BRYAN REDPATH has urged his Scotland Under-20s side to embrace the pressure they are under and come out all guns blazing as they look to pick up their first win of this year’s World Rugby U20 Championship campaign against Ireland tomorrow afternoon.
Having lost their three pool matches against Italy, Argentina and England, the young Scots know that a defeat in their first knock-out match will lead to a relegation showdown against either Japan or Georgia. Scotland have never before dropped out of the top-tier Championship competition during its 11-year existence, and to do so now would seriously undermine the age-grade side’s ability to be a useful stepping-stone on the player development pathway. It would mean they have to compete in the significantly inferior second-level U20 Trophy next summer.
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There are 10 personnel changes and two positional adjustments to the starting team which ran out against England last Thursday, with former rugby league prospect Callum McLelland getting the nod at stand-off ahead of Glasgow Hawks’ prospect Ross Thompson.
“Charlie Chapman at scrum-half is doing the goal-kicking and he’s pretty good kicking from hand as well, so that allows us to focus purely on who is best at picking the right options at stand-off,” explained Redpath.
“Callum is a threat going to the line whereas Ross is maybe a bit more of a conventional, old-school ten who sits back in the pocket a little bit. We’ve got to go out there and win the game, we can’t sit back and soak up pressure all the time. We’ve gone with what we believe will get the best out of Stafford McDowall and Cammy Hutchison in the centre.
“We knew that the first, second and fourth games were going to be massive for us,” he continued. “So, while we took the England game really seriously, we had that in mind in our selection for that match, and there are a lot of fresh boys coming back in for this game, plus some boys have put their hand up to command a starting spot.
“It is the side which we think, over the three games so far, has played the best and brings the best balance.”
With so much as stake, Redpath acknowledges that nerves are going to be a factor, but he thinks that can be a positive thing if the players can harness their emotions to pull out a big performance.
“There is nothing new needing introduced, we just have to execute under pressure a little better and hopefully take our chances,” he said.
“There was a couple of decisions in the Italy game around the 78-minute mark which we got wrong – it was a little bit naïve to run that scrum free-kick and get stripped of the ball so that we ended up under pressure at the wrong end of the pitch. Then, against Argentina, we were in the game at half-time having been very smart with how we played against 14-men, but again we seemed to switch off at key times with a big kick-chase and a try when they were allowed to walk through the line-out.
“Even against England, we had an opportunity at 17-10 but unfortunately Ross Thompson kicked it out on the full, then, lo-and-behold, they get a turnover, then get a set-piece line-out, and the winger scores in the right-hand corner – and all of a sudden, we are chasing the game.
“So, it is little things we are getting wrong, which at this level you don’t get a chance to recover from, and that part of it is a big learning curve for the players. You can show them a few key things, but when they have to act and react under pressure, we are not doing that quickly enough. We are fixing one thing, but then making another mistake – and paying the price.
“We’ve spoken about it. I have certainly mentioned it because some of the learning has to be very honest now. We haven’t actually picked up some of the stuff we should have picked up by now, or we are fixing one thing and suddenly becoming poor in another thing, so we have to realise where that has left us – and everyone has to take responsibility, coaches included.
“We’ve got two massive games left. Not many people would have expected Ireland to be in the same situation, but here they are. So, it is going to be a tough game, we know they are not a bad side … but neither are we. It is going to come down to who plays best on the day.
“It is probably going to be rainy so if there is a bit of wetness around then we are going to have to be smart as well as passionate. We can’t hide or shy away from where we are – we are in this situation, I believe, because we didn’t take our opportunities, and not because of what the opposition did.”
Scotland paid the price for a slow start when losing 3-25 in Dublin during the U20 Six Nations, and then lost heavily to Ireland [14-52] in a warm-up match for this tournament on the back-pitches at Murrayfield four weeks ago. Redpath wasn’t involved in the first of those games, and he says he doesn’t really see much value of the second encounter as a barometer of his team’s prospects.
“We didn’t have the exile-based players and we had four lads missing for exams that day,” the coach explains. “It is about the here and now. You can’t look at the external parts – you can train like an absolute monster but if you don’t turn up on the day then it doesn’t matter at all.”
“We obviously know them well after facing them in the Six Nations. They’re a tough, direct side who we pushed all the way in Donnybrook three-months-ago. The boys know how intense the clash will be and we’ll have to match their intensity from the get go.
“The boys have trained well in the run up to the game. They’ve been positive and I’ve been really impressed with their mindset. We’ve chosen a strong, experienced side who we believe have the talent and attitude to get a positive result.”
Scotland Under-20s team to play Ireland at Stade Aime-Giral in Perpignan, kick-off 4pm GMT (4pm local time) – streamed live on worldrugby.org –
15. Paddy Dewhirst (Ayr)
14. Logan Trotter (Stirling County)
13. Cameron Hutchison (Currie Chieftains)
12. Stafford McDowall (Ayr) CAPTAIN
11. Kyle Rowe (Glasgow Hawks)
10. Callum McLelland (Edinburgh)
9. Charlie Chapman (Gloucester)
1. Sam Grahamslaw (Leicester Tigers)
2. Robbie Smith (Ayr)
3. Finlay Richardson (Edinburgh Accies)
4. Jamie Hodgson (Watsonians)
5. Marshall Sykes (St Joseph’s College)
6. Martin Hughes (Heriot’s)
7. Rory Darge (Melrose)
8. Devante Onojaife (Northampton Saints)
16. Finlay Scott (Jed-Forest)
17. Ross Dunbar (Boroughmuir)
18. Murphy Walker (Strathallan School)
19. Charlie Jupp (Heriot’s)
20. Guy Graham (Newcastle Falcons)
21. Charlie Gowling (Stade Francais)
22. Ross Thompson (Glasgow Hawks)
23. Fraser Strachan (Northampton Saints)