Scotland secured their second win from two games at the U18 6 Nations Festival against France on Wednesday, 24-21.
Scotland are now the only unbeaten side in the Festival, and they have achieved that in the hardest possible way, beating the two sides that most would have said going into the Festival were the strongest, England and France.
Scotland had beaten England 32-27 in the tournament opener, while France were 22-14 winners over the hosts, Wales, so both arrived at the Cardiff Arms Park full of confidence.
Already there had been a surprise as Italy had beaten England 32-20, meanwhile hosts Wales had won a high scoring game against Ireland, 36-28. These two focused on their own game though, and it was France that got off to the last start, scoring early on, taking a 10-0 lead in the opening period after a Tom Deleuze penalty and a try from Nathaniel Hulleu, converted by Deleuze.
However that was to be it for France in the first half, despite Scotland playing into a stiff breeze. The Scots came back into the game superbly, with Merchiston Castle full back Rufus McLean crossing the line to narrow the gap.
Dan Lancaster, in from the start after a great cameo off the bench against England on Saturday, landed the conversion to close things to 10-7. The Bishop Burton College man was one of five Scottish Exiles in the Scotland side, with Dulwich College’s Femi Sofolarin, Stowe’s Kristian Kay, Henley College’s Alex Pleasants, and Hymers College’s Archie Smeaton the others.
With the half drawing towards the close Lancaster then landed a penalty to level the game up at 10 each, before Stewart’s Melville College winger Jack Blain crossed the line for Scotland, adding to his brace against England in the opener.
Lancaster converted, sending Scotland in at half time with a 17-10 lead, a brilliant lead into the wind.
Scotland picked up where they left off when the second half started, scoring their third try of the game as McLean crossed for his second of the game. Lancaster converted, completing a personal haul of nine points, to give Scotland a 24-10 lead.
From there though they were on the back foot as this top class France U18 side came hammering back. It took a huge defensive effort from Scotland, with openside and captain Connor Boyle of Stewart’s Melville College to the fore.
Despite the defensive effort, France did cut through, scoring a pair of Deleuze penalties and a second try of the Festival from Jordan Joseph, but Scotland refused to buckle to the final score that would have seen France either draw level or win.
That defensive effort secured a brilliant win for Scotland, one that their Head Coach Iain Monaghan was rightly proud of. He was aware of the lessons that needed to be learned too though when speaking to www.scottishrugby.org after the game, saying:
“It was very windy, difficult conditions today and the boys tactically played that really well in the first-half into the wind and that probably set them up for the second-half. In the second-half a lot more pressure came on them and they didn’t lose sight of the objective and game plan in the second-half and defended well towards the end to secure the win.”
“We made 11 changes today and the focus over the two games and the warm-ups was to play most of the players, so it now makes selection very difficult for Sunday’s game against Ireland. One of our key goals is to keep learning from the experiences we get and they are quite a tight bunch and the preparation has probably pulled them closer together.”
“We’ll approach Sunday’s game like all the others, we’ll do our homework on Ireland and have a real good look at ourselves and the boys will be pretty disappointed in their second-half performance and will be wanting to make amends for that on Sunday.”
It was a magnificent result for the young Scots, one that leaves them as the only unbeaten side in the Festival as they head in to Sunday’s final game against Ireland, a side that lost to France ahead of the Festival, 39-20.
France meanwhile take on England, whom they beat 27-5 in the opening game of the U18 International season.
Scotland U18 24-21 France U18
Scotland U18 XV:
15 Rufus McLean (Merchiston Castle), 14 Femi Sofolarin (Dulwich College/Harlequins), 13 Matthew Currie (Merchiston Castle), 12 Paul Cunningham (George Watson’s College), 11 Jack Blain (Stewart’s Melville College/Stewarts Melville RFC), 10 Dan Lancaster (Yorkshire Carnegie/Bishop Burton College), 9 Kristian Kay (Stowe/Wasps), 1 Thomas Jeffrey (Peebles), 2 Scott Clelland (Ayr), 3 Alex Pleasants (Henley College/Wasps), 4 Cameron Brown (Kelso), 5 Cameron Henderson (Strathallan), 6 Gavin Wilson (Dumfries Saints), 7 Connor Boyle (Stewart’s Melville College/Stewart’s Meville RFC, captain), 8 Archie Smeaton (Yorkshire Carnegie/Hymers College).
Replacements: 16 Rory Jackson (Edinburgh Academy), 17 Alex Maxwell (Brooksby Melton College/Leicester Tigers), 18 Daniel Gamble (Kelso/Merchiston Castle), 19 Tom Morris (Dollar Academy), 20 Jack Hill (Sedbergh), 21 Jamie Dobie (Merchiston Castle), 22 Nathan Chamberlain (Bristol/SGS Filton College), 23 Scott Robeson (George Heriot’s), 24 Rory Darge (Borders College/Melrose), 25 Robbie McCallum (Loretto), 26 Charlie Hudson (St Peter’s, York).
France U18 XV:
15 Dridi, 14 Bertschy, 13 Costosseque, 12 Espuet, 11 Hulleu, 10 Deleuze, 9 Viallard, 1 Baggiani, 2 Lachaud, 3 Ndiaye, 4 Bousquet, 5 Vanverberghe (captain), 6 Maravat, 7 May, 8 Hamonou.
Replacements: 16 Jutge, 17 Eglaine, 18 Warion, 19 Joseph, 20 Brosset, 21 Falatea- Moefana, 22 Dolhagaray, 23 Montagne, 24 Peysson, 25 Fusier, 26 Zabalza.
U18 6 Nations Festival Schedule: Saturday 31st March to Sunday 8th April
Matchday 1 – Saturday 31st March, Ystrad Mynach (Centre of Sporting Excellence)
Scotland U18 32-27 England U18
Wales U18 14-22 France U18
Ireland U18 20-17 Italy U18
Matchday 2 – Wednesday 4th April, Cardiff Arms Park
Italy U18 32-30 England U18
Ireland U18 28-36 Wales U18
France U18 21-24 Scotland U18
Matchday 3 – Sunday 8th April, Cardiff Arms Park
Ireland U18 v Scotland U18 – 12pm
Italy U18 v Wales U18 – 2.30pm
France U18 v England U18 – 5pm
Previous U18 results this season:
Scotland 30-32 Wales
Scotland 0-64 England
Wales 14-42 England
France 27-5 England
Ireland 20-39 France
Italy 18-5 France ‘B’
U18 6 Nations Festival – Unofficial Table