A NINTH-place finish at the recent IRB Junior World Championship in Capetown may not have had Scottish rugby fans dancing in the streets of Hawick, but beneath the raw statistic of final ranking order is a list of hugely impressive achievements that made the tournament a memorable one for the Scots.
So often accused, at all levels, of failing to score tries, Scotland’s under-20 squad answered the critics in the best possible way by topping the team try-scoring list with 21 touchdowns over five rounds.
“When do you see any Scottish team scoring as many tries as this?” asked Scotland attack coach, Bryan Easson, whose rugby roots are planted firmly in the Borders.
Moreover, the leading individual try-scorer in the tournament was Scotland winger, Jamie Farndale, the 18-year-old Edinburgh Accies wing, who will be eligible to play in the Junior World Championship for a further two years.
Additionally, stand-off and skipper, Harry Leonard was second to Wales’ Tom Prydie, in the table of points scorers.
Yet it all looked dire for Scotland when they lost their opening match 67-12 to Australia, only for the Scots to regain composure against France, losing 29-30, and against Argentina in their 17-12 defeat.
Scotland then demolished Italy and Samoa to finish with the feeling of a job well done. “Unfortunately the only Scotland game that was televised was the opener against Australia,” said Easson, adding: “We then played very well against France and Argentina, but that was not seen at home.”
The ninth-place finish equals the ranking the Scots achieved in 2009, but the 2012 set of performances, apart from the Australia game, is far ahead of three years ago, and suggests that they are beginning to move along the right tracks in age-grade rugby.
But you only have to look at the successful teams to realise that unless a squad has a high number of players with experience of professional rugby, whether it be the RaboDirect Pro12, the Aviva Premiership, the Super 15 or the IRB World Sevens Series, then it will not be able to compete at this level.
The Scotland squad did have professional players, such as half backs Leonard and Murray McConnell, former Langholm prop Robin Hislop, centre Mark Bennett, back rowers Mitch Eadie and Will Bordill, and sevens exponents Jamie Farndale and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, but not enough with front line experience.
But despite a shortage of professional experience – which showed palpably in the game against Australia – Scotland’s players learned on the hoof and competed strongly after round one. “To come within a point of France and five points of Argentina – who finished in the top four – was immense. You have to give credit to the boys,” suggested Easson.
The attack coach picked out a number of unsung heroes, who included Gala’s Gary Graham.
He said: “Gary’s work-rate was huge. We played him in the middle row and that worked well for us.”
The other Border players involved were Edinburgh’s Robin Hislop, Jed-Forest’s Andrew Nagle and former Melrose prop Gavin Robertson.
Results: Australia 67 Scotland 12; France 30 Scotland 29; Argentina 17 Scotland 12; Scotland 34 Italy 17; Scotland 62 Samoa 12.