WR U20 Championship review: The backs

Scotland’s backs suffered early blows in the World Rugby u20 Championship with Rory Hutchinson and Darcy Graham both departing the tournament after the opening fixture and George Taylor only featuring twice. Despite this the side were still able to match their best ever finish – which helps supports the contention that there is more depth at this level than there has been at any stage since the under 20 age grade was introduced. Here’s OTOTM’s guide who stood out among the backs who saw game time in the competition.

Appearances – most minutes:

  1. Tom Galbraith – 371 (5 starts)
  2. Ben Robbins – 355 (4 starts, 1 sub)
  3. Hugh Fraser – 321 (4 starts, 1 sub)
  4. Adam Hastings – 307 (4 starts)
  5. Blair Kinghorn – 290 (4 starts)

John Dalziel’s options for rest and rotation were largely dictated by injuries and who was available. Galbraith, Robbins, Fraser and backup scrum half Charlie Shiel were the only backs to play in all 5 matches in the tournament with Hastings and Galbraith the only ones to start both the opening game against Australia and the final fixture versus Wales.

Scotland deployed 15 different players in the backline during the Championship (the equivalent number was 19 for the forwards) giving a broad group of players some valuable exposure to tournament play and the standard of their contemporaries from around the world.

Attack – top carriers:

  1. Adam Hastings – 11.5 carries per 80 minutes
  2. Matt McPhillips – 7.8
  3. Charlie Shiel – 7.6
  4. Ben Robbins – 6.5
  5. Robbie Nairn – 5.6

A lot of responsibility was piled on the shoulders of Adam Hastings and, as can be seen from the amount of work he took on, he certainly did not shirk it. He made more ground per game (72 metres) than anyone bar Robbie Nairn (82m) and was the young Scots’ top man for Clean Breaks (8 in total), Defenders Beaten (19) and Offloads (4). On the flip side he did turn over the ball 10 times during the tournament (a recurring problem throughout the side) but as he gains experience he’s likely to improve his decision-making on when and when not to break which should help reduce occasions when he’s isolated from his team-mates or is forced to make a difficult pass.

Matt McPhillips, who made his u20s debut during the Championship, was the side’s midfield workhorse, trucking the ball up for short yardage gains while Ben Robbins and Robbie Nairn provided the explosiveness out wide, combining for 9 Clean Breaks and 17 Defenders Beaten. Both wingers demonstrated many of the physical attributes required to be successful but the test now will be to see if they can add either the power or the elusiveness required in order to break through at pro level.

Defence – top tacklers:

  1. George Taylor – 14.1 tackles per 80 minutes
  2. Adam Hastings – 11.7
  3. Tom Galbraith – 10.8
  4. Matt McPhillips – 10.2
  5. Charlie Shiel – 9.3

There is a pretty substantial variation in the success rate of those who made the most tackles. Adam Hastings missed 13 (out of 45) across the tournament for a 71% completion ratio – something that would probably need to improve or he will find himself having to be protected/hidden in defensive alignments if he continues at 10. Charlie Shiel was also down in the 70s (with 73%), although given the lower number of tackles normally made by scrum halves this is may be less of a risk.

Tom Galbraith and George Taylor put up similar numbers to each other in the centres with 86% and 87%. The undoubted standout on this stat though was Matt McPhillips who only missed 1 tackle in 4 appearances for a 97% success rate. As a point of comparison that’s the kind consistency that’s rarely seen in Scottish backs with only Richie Vernon and Sean Lamont likely to put up that kind of number in the pro game. If young Matt can make the (admittedly very large) step up to the pro level and still bring that sort of defensive solidity he will be a very valuable addition.


Check out this article for some analysis of Scotland’s forwards.


Note that only players with a minimum of 80 minutes played are included. Carries and tackles are calculated by dividing number of tackles/carries by number of minutes played and multiplied by 80.
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