After a mere 112 years, Scotland are finally on a roll against New Zealand and the Under-20s get the opportunity next Wednesday to keep it going in their World Rugby Under-20 Championship opener in Georgia.
The national sevens side’s victory over the All Blacks in the quarter-final of their thrilling defence of the London title at Twickenham on Sunday was the first time a Scottish team had beaten the Kiwi superpowers at any level of the game and the Baby Blacks provide the testing opposition for the youngsters’ Pool B opener in Kutaisi.
John Dalziel’s squad have been placed in a difficult group that also includes Ireland and Italy but head for eastern Europe hopeful of bettering their best-ever eighth-place finish in a junior World Cup.
“We’re hungry and we’re up for it, really up for it,” said Under-20 skipper Callum Hunter-Hill. “We can take confidence from beating Australia last year, but we take confidence from everything we do. Most training sessions are good. We are up for it and confident.”
The 20-year-old Stirling County lock forward, who joins Edinburgh on a professional deal next season, will lead a fairly raw squad into the tournament. Age-grade sides tend to go in cycles and last year’s side, which notched that historic opening win over the junior Wallabies in Manchester before injuries took their toll in what is a notoriously gruelling summer campaign, boasted far more players with previous experience of the event.
Five games in three weeks in temperatures expected to rise to the 30s will test the young 28-man squad to its limit “It was gruelling enough in Manchester last year, so even for the guys who played then it will be a big test to play in heat 34, 35 degrees out there,” said Hunter-Hill. “It will really take a toll getting into the fourth and fifth games. It will be tough.”
After recording an impressive three wins in the 2016 junior Six Nations, the Under-20s dropped back to just one this year, including a 20-19 loss at home to their second pool opponents next month Ireland and a hugely-disappointing 65-34 hammering at home to Wales.
“We were a bit disappointed with our Six Nations performances,” admitted Hunter-Hill, who grew up in Gullane and was educated at North Berwick High School and Stewart’s Melville.
“There were a few games there where we could have got much better results – Ireland definitely. We’ve got them in the World Cup, so we want to right a few wrongs there,” said Hunter-Hill.
“We had a good game against Italy, a good performance, so we can take a lot into the World Cup.”
That Wales hiding still stings, admitted the second row. “It was a big wake-up call,” he said. “We needed it – that kick up the backside – to show us where we actually are and what we need to be doing to compete at a really high level.”