THERE were mixed emotions amongst the Scotland Under-20s squad after their 43-19 defeat to South Africa in their Junior World Championship opener this afternoon. Cameron Anderson nipped over on the right and Ross Thompson nailed the conversion in the 62nd minute to make it a three-point game, but Carl Hogg’s side then failed to deal with the restart and South Africa recaptured the initiative to score three tries before the end.
“I’m proud of way we stuck in as a team, but it is pretty frustrating, to be honest,” said loose-head prop Murphy Walker. “We had momentum after scoring, so I think we should have capitalised – but a couple of mistakes let them back in it.”
Walker is one of only four players in the squad who were involved in last year’s tournament in France and recognises that a lack of rugby at this level could have been a factor in the team falling away during the final quarter. The big difference, he reckons, is not fitness but getting used to the fact that that mistakes are far more ruthlessly punished against opposition of the calibre of the ‘Baby Boks’.
“You don’t get used to playing at this level at the younger age-grades or even in the Premiership, so it is really up to the older boys to pass on the knowledge of what we did last year so that we are ready for whatever comes at us,” reflected the man who did a pretty good job of setting an example by crashing over for the first of Scotland’s three tries midway through the first half. “I think in terms of speed and physicality it was as step-up from the Six Nations, especially playing on a very fast 3G pitch.”
But there is no time for Scotland to sit back and digest what they learned in this tournament opener, they need to take it all in their stride, because the might of New Zealand will provide the next challenge for the young Scots on Saturday evening.
“It is not an easy opposition to come up against in four days’ time,” conceded Walker. “What we briefly discussed at the end of the game was our conversion rate – when we get in that gold zone of their 22, we need to finish off our hard work. Also, our exits need to be better because there was one exit in that game that arguably cost us the match.
“But a lot of confidence can be taken from our overall performance. If you look at the first 60-minutes, how well we managed the game at half-back and how well we stuck to our game-plan, I think it really shows that we have bought into the cause. I think we showed that if we play well then we can beat teams, and I’m sure New Zealand will have taken notice. So, we need to play the full 80 like we did the first 60 here.
Tough battle at the pit-face
Walker and his fellow tight-forwards were under real pressure at scrum-time, being pushed off the ball on a number of occasions and also conceding a handful of penalties.
“It was tough, we knew it was going to be,” he said. “We dealt with their line-out and maul pretty well, but the scrum was hard at times. For the majority of the game, it was alright but there was a couple of scrums when they got on top of us. We know it is not going to get any easier against New Zealand, and especially against Georgia in that third game.”
The Stirling County man was shifted from tight-head to loose-head during the Six Nations after Sam Grahamslaw picked up a back injury, which gives an indication of how shallow the pool is in Scotland when it comes to props – but Walker reckons that his back-up inside the squad can add real value to the team when they get a run-out, which is pretty handy given the huge workload these boys face in playing five games inside a 22 day window.
“Andrew Nimmo has played for Biggar and Glasgow Hawks this season, he’s a good scrummager, in defence he is a great chop tackler, and is well respected by the boys. Will Hurd is a university boy from Cardiff Met and he’s a big lad, a good scrummager and a good carrier when he gets his hands on the ball. They are good lads to have coming off the bench when things are getting tough.”
Not that Walker has any plans of stepping aside so that they can start against New Zealand.
“Some boys have picked up knocks but I’m fine. I could maybe do with a longer lie in tomorrow morning, but I should be good to go,” he insisted. “The coaches and physios know what they need to do to keep the boys going in back-to-back games. We’ve got our schedule laid out recovery-wise, so I think we’ll be fine.
“We haven’t had a massive amount of time to look at New Zealand because the primary focus has been South Africa, but we know they’ve got a big threat out wide – especially with Etene Nanai-Seturo and the back three. They’re not got as big a pack as in recent years, but they will be a really well drilled unit, obviously.”