Marshall Sykes key as Scotland Under- 20 face gargantuan Georgians
After being drawn against South Africa and New Zealand in their first two matches it always looked like it would come down to today’s closing pool clash with Georgia to determine the success of Scotland’s World Rugby Under-20 Championship campaign in Argentina.
A win in Rosario against a side who beat them in France last year would open a path to a better than tenth finish the east Europeans denied them 12 months ago.
Two defeats have been suffered but much has been taken from matches in which the Scots were only three points from the junior Springboks heading into the last quarter and then scored five tries against the Baby Blacks in an entertaining 52-33 loss.
Another physical encounter awaits but the hope is that, against Georgia, the young Scots’ admirable weapons behind the scrum may land a more lethal punch.
Before that a brutal onslaught up front must be countered and you could sense Scotland coach Carl Hogg, the former Melrose and Scotland forward, licking his lips at the prospect.
“They’ve got a big big physical forward pack. A lot of them look matured, across the front row but also in the back five. It’s going to be a real challenge for us,” said Hogg, pictured, who has made 12 changes from the side that faced New Zealand at the weekend.
It is pretty much back to the first wave he sent out against the South Africans on the opening day.
“The first two games everybody has had the opportunity to play and put their hand up,” he continued. “Obviously we’ve gone back largely to the team who played against South Africa and back in the Six Nations but there were long discussions and debates about certain positions after the way they played against New Zealand.
“What that does is give me and the other coaches a huge amount of confidence that we can go to the bench early, knowing guys are in good nick and good mental space.”
Hogg is looking for his forwards to meet fire with fire against the Georgians and has, you might say, cultivated a back row in his own image, with Marshall Sykes at blindside, skipper Connor Boyle openside and Tom Marshall back at No 8.
“They are dood rugby players. Marshall Sykes is probably what I would call a hybrid,” Hogg said of the East Anglian blindside who is now in the Glasgow academy and playing club rugby for Ayr. “He’s a six/second row and I like that. You look back to the days when Scotland played a Jason White type of player that can go about as an enforcer, make his tackles.
“Tom Marshall is more of a footballer. He’s good with ball in hand, in the wide spaces. So that gives us a good balance across the back row. I thought Connor had one of his best games against South Africa so it bodes well.”
Not that Hogg is discounting entirely the threats Georgia could pose behind their foreboding scrum.
“They’ve got one or two individuals outside. Their stand-off is a very tidy little kicker out of hand,” he said.
“The full-back has got some pace, a real threat, and has a big left boot on him. There is talent out there but their strength does lie in their forward pack. We’ve just got to make sure we play in the right areas and don’t give them starting points to impose their game.
“There are a lot of similarities between South Africa and Georgia. The Georgians maybe don’t have the same firepower behind the pack. We’re expecting a very much forward-orientated battle. We’ve got to get the game on our agenda. We want to play with pace, at high tempo, keep the ball in hand and put pressure on their front five.”
As for what happens after, with two more placing games to come, Hogg stresses he hasn’t yet given it a thought.
“None whatsoever. It’s about winning a game,” said the man who will join the Ospreys coaching team after this event. “I’m not that smart to work out the X, Y and Z, I just know we need to win a game of rugby.