THE Under-20s Six Nations always feels a bit like a step into the unknown and that is particularly the case this year given that Covid has put a halt to all competitive rugby in Scotland below full-time professional level since last March. However, Sean Lineen says he is confident that the class of 2021 can emulate the 2020 cohort by being competitive in every match and picking up a few wins along the way. 

The age-grade side’s head coach yesterday named a 32-man squad for this year’s Championship – which has been pushed back in the calendar (it is now kicking off on 19th June) and reformatted (all five rounds of matches to be played at Cardiff Arms Park inside a 24-day window) due to Covid – and insisted that what the players lack in experience they make up for in ability and attitude. 

“It's been really hard in terms of getting the players together first of all, but we are in a fortunate position in that the players know they are privileged to be able to get away for a while and play some rugby,” said Lineen. “We had two camps in April and two in May, and we’ve had a couple of internal games to give the guys game time and try to get them used to contact. 

“One thing I've noticed with this group is that they are full of energy. They want to get back and play rugby. It's really encouraging to see them running around and really smacking into each other. We had to hold them back a bit in the games. I'm really impressed by the players and the energy they have brought.” 

Lineen also revealed that his side have played two training games against England, and he was encouraged by what he witnessed. “They [England] have had much more of an expansive build-up then we have, but our guys really performed well, and in both games there was just one score in it in the first half,” he explained. “So, we have a really energetic and combative bunch, and we're just looking at combinations to see how we go.” 

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Alex Samuel will captain the side. The 6ft 9ins second-row hails from St Andrews in Fife and is now a full-time member of the Glasgow Warriors Academy. He is one of 17 players in the squad young enough to play at this level again next year, but already has the experience of training full-time with the senior Scotland side during their Six Nations campaign in February and March. 

“He’s a top young man,” said Lineen. “I’ve been really impressed with his attitude. I’m not going to pump is tyres up too much, but we’ve got a really good [second-row] partnership there with him and young Max Williamson. Both these lads have another year at under-20s level and this is a really good opportunity to shape them both. They are both on senior academy contracts with Glasgow already and I know Danny Wilson has been impressed by both of them.” 

In total, 13 members of the squad are on stage three academy contracts, which means they have trained full-time with Scotland’s pro teams this season. That includes 18-year-old hooker Patrick Harrison and 19-year-old back-row Ben Muncaster, who have both had game time with Edinburgh in recent months.  

It is unfortunate that tight-head prop Dan Gamble (neck) and inside-centre Matt Currie (hamstring) have both been ruled out by injury given that they could also have brought the experience of playing for Edinburgh earlier this season. Likewise, Gregor Brown, who was looking good for Glasgow until he injured his knee would have added real bite to the back-row, and Lineen suggested that scrum-half Jamie Dobie – who has already played 19 games for Warriors having signed for the Scotstoun outfit straight out of school in the summer of 2019 – might have been involved in the early part of the tournament were he not injured (he will now go straight into the senior Scotland squad for their summer schedule when fit again). 

“There’s five or six really good young players we won’t have because of injury, but that’s part and parcel of the game,” he shrugged. “It gives opportunities to some of the other youngsters to step forward.” 

Meanwhile, stand-off Christian Townsend and scrum-half Murray Redpath will have a fair idea of what the professional environment looks like given their family connections. 

“As you'd expect, they are very coachable and they know their rugby pretty well,” smiled Lineen. “Murray is a cheeky young lad, a bit like his dad, but he is clever and when he crosses the whitewash there is a real competitor there. Christian studies the game well, he has a lovely pass on him, and he has really grown into his role these last couple of months. He takes the ball to the line well. They are both a year young so they will both be in the under 20s next season as well.” 

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“During the last couple of months, we have been looking at combinations, but we’re certainly going down with an open mind, because there will be lads you aren’t sure about and then suddenly in a competitive environment they come to the fore, and others you think are nailed-on suddenly drift away,” he added. 

“So, for me, it is about just keeping a real open mind and making sure that we give everyone a chance, but also making sure that they understand this isn’t a school trip, this is international rugby, so some guys might not get much of an opportunity and when they do get that opportunity, they need to take it.”  

Scotland squad for U20 Six Nations: 

Forwards: Jamie Drummond (Ayrshire Bulls), Patrick Harrison (Southern Knights/Edinburgh Rugby), Duncan Hood (Heriot’s Blues), Tom Banatvala  (Durham University), Michael Jones (Boroughmuir Bears), Corey Bowker (Leeds Beckett University), George Breese (Stirling Wolves), Olly Frostick (Ealing Trailfinders), Cole Lamberton (Watsonians Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Samuel (Stirling County/Glasgow Warriors) CAPATIN, Max Williamson (Stirling County/Glasgow Warriors), Euan Ferrie (Glasgow Hawks), Harri Morris (Southern Knights), Rhys Tait (Southern Knights), Ollie Leatherbarrow (Exeter University), Rory Jackson (Ayrshire Bulls/Glasgow Warriors), Ben Muncaster (Watsonians Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby), Archie Smeaton (Cambridge University)

Backs: Ethan McVicker (Melrose Rugby), Murray Redpath (Newcastle University), Cameron Scott (Southern Knights/Edinburgh Rugby), Euan Cunningham (Stirling County/Glasgow Warriors), Christian Townsend (Ayrshire Bulls), Thomas Glendinning (Glasgow Hawks), Scott King (Heriot’s Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby), Michael Gray (Boroughmuir Bears/Glasgow Warriors), Elliot Gourlay (Sale Sharks), Finlay Callaghan (Ayrshire Bulls/Glasgow Warriors), Adam Scott (GHA), Ollie Melville (Boroughmuir Bears/Glasgow Warriors), Harry Paterson (Heriot’s Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby), Ross McKnight (Stirling County).