Stafford McDowall honoured to skipper young Scots

While not quite on a par with the fabled Jedburgh scrum-half factory which has gifted Scotland with the talents of Roy Laidlaw, Gary Armstrong and Greig Laidlaw down the years, a more untapped part of the country could be about to deliver another midfield star.

Stafford McDowall will captain Scotland U20s at the World Championships. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Dumfries & Galloway is far from a rugby backwater yet, equally, wouldn’t be described as a hotbed, but in the burly shape of young centre Stafford McDowall the south-west has another prospect to follow in the bootsteps of Nick de Luca and Alex Dunbar.

The 20-year-old product of Stewartry RFC hails from Dundrennan, a Kirkcudbrightshire village of just 200 people which was put on the map by the nearby and now defunct Wickerman music festival which was held annually until a few years ago.

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McDowall, who has been playing for Ayr and made his Glasgow Warriors breakthrough with a Guinness Pro14 debut against Southern Kings at the end of the year, is now looking forward to ending his time in the junior ranks on a high as he leads the young Scots into the World Under-20 Championship, which gets under way in the south of France today.

Under-20s coach Bryan Redpath has handed McDowall the captaincy for the tournament, replacing Six Nations skipper Robbie Smith, and he will lead the team out in this evening’s opener against Italy in Béziers.

“It is a massive honour,” said McDowall. “But I’ve got a great group of boys around me and although it is a young squad there is a core of experienced boys.

“Robbie was captain during the Six Nations and was at the World Championship last year while Cammy Hutchison has played a bit before his injury.

“I hope the fact that I was there [at the World Championship] last year will help me, using my age-grade experience
to help the other guys.”

Scotland finished a best-ever fifth in Georgia last year and Redpath has named a fairly settled side for his first competitive match in his short-term stint as coach.

There are just three changes to the starting line-up which lost to the Italians in the closing weekend of a junior Six Nations campaign which yielded a solitary win against England.

Hutchison partners McDowall in the centre, while hooker Finlay Scott and prop Ross Dunbar also come in. Six Nations captain Smith starts on the bench.

“Robbie has only played a half of rugby since getting injured against Ireland during the Six Nations,” explained Redpath. “He got some game time in our warm-up match last week and he did well, but I just felt he is still short of match fitness and Finlay has come into the squad and trained really well to earn this chance to start.

“Robbie is still an important part of the squad and he’ll get significant game time against Italy and we’ll take it from there with regard to selection for the Argentina game.

“I’ve had positive discussions with him and I still see him and putting himself to be first-choice hooker, but ultimately we’ve got to pick the team which is best prepared to go into this game.”

The Scots face three pool games in just over a week and Redpath knows squad management will be one of his biggest tests.

“We’ve got Argentina next Sunday and then England after that [7 June],” said the former Scotland scrum-half and captain. “The big focus when I came in was the first game against Italy.

“Players had to train to give themselves a chance of being in that team, but everyone in the squad will get game time somewhere along the line, so I told them to make sure they prepared well for game one and if they didn’t get picked the had to be prepared for game two and three.

“The big thing for us was to focus on Italy and make sure we got all the players on the same page for Italy. We will pick up knocks and bumps, but the key part is that it’s a 28 man squad but we have to focus on that.”

McDowall, meanwhile, is just hoping that a dream year so far continues to produce great rugby memories. He said: “In the last 12 months things have gone by like a flash.

“I came into the World Championship last year and managed to get a stage three [BT Academy] contract off the back of it.

“Training with Glasgow this season, I have loved every minute of it. I am just trying to learn as much as possible. I am still young.

“It just hit me that my under-20 career is coming to an end in four weeks, I want to make the most of it and be able to go out with a bang alongside this group of lads.”

McDowall is expecting the Redpath-coached youngsters to play differently with the southern French sun on their backs and believes an Italy side he describes as “physical” will encounter a different Scotland team to the one they defeated 45-31 in Rome two-and-a-half months ago .

“I think in a way a lot of the stuff we were doing with Stevie [Scott] has been stripped down a wee bit and been simplified,” said McDowall.

“We are trying to do five things well now rather than perhaps juggling 15 things.

“The lack of time has made it a bit difficult, but everyone knows the gameplan.

“We backs want to see a bit more of the ball, we have a 
lot more to offer and we want to step up more in this