John Dalziel has faith his history-making Scotland Under-20 side can take the next step and stay on course for an unprecedented semi-final in the World Under-20 Championship by beating England a for a second time in five months.
The young Scots had never beaten England at Under-20 level until their historic 24-6 victory at Broadwood in February, and head coach Dalziel’s young squad have followed that up with another first, beating the young Wallabies 15-10 in their opening pool game in the world championships in Manchester.
Dalziel has made several changes in his team to face England but most are by design than by force, as he preaches a squad mentality.
The losses of Hawick flier Darcy Graham, scorer of the key try against Australia, and centre Rory Hutchison for the remainder of the tournament are significant blows, but the rest of the changes were pre-planned.
It was always the intention to rest Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson for the second game and probably also stand-off Adam Hastings, who is out anyway after a head knock, as Dalziel tries to nurse his young squad through a crunched schedule and only four days turnaround from the supreme effort against the Wallabies.
“I back this group,” said Dalziel, the former Melrose stalwart. “Yes, we’ve got a couple of injuries now, but I’m confident this is the right team and that these guys will step up to the mark, and they are fresh because we are bringing six or seven guys in.
“Some guys who had been starting for us all year found themselves on the bench against Australia for the first time and they are coming back in to take responsibility. We are going to go in there with a bit of impetus.”
Some of those returnees were kept back to be fresh for the second game, like Harlequins wing Robbie Nairn. While Fagerson is absent, Dalziel will bring Edinburgh teenager Blair Kinghorn forward to stand-off and Jamie Ritchie, the former Howe of Fife and Strathallan back rower who has also played for the capital club regularly this season, will also play.
Ritchie and Kinghorn were held out of much of the Junior Six Nations in controversial fashion but all that’s done is build a squad mentality, adds Dalziel.
“We were frustrated by that a little bit, but it’s never really been about personnel,” he said. “In that first game against England we had a great performance, but I thought we were equally good down in Wales (where they lost to a last minute penalty) but we beat ourselves in the end.
“Blair has been playing 15 at Edinburgh as part of his development, but he has been a 10 his whole life. He is a very, very accomplished player and he has a great armoury of kicks.”
And there is scope for great improvement against England, the coach believes.
“We beat Australia for the first time ever, but this team really expects to be competing with those sides,” he said. “I felt we actually made it hard for ourselves at times because there were five or six opportunities against Australia but we didn’t take.
“We’ve got to be honest enough to know that we need to play better, especially playing against 14 men for 30 minutes. We need to control things better, but that win has given us a real focus into what we are looking for.”
Scotland Under-20 (vs England, World U-20 Championship, Manchester): Ben Robbins (Currie); Robbie Nairn (Harlequins), Tom Galbraith (Melrose), George Taylor (Melrose), Cameron Gray (Currie); Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby), Hugh Fraser (Heriot’s); Dan Ekington (Melrose), Jake Kerr (Boroughmuir), Callum Sheldon (Leeds Beckett University); Callum Hunter-Hill (Stirling County), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors, capt); Scott Burnside (Boroughmuir), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby), Ally Miller (Melrose).
Replacements: Lewis Anderson (Ayr), George Thornton (Bishop Burton College), Murray McCallum (Heriot’s), Andrew Davidson (Newcastle Falcons), Matt Smith (Glasgow Hawks), Charlie Shiel (Currie), Matt McPhillips (Currie), Reuben Norville (Hartpury College).