Scotland Under-20s coach Carl Hogg has experienced a lot in his rugby life but admitted to being flummoxed by the events that unfolded in Argentina yesterday as his team slumped to their fourth straight defeat at the junior World Cup.
An explosive burst of thunder, lightning and heavy rain saw the placing match with Italy abandoned for 50 minutes before it was resumed despite Hogg’s feeling that it should be called off for the day.
The Scots were 14-7 down in Rosario when the storm hit late in the first half. Less than an hour later they were back on, the half-time break scrapped and cracked on with a game which saw the young Scots outmuscled and left facing a last-game 11th-12th play-off with Fiji to avoid being relegated from the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
Hogg was keen to stress that he was making no excuses for another defeat at the tournament which has left Scotland up against the wall, crediting the Italians for winning fair and square, but couldn’t help expressing frustration at an afternoon which was not really rugby as we know it.
“Just a very challenging set of events, logistically in terms of coming off for a 50-minute delay. It was very challenging from a rugby perspective but also in terms of a mental perspective,” said the former Melrose and Scotland forward, who leaves to join the Ospreys coaching set-up after this tournament ends at the weekend.
“It was challenging for both sides to be fair. But because of the conditions there was essentially no running game.”
The Scots gave two spirited efforts against South Africa and New Zealand in their first two pool games but they were physically overpowered by the Italians, as they were by Georgia, though this time in swamp-like conditions.
Hogg, pictured, admitted it was his view that the game should not have continued. “You’re in a situation where there’s standing water on the field and I’m concerned for my players’ welfare. It’s their World Cup, their opportunity to show what they’ve got and it just descended into a situation where no rugby was played at all,” said the former Worcester boss.
“It became an arm wrestle, a scrum and kick fest. We’ve got a situation where we’re off for 50 minutes and the obvious solution seemed to me to delay it for 24 hours and start again but that didn’t seem to be an option.”
Sale hooker Ewan Ashman got two tries and Heriot’s wing Jack Blain another but it was a late rally to make the score respectable after Italy had racked up four tries, three of them penalty tries as their physical superiority told.
Hogg continued: “I raised my concerns to the match commissioner and said I’ve been involved in senior rugby for 30 years and never been in a situation where you get taken off and sit in a dressing room for what was supposed to be 20 minutes and it ends up being 50. That’s challenging for the players but ultimately there was a game of rugby of a fashion.”
There has been positives from this campaign, scoring five tries albeit in defeat to New Zealand takes some doing, but Hogg accepts four losses from four is disappointing.
“A lot of our guys just don’t get exposed to high-level games,” he reasoned. “Making decisions in these tight, high pressurised games. Look, it’s relatively easy to play against a New Zealand and throw caution to the wind. Managing games where it’s critical only comes with experience.”
The coach is up for one more push against the Fijians, who lost 12-8 to Georgia yesterday.
“Yes we’ve got to be confident. There was a lot of bright sparks in those first two games. We have a couple of days off and need to go again.”