following Calum MacRae as sevens coach next season, and is led by the towering second row and new Edinburgh pro Callum Hunter-Hill.
Scotland already boast riches at lock and it won’t be long before Hunter-Hill is elbowing his way into that mix.
Alongside him in the forwards is Fergus Bradbury, younger brother of Scotland cap Magnus and a big lump of a tighthead prop. Matt Fagerson brings Glasgow Warriors experience to the back row of the 20s scrum, but it is in the back three that the Scots pack some genuine firepower.
Harlequins academy winger Robbie Nairn has played sevens for Scotland, Blair Kinghorn has played almost every match of the season for Edinburgh and Hawick’s Darcy Graham is the hottest thing to emerge from Mansfield Park since Stuart Hogg... and look where he is now. In fact, some old Hawick heads swear that Graham is ahead of where Hogg was at the same age.
The two have plenty in common apart from growing up in green. They both prefer full-back to wing, the two of them have a decent turn of pace, a tidy step and they share a love of horses. As a youth Hogg imagined he’d become a jockey and Graham owns a couple of horses himself.
“He’s a fantastic young player,” says his coach Dalziel. “I think he’s another one from the Hawick factory there. He has a real natural ability. You could see that last year even though he was a year young.
“He’s had a lot of rugby this year and gained a lot of experience, so we are just trying to manage him really well so he is ready to peak here.”
The young Scots are pooled with New Zealand, Ireland and Italy. The ‘Baby Blacks’ will start as favourites and are Scotland’s first opponents on Wednesday at the AIA Arena in Kutaisi, but Dalziel’s side surprised Australia last season, a match in which Graham announced himself to the rugby world with a solo effort from 45 metres. The coach has promised to field his best team in that opening game, which means that the Hawick full-back will get an early shot at the perennial title favourites.
“We’re looking forward to playing New Zealand,” said Graham. “We know what they are like now. A lot of them have played Super Rugby so we know its going to be a good challenge. We had Australia last year and came out with a win. It’s a big game, but we’re looking forward to it.
“Getting the first win of the championship is huge. When it’s a big team, Australia, New Zealand, it’s even better. There is a real buzz around the camp.
“First up we play New Zealand and we’re taking it a game at a time. See how the results come. Injury-wise we get through that, then head into the games against Ireland [on Sunday 4 June] and Italy [on Thursday 8 June]. We got beaten by Ireland by one point in the Six Nations, so we want to get one over them.”
New Zealand should be too strong for the Scots who, in turn, should be too good for Italy, so the Ireland game looks key to Scotland’s championship. As Graham says, the Scots came within a point of their Celtic cousins during the Six Nations and many felt that they should have won. The Scots led for most of the match and were only undone by a late try.
“One point, it was a difficult game,” Graham recalls. “It started off well and they came back into it, but we should have had the game dead at half time. Just one of those games, they stuck it out and got one of those wins.”
Graham is a little man in a world of giants and the trick, which Hogg mastered, is to add muscle without losing that electric speed – at least he thought it was electric until the Hawick man had a run with the Scotland sevens squad.
“Hong Kong was class,” he says, eyes widening. “I just tried to take it all in and the boys on that circuit are unbelievable athletes. Here I am quite quick, but over there I was just average and it was a good learning curve for me.
“Physically a lot has changed and I’ve been in the gym a lot more. The strength and conditioning coaches know what they are doing and everything is linked so that I don’t lose my speed.”
You hope not because Scotland 20s are going to need it in the coming weeks.