CARL HOGG says he is confident that his side will not suffer from an emotional or psychological hangover after their last-gasp defeat to Georgia last Wednesday, when they take on Italy in tomorrow’s World Rugby U20 Championship 9th to 12th place play-off semi-final clash in Rosario (Argentina).
Scotland led from the fourth to the 76th minute against Georgia, but then gave away a soft try from an overthrown line-out which cost them the win. Even if they had come out on top in that game, they would still have ended up in this bottom run of play-off matches, so it was not a cataclysmic result in terms of the standings – but there is no doubt that in terms of morale going into their two final games, the team would much rather be sitting on a record of one win and two losses rather than three straight defeats.
“It was very frustrating in what was always going to be a pivotal game,” said Hogg. “We just didn’t execute and made far too many errors to let Georgia into the game.
“So, that was disappointing after two reasonably good performances against South Africa and New Zealand, but we have to move on quickly as we have a big test against Italy on Monday.”
“We had a day off on Thursday just to refresh the minds and came back into work ready to go on Friday. Any game at this level is a challenge, but it is one we are looking forward to. I think we prepared particularly well on Saturday, and in the captain’s run on Sunday morning.”
Unlike in their three previous games in this tournament, Scotland have real-life experience of what to expect against Italy, having already played them this season in the Six Nations, and although they lost that match, Hogg says his boys believe that they have nothing to fear.
“They’ve got a big forward pack, they have some very strong, powerful athletes so we will have to defend very well, and they are a line-speed defence that creates a different challenge for us,” he explained. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t try to play around it straight away, we’ve got to go and engage that defence and then play fast on that edge.”
While there is absolutely no doubt that Scotland have improved considerably since that last time they met Italy at Netherdale in round one of the Six Nations at the start of February, Italy have also been on an upward trajectory.
“If I’m honest, they were unlucky not to beat England last week,” acknowledges Hogg. “They had some chances at the tail-end of that match where they could have come away with the result. They are a nation, at this level, who will get better and better every year.
“They’ve got some good players – their No 8 Antoine Koffi is a good player, as are their nine and ten, and their full-back – so they’ve got a spine of a team who know how to put them in good areas and make very sensible decisions.
“So, it is going to be a tough challenge on Monday, but we know we can step up. We’re very frustrated and disappointed with last Wednesday against Georgia, but we were architects of our own downfall in that match because we made too many mistakes. Now, we know we can rectify that, if we get the simple things done well then we’ve got enough talent in the team to go and get a result. But we’ve got to make sure that we focus on the simple things consistently over the 80-minutes.”
Hogg has moved Rory McMichael to outside centre and selected Lomond MacPherson on the wing. Meanwhile, Robbie McCallum – who was a star of the side during the Six Nations and has impressed whenever he has got a chance during this tournament – takes over from the concussed Grant Hughes at inside-centre.
“Lomond is a big, strong winger – he’ll be 6ft 2ins or 6ft 3ins and can break that first line of defence, so we think that fits well with the challenge, along with Jack Blain on the other wing, who is also big physical winger,” explained Hogg. “Rory McMichael is a big physical presence, and Robbie McCallum breaks the line in a different way by playing flat with good feet. We think it is a team that can go and challenge that Italian defensive line.”
The only other change is the shifting of Wasps Academy prospect Cameron Anderson from outside centre to full-back in place of Matt Davidson.
“He’s played there in the last four or five ‘A’ games towards the end of last season, so I spoke to a contact down at the Wasps Academy, Jon Pendlebury, and he said that Cammy had gone particularly well at full-back, so we are looking for that directness in midfield with Cammy as a very good footballer at the back – he has a good right foot and he might get more time and space.”
Scotland U20 team (versus Italy U20 at Club Old Resian, Rosario in the World Rugby U20 Championship 9th place semi-final on Monday 17 June – kick-off 2.30pm BST, 10.30am local time): Cameron Anderson (Wasps); Lomond MacPherson (Watsonians), Rory McMichael (Heriot’s), Robbie McCallum (Complutense Cisneros), Jack Blain (Heriot’s); Ross Thompson (Glasgow Hawks), Roan Frostwick (Currie Chieftains); Murphy Walker (Stirling County), Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Euan McLaren (Ayr), Ewan Johnson (Racing 92), Cameron Henderson (Stirling County), Marshall Sykes (Ayr), Connor Boyle (Watsonians), Tom Marshall (Newcastle Falcons)
Replacements: Rory Jackson (Edinburgh Academy), Andrew Nimmo (Glasgow Hawks), Will Hurd (Cardiff Metropolitan University), Mak Wilson (Melrose), Ross Bundy (Stirling County), Jack Hill (Durham University), Kwagga van Niekerk (Lions), Murray Scott (Watsonians), Teddy Leatherbarrow (Sale Sharks), Nathan Chamberlain (Bristol Bears), Ollie Smith (Ayr), Matt Davidson (London Scottish).