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Scotland U20s bid to avoid first Tier 1 relegation since 2012

By Alex Shaw
Players of Georgia celebrate after winning a Pool C match between Georgia U20 and Scotland U20 as part of World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 at Racecourse Stadium. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

It’s been a tough season for Scotland U20s and their latest loss, 26-19 to Italy in Rosario on Monday, has seen it taken a worrying new turn.


The loss has forced Scotland into the upcoming relegation playoff on Saturday, when they will go head-to-head with Fiji, who were on the wrong end of last-minute try in their 12-8 loss to Georgia.

It is not entirely unexpected, with Scotland losing four of their five U20 Six Nations games, their sole win coming against Wales at Meggetland, whilst they have followed that up with four straight losses in Argentina at the World Rugby U20 Championship, including a 17-12 loss to Georgia in the pool stage.

Sandwiched in between those two tournaments was a morale-boosting win over Old Glory DC, an expansion team for Major League Rugby that the Scottish Rugby Union have invested in. With all due respect to the Washington DC-based side, they are a considerable way off the level of the international age-grade sides that Scotland have had to face this year.

There were moments of optimism in Scotland’s loss to 52-33 loss to New Zealand on matchday two of the U20 Championship, but they were relatively isolated moments of composure and chemistry, wedged in between a heavy loss to South Africa and a disappointing performance against Georgia, with the Junior Lelos equally failing to live up to their potential during those 80 minutes.

The outcome is that Scotland are at risk of being the first Tier 1 nation to be relegated from the Championship since Italy were back in 2012. Since then, Italy (three times), Argentina and Ireland have all had to face the relegation playoff, but they were all successful in their bids to avoid the drop to the World Rugby U20 Trophy. In their places, the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Japan have bounced back and forth between the two competitions.

The only thing that could guarantee Scotland’s place in next year’s tournament going into the game on Saturday would be if the nation were to host the competition in 2020, with hosts always automatically qualifying. That prospect aside, Scotland are likely to be fiercely tested in Rosario.


Individual standouts so far for Scotland, such as captain Connor Boyle, wing Jack Blain, centre Robbie McCallum and back rower Tom Marshall, will all have to stand up, as Fiji have shown themselves to be no pushover this season. They were competitive against Australia, this year’s finalists, in the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship, and they ran Georgia close on Monday, as well as having their moments against France and Wales.

This is a Fijian side who can hold their own in scrums, have a functioning lineout and their defence is better conditioned and disciplined than many of the previous groups the nation has sent to the Championship. Ilaisa Droasese, Epeli Momo and Osea Waqa have the ability to open up the Scottish defence in open play, too, so Carl Hogg’s side will need to be sharp defensively.

Scotland will be buoyed by their two late tries against Italy, although they have yet to put together an 80-minute performance this season, something which Fiji will be hoping doesn’t change on Saturday.

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