Last year the Scotland 20s finished the World Championships in Georgia on a high, literally speaking, with fifth place, their best-ever result. This afternoon the nation’s “bairns” are playing off against Georgia for the 10th/11th spot, just relieved that they dodged the agony of a relegation decider against recently promoted Japan who must beat Ireland or drop back down into the second tier trophy tournament.
The Scots got themselves off to a horrible start, losing to Italy by one point while the other two teams in Pool C, England and Argentina, proved too muscular for the Scots. Their final opponents are hewn from the very same sort of material and Georgia have already bested Ireland to prove worthy of a place in the main tournament.
Before coming good in spectacular style, the Scots were trailing Ireland by 14-3 midway through the first half so Scotland’s skipper, the 6ft 4in centre Stafford McDowall, must have been steeling himself for that relegation battle with Japan.
“We were 14-3 down but I didn’t think we deserved to be,” said MacDowall from France. “They got a couple of early scores that came from nothing and I knew that if we got ourselves back into position we could always do it.
“Obviously when you are 14-3 down and they get another score then you wonder what’s going to happen. We were under the pump at that point but it just shows the heart that this team’s got that we managed to get ourselves out of that position and go up the other end of the field and score a try to get ourselves back in the game and then go in at half-time leading. We had a backs review meeting today and we agreed that that was by far the best attacking performance of this team, exploiting space and scoring six tries against an Irish team… it probably won’t happen very often!”
Scotland ran out 45-29 winners against Ireland, quite a turnaround from the Six Nations match when they lost 30-25 to the same side. The good news for Scottish fans is that this 29-man squad is a young team with McDowall reckoning that about half of them, especially in the forward pack, will be back next year and one player, breakaway Rory Darge, is eligible for the next two World Championships.
The bad news is that the Scots succumbed to an Italian driving maul: how often have we read that sentence? It seems to be the Scots’ Achilles’ heel and Georgia, if the senior team are anything to go by, will ask the same questions that Italy’s forwards did, especially after watching the match video.
“We did all the right things during the game just made a couple of wrong decisions near the end that ended up giving them the opportunity to win it,” says the centre who is presumably expecting the same, tight tactics from Georgia.
“Yeah, yeah,” says McDowall, “but I like to think that we have learned from the mistakes that we made against Italy.
“Ireland have a big strong forward pack as well but we dealt with them well, we held the scrums up well and they didn’t get a chance to get their maul going.”
With relegation out of the equation the young Scots can kick back a little today and show what they’ve got.
“This week was all about this team, we wanted to go out and show what we could do. We don’t want to be the team that just escaped relegation, we want to go out on a high.”