ENRG Sport’s Moments of 2017: Scottish Rugby’s golden regeneration
It’s not every day that a northern hemisphere team, away from home, beats Australia. So, imagine the adulation when the Scotland Rugby boys managed it twice in two days! By Erin McRitchie
You could say that it was two days at the start of summer 2017 that started it all. Two days, two games, two teams. One nation coming out on top. My sporting highlight of the year.
This summer, as Gregor Townsend took to the helm as national head coach, and John Dalziel lead his under 20 squad into a world championship, one thing was for sure – something special was stirring within Scottish Rugby.
First up was Townsend’s senior internationalists. The second game of their summer tour saw them arrive at Allianz Stadium, in Sydney, Australia, for another face-off with the ‘Wallabies’. The team that walked off the bus and into that venue was one which was deprived of star fullback Stuart Hogg and darting winger Tommy Seymour, both away on British and Irish Lions duty.
This would not hinder Townsend’s men, however. With a strong boiler room comprised of Jonny Gray and Ben Toolis, the half-back management of Ali Price and Finn Russell, and the youthful injection of Zander Fagerson and Hamish Watson, the Scotland boys seemed to have their hearts set on victory.
They started well, and it was centre Duncan Taylor who kick-started the afternoon’s excitement for the Scots, nabbing a try from an intercepted pass after just 15 minutes played.
Australia responded with a try of their own, before they lost their star fly-half, Bernard Foley, who was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on Finn Russell. Russell would then snipe in for a score having charged down a clearance kick right on the Australian line.
Israel Folau showed off his skill with a pin-point accuracy jump to collect a cross-field chip kick for a try of his own. However, score of the day has to go to the perfectly executed Scotland team try, finished off by flanker Hamish Watson. The conversion was good, and now all they had to do was keep the Wallabies at bay.
Determination saw them do just that. Australia didn’t see another point. Come 81 minutes, referee Wayne Barnes blew his whistle and the Scottish boys, and their fans, erupted with relief and joy.
Just the very next day, on Sunday 18th, the Scots under 20s side made one thing abundantly clear – anything the seniors can do, we can do too! And, oh, didn’t they do it well?
And so, it was on a sunny and hot Georgian Sunday that Callum Hunter-Hill led his team onto the field to face the baby Wallabies. A team that, come just six months later, would see seven of its members professionally signed to either Glasgow Warriors or Edinburgh Rugby, and one to Newcastle Falcons.
Having beaten the Welsh contingent 29-25 the previous week, Hunter-Hill and his teammates were looking to finish their world championship campaign on a high by securing fifth place – their highest ever finish in the competition.
It was an end-to-end battle for the full 80 minutes, with the Wallabies opening the try scoring in the first 40 minutes. However, the Scots persisted and claimed their first try, through winger Robbie Nairn, just after half-time.
Both forward and back divisions excelled themselves in the Scots game. The strong, level-headed leadership of Hunter-Hill in the lineout, maul and scrum would prove pivotal, whilst the ingenuity and finesse of the likes of Nairn, Blair Kinghorn and Connor Eastgate would allow the backs many an opportunity for quick ball to release them to run.
But ultimately, the game would come down to the quick thinking of replacement scrum-half Charlie Shiel. He collected the ball out of a Scottish scrum, darted through a narrow gap in the Australian defence and dived in straight under the sticks for the try that would seal the game for the Scots.
Anyone else hear the call for a ‘piley’? Cause his teammates certainly did as forwards and backs alike exploded with excitement. A quick heart-stopping moment whilst a TMO check for illegal holding was called. Once disregarded, Eastgate’s conversion went over and the Scots could finally breathe.
They had done it. They had finished higher than any other Scotland under 20s side before them. They had beaten the baby Wallabies. And they had managed to replicate the success of their senior counterparts. Oh, I love it when a weekend of rugby comes together!
Effective teams are built upon hard work, communication and dedication. Momentous victories are based upon skill, intensity, determination and guts. And the players that turned out in June for the Scottish Rugby senior and under 20 sides were strong and had an abundance of passion for their team.
For me, those two days in June were the highlight of my sporting year. 2017 showed that the best is yet to come for Scottish Rugby. The seniors have finally come in to their own, whilst the academy have made clear that the future is bright, and hungry. I think you’d be crazy to not keep an eye on these boys next year.