Scotland under 20s – a key pathway for full internationals

Since it became rugby’s premier international age grade in 2009, 45 players who have featured at under 20 level for Scotland have gone on to become full internationals in the dark blue jersey.

Starting with Richie Gray’s debut against France in 2010 through to Rory Hutchinson taking his bow versus Georgia in 2019, just under half of Scotland’s new caps have also pulled on the dark blue shirt for the under 20s.

This is a number that’s on an upwards trend as well. 58% of the players selected for Gregor Townsend’s squads during his three years in charge have been u20s graduates. 13 of the last 20 new caps (65%) have progressed through this pathway.

The earliest generation was the 2008 group who competed in the u20 Six Nations and the IRB Junior World Championship. The aforementioned Richie Gray along with Ruaridh Jackson, Lee Jones and Peter Horne would all go on to become full internationals.

The strongest years for the conveyor belt so far are 2015 and 2016 which have provided 9 Test-capped players (with some overlap for the likes of Blair Kinghorn who played in both year).

In terms of year of birth, so far 1990 has produced the most players who have progressed to full international status:

  • Tom Brown
  • David Denton
  • Alex Dunbar
  • Dougie Fife
  • Grant Gilchrist
  • Robert Harley
  • Stuart McInally
  • Matt Scott

1997 was a bit of a golden year though for Scottish age grade players and may surpass that tally of 8 in years to come. Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham have already established themselves as Scotland regulars. Charlie Shiel, Alex Craig, Luke Crosbie and Tom Gordon have been included in Gregor Townsend’s squad selections. Props tend to take longer to mature so the likes of Adam Nicol and George Thornton may well feature in future.

And what of the generations yet to hit the main Scotland team in a meaningful way yet? With 3 years still remaining before the next Rugby World Cup in France there are players in the most recent under 20s with the potential to push their way into contention for full caps. Winger Jack Blain has already made his PRO14 debut for Edinburgh. Back 3 players Ollie Smith and Rufus McLean look like a good fit for a Glasgow Warriors squad for whom the majority of players in these positions are the wrong side of 30. Nathan Chamberlain has made the move to Edinburgh and talented 10s are worth their weight in gold.

In the forwards lock Cameron Henderson has signed on with Leicester Tigers – a side with a storied history of bringing through second rows with a mean streak! Back row is nearly always a congested position for Scotland but Connor Boyle and Rory Darge are such uber-talents it’s almost impossible to imagine them failing to find a role for the pro teams. Hooker Ewan Ashman has become the first of the players born in the 2000s to be called into a full Scotland squad this Autumn.

Once these young players can crack the first team at PRO14 / Premiership level they’ll start to make a strong case for pulling on the dark blue jersey at the highest level. The production line of talent doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.

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