The surging belief in the potential of Scotland’s rich crop of under-20 prospects was encapsulated by coach John Dalziel’s comments in the wake of a first-ever win over the junior Wallabies.
Rather than bask in the glow of a historic achievement in the opening match of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester, Dalziel expressed frustration following a 15-10 victory he believes fell short of what this exciting group are capable of producing and called for a step up ahead of Saturday’s massive clash with hosts England.
“We’ve spent the night reviewing the game and again this morning.
“We’re obviously pleased with the victory but in some ways we’re disappointed with aspects of the performance,” said Dalziel from the squad’s training base yesterday.
“The guys need to refocus the next three or four days now as we build up to England. We had a really good review meeting this morning and there was a lot of honesty.
“The game could have gone either way and we need to be in a bit more control of these things.”
A pushover try from Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson and a sensational score from Hawick wing Darcy Graham, with five points coming from the boot of Bath stand-off Adam Hastings, secured the victory over the young Aussies, who were reduced to 14 men when centre Campbell Magnay was sent off for a second yellow four minutes into the second half.
The England game comes after a swift four-day turnaround from a bruising encounter with a physical Australian side and the Scotland staff were assessing the damage yesterday. There are doubts over several players, including flanker Lewis Wynn and Hastings, who received head knocks and are undergoing concussion check protocols.
“There has been a big injury review going on now,” said Dalziel.
“It was obviously a hugely physical game, a few head knocks need to be assessed, a few bumps and bruises. We’ll get that done today and then see who we can select for the England game.
We’ve got another five in addition to the 23-man squad against Australia, some of that was tactical, so there are boys who can slot in and add fresh impetus for the second game.
“Adam got a bit of a head bang and we’ll know in due course where we are with him.”
Dalziel took over as head coach from Sean Lineen at the start of last season and led Scotland to a historic first win over England at under-20 level in this year’s Six Nations – an uplifting four-try 24-6 success at Broadwood in February.
The Melrose coach admitted that the fact a scalp as notable as Australia could be met with a verdict of “must do better” is an example of how far the Under-20s have come and the intent they have brought to this tournament.
“It does. Everybody had us as underdogs but there was belief that, if we got our game right, we could win,” said Dalziel. “There were still a lot of areas we fell down on, not just on the strength of the opposition but things we didn’t get quite right, decisions at key times and maybe five or six missed opportunities to score.
“But we did limit Australia’s opportunities, which was pleasing from a defensive point of view.
“There are lots to improve on but it was great to get off to a winning start. In past tournaments we’ve started with heavy defeats which knocks you from the start, so to get off to a winning start, knowing we can still improve, is really good.”
Australia are always expected to play a fast attacking game but they also brought a fearsome pack to Tuesday evening’s match at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford. Fagerson, the tighthead who won his first senior cap in this year’s Calcutta Cup match, put in a sterling shift to keep the set scrum in the game, while Edinburgh back-rower Jamie Ritchie was a clear stand-out performer, though the coach was understandably keen to praise the collective.
“It’s great having the kind of quality those two bring to the team but when you get that kind of result you can’t really pick out individuals, defensively it’s always about a team effort.
“And guys coming off the bench like [hooker] George Taylor and someone like [lock] Alex Craig who made about 14 tackles in his 30 minutes on the pitch.
“It was a huge effort and to a man we grew into it and we were comfortable at the end seeing it out even though we were defending a lot.
I felt it was going to take an error from us, a loose kick or something to give them a sniff but we did well.”
Despite his reservations about some parts of the performance, Dalziel reckons it is the proudest moment of his highly-tipped coaching career.
“Yes probably. Though the England game [in the Six Nations] comes close because we played so well in that one,” he said.
“I’m very proud of the Australia result but you don’t get much time to sit back and enjoy it. We don’t want to look back at the end of the tournament and say ‘well we beat Australia then did nothing’. The challenge now is to back that up.”
The focus now switches to Saturday evening’s meeting at the Manchester City Academy Stadium with England, who are under new coach Martin Haag and have the likes of Northampton tyro Harry Mallinder back in the fold as they look to avenge that Broadwood loss and build on their own strong start to Pool B – a 48-10 thumping of Italy. “They’ve obviously got three or four key players back but then so have we,” said Dalziel. “I imagine they’ll be at as full strength as they can be against us on Saturday.
“They’ll be a different team and we’ve got to make sure we stay competitive and stick with them and, if we can get our game right again and make the improvements we want to then we’ll be a match for anyone.”
After the England crunch, Scotland will complete their pool programme against the Italians on Wednesday.