Scotland Under-18s lost to Wales a few weeks back. It was a narrow game and the Scots dominated the stats but they were missing some key players and, after speaking to several coaches on the sidelines, it seemed like this lot might be a special year group.
I was going to write a short article about a promising year group who then lost 64-0 to England in another warm-up match ahead of the 18s rugby festival in Wales.
I quietly shelved my plans, which proved a mistake because the same Scotland 18s squad has just recorded back-to-back wins over England and France, two powerhouses at age grade rugby given the huge numbers at their disposal.
The Scots had to come from behind to beat England, trailing at one stage by 27-10 before scoring 22 unanswered points to run out 32-27 winners. Against France the Scots did the reverse, racing into a 24-10 lead and holding on as France fought back to 24-21.
The squads at this festival are just 28-strong and head coach Iain Monaghan gave every player a start in the opening two matches, changing 11 players for the second game, and he was still rewarded with two victories, which says something about the depth, as well as the strength, of this squad.
So just how did the Scots turn a 64-0 defeat to England into a 32-27 victory against many of the same players in a little less than two weeks?
“The boys were bitterly disappointed with that performance,” explains Monaghan, “but they were not fresh. We had deliberately trained hard beforehand and England were very, very good on the day. It was a great experience for our lads.”
While the England side was much the same on both occasions, the Scots were able to bolster their starting XV with a few key players. Breakaways Conor Boyle, who captains the side, and Rory Darge had been training/playing with the Scotland 20s squad so they brought heaps of experience not to mention ability with them.
And Cameron Henderson recovered from a wrist injury just in time to play both matches, his first for about three months. Henderson could just be the next big thing, as he looks to be around 6ft 8in.
“He has soft skills for such a big bloke,” says Monaghan. “He has good hands and he set up a couple of tries against England with his centre-like skills that he seems to have picked up at Strathallan.”
The back line also boasts a few stars in full-back/winger Rufus McLean who is a livewire, centre Matthew Currie, Dan Lancaster (son of Stuart), an accomplished 10/12, scrum-half Jamie Dobie and winger Jack Blaine, who has grabbed three tries in two matches and will hope to add to that number this afternoon when the young Scots face Ireland in their final match of the championship.
“Ireland are a good side, says Monaghan, “and they are always highly competitive.
“Winning the first two games just makes selection very difficult for this last one.”
It is not a problem that usually troubles Scottish age grade coaches.