Under-20 TEAM: Young Scots out to show gulf with Ireland is closing

THE NEXT generation of Scottish talent pitches up in the heart of Ireland tonight bidding to emulate the achievements of a side that claimed victory on the same park six years ago.

The Scotland Under-20s take on Ireland at Athlone’s Dubarry Park still to register their first win of the shadow Six Nations Championship, while the hosts have three wins out of three and their sights set on a Grand Slam.

There is no doubt Ireland ares are favourites, as a result of a development system which sees all of the Irish youngsters in professional provincial academies and playing regular club rugby.

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Twevlve of the Scots are with amateur clubs and may have some SRU/sports institute back-up. Past results also reveal a gulf. Scotland won none of the seven encounters between the nations at under-19 level, won two in 15 meetings at under-21 level and have won one out of eight since that was switched to under-20s .

But the last game at under-21 level was also at Dubarry Park, the home of Buccaneers RFC, and resulted in the solitary, 24-21, away win.

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The Scotland team included John Barclay and Greig Laidlaw, who will play for the senior Scotland side in Dublin tomorrow, as well as David Blair, Sean Crombie, James King and Alan MacDonald, and a surprising number of players who never made it into the pro ranks.

Under-20s coach Peter Wright believes that his side has the ability to repeat that feat if they take confidence from the periods against France and Wales where they opened up a terrific attack.

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He said: “We showed with two tries against Wales and two against France how dangerous we can be as a team and, if we bring that same game to this encounter, then Ireland will struggle to cope with us, too.

“You saw against France at Netherdale two weeks ago, we have great talent and can really hurt teams. So we have spoken about getting the set-piece right, the scrum and the lineout, to give us that chance.”

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Ireland Under-20s, coached by former Wales national coach Mike Ruddock, opened with an 11-6 win at home against Wales, then claimed a 13-12 victory away to France and defeated Italy more comfortably, 27-8, at Dubarry Park last month. Ruddock has recalled scrum-half Luke McGrath, hooker James Rael back, Daniel Qualter in at lock and Aaron Conneely to the back row.

Wright added: “They are showing us respect by putting their strongest possible team out, and so it will be a great challenge.”