Skipper insists his young side can compete with the best, writes Iain Morrison
If you have any to spare, take pity on the young Scots involved in the summer trip to Argentina. Rather than enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Latin America, the Scotland 20s squad are looking forward to facing down two giants of world rugby in the opening five days with a 10:30am kick-off (local time) thrown in for good measure.
The Scots open the tournament with an unfeasibly early match against their South African counterparts on Tuesday and the vagaries of the draw mean that they back that up with a game against New Zealand 20s on Saturday.
The Scots managed only one win in the recent Six Nations and they could not have been handed a tougher start to the Junior World Championships .
“It’s not the easiest pool, I think we all know that,” says Scotland skipper Connor Boyle from the team base in Rosario.
“It’s a bit of a trial by fire but all the boys can take confidence from the way that we played against Old Glory. To win 70-6 is a really good scoreline and it was a good performance from everyone.
“I think it is obviously just going to get more difficult when we play South Africa and New Zealand but if we train well we have great confidence that, when we come against South Africa, the way we play will suit us.”
If you suspected that the Old Glory match was something of a mistake, given the lopsided score, Boyle argues otherwise. He points to the 30-degree heat, the fact that the boys had played an internal 60-minute “vicious” game against each other in Scotland and the necessity to avoid any further injuries on the eve of the tournament.
“Old Glory were almost the perfect warm-up game for South Africa,” he added. “They had big guys, a big forward pack, that we had to tackle behind the gain line.
“We are not the biggest side, I think everyone accepts that, we like to think of ourself as a chop tackle/jackal side. We have previewed them and they have big, individual one up carriers and we believe if we can chop them behind the gain line and slow their ball down we can have real success.
“When it comes to New Zealand they have a really good back line this year with a lot of wingers who have played Super Rugby. They will present a new level of challenge but if we get South Africa right that is a real confidence boost for NewZealand.”
The young Scots won only one match in the recent Six Nations championship, against Wales at Meggetland, and this squad of players is missing a few key personnel.
Fellow flanker Rory Darge has not recovered from a knee injury, the outstanding Charlie Jupp is absent as is hooker Finlay Scott, prop Sam Grahamslaw and back three player Rufus McLean.
If it worries him, the unflustered flanker doesn’t let on, insisting that the Scots have the depth to cope, with Matt Davidson of London Scottish emerging as a key midfielder and Marshall Sykes of Ayr filling the 4/6 role that Jupp had made his own.
“He is a hybrid player,” says Boyle of Sykes, “definitely tall enough to play in the second row but he has that mobility and athleticism of a back row. He is a real defensive presence and personally that aids my game because, being an out-and-out 7, I prefer to get over ball while he does all the tackling!”
There will be plenty of tackling to go round, that much is certain, because the young Scots’ third game isn’t exactly a gimmie. They play Georgia and need to win one match to secure their place in the same tournament next year. The bottom-placed side at the end of the five-match tournament is relegated to the second division.
“Quite a lot of pundits have put us in that relegation battle but we don’t necessarily see that as a team.” insists the optimistic skipper.
“We have the utmost belief that we can take it to these big teams and if it comes down to Georgia we definitely see ourselves as having the ability to win it. We want to win two or three of these big games and push ourselves to get that highest ever finish in the Junior World Championships.”