Rugby: Positives all round for under-20s coach Craig

FOR Craig Chalmers it was a win-win situation in the Borders at the weekend as the national under-20 assistant coach watched the Melrose team he mentors coast to a 31-8 Scottish Premier Cup semi-final triumph over Currie.

For, with Melrose's place in the 24 April Murrayfield final against Ayr secured, Chalmers was able to focus on the progress being made by four of the Currie players whom he is expected to continue guiding at this summer's world under-20 championships in Argentina.

The silver lining for Currie – quite apart from the fact they are in pole position to claim another domestic league title – lay in the fact that their ranks contained four under-20 caps whose best years undoubtedly lie ahead.

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A rich bounty indeed, unless, of course, the professional teams move in with contract offers and Chalmers would be the last to discount that possibility, based on what he has seen in the recent age-group Six Nations and elsewhere.

Pride of place in the view of the 41-year-old former Scotland Grand Slam and Lions Test stand off goes to centre James Johnstone. Said Chalmers: "I rate James as a really good player and, against Melrose, he looked dangerous both on the inside and outside break.

"Given time and space he is a handful and weighing 96 or 97kgs he is very quick for his size.

"That strength is an asset (but) he has got to work on his conditioning and, fortunately, he knows that himself.

"Get that right and we'll be hearing a lot more of James Johnstone (pictured left) while Dougie Fife, the Currie winger, did really well in the Six Nations particularly working alongside Tom Brown (Edinburgh Accies full back)."

Up front Alun Walker started every game of the under-20 Six Nations and Chalmers makes clear his admiration before turning to the potential of a player in the position where he gained 60 Scotland caps – Matthew Scott.

"Mattie leads the line well, he brings Currie's back-line up while lying flat and, while he has things to learn, hopefully the World Cup can provide opportunities to develop his game still further."

One wonders just how much inside knowledge contributed to the smashing of Currie's dream of a league and cup double but there was an admission from Chalmers that such is the potential of the under-20 quartet, information passed on could have come back to damage Melrose. "At one point going into the game I wondered if the help I've tried to give the Currie lads might bite me in the bum but, overall, it was a good occasion for players to learn from – as is the Premiership in general.

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"As well as under-20 caps there were plenty of ex-pros and players with clubs international experience around.

"On the Currie side there were Richard Snedden, Andy MacMahon, Mark Cairns, Ally Hamilton, Andy Adam and Ross Weston, who we had targeted as someone who had to be put on the deck as quickly as possible to prevent him developing momentum off the back of scrums.

"From Melrose Jamie King, Jamie Murray, Calum Anderson, James King, Scott Wight, Fraser Thomson and John Dalziel, Graeme Dodds, Richard Higgins and Wayne Mitchell had all played for Scotland clubs also.

"That all adds up to a good environment for our young players to be learning in and, hopefully, that will lead to good performances over the summer."

Scotland have been drawn in a pool with Australia, South Africa and Tonga in the tournament, which runs from 5-21 June and will be shown on ESPN television.