Scotland under-19 head coach Colin Robertson has named a 26-man squad for the match against Italy at Lasswade on Sunday 1 March (kick off midday, free admission) with lock Grant Gilchrist chosen to lead the side.
Robertson revealed he made the decision after being impressed by 18-year-old Gilchrist’s contribution in Stirling County’s engine room so far this season.
Robertson said: “Grant has been well established at both under-17 and under-18 level. He has played just about every game for Stirling County this season and he has done very well.
“He is well respected and he is a good player. Stuart McInally has been called into the under-20 team and he has been the leader of this team for the past two or three years.
“But Grant has shown a lot of composure and will be able to lead this squad and I think he will do very well for us.”
Lock Robert Harley and backs Alex Dunbar and Alex Blair are also miss out through injury.
Nevertheless Robertson is confident the squad he has chosen will achieve positive results against Italy and France; factors that bode well for the under-20 team in 2010.
He added: “I think the positive aspect is that the guys, who are coming in, can stake a claim for a place and move forward in their careers with Scottish Rugby.
“I’ve previously been heavily involved with the under-20 programme. I believe we need to make sure there is a bigger core of talent available for the under-20s the following year.
“So in that sense it is a positive that we are getting the chance to develop other players and enable the squad to have an even greater sense of strength in depth.”
Of the newcomers into the squad, Robertson highlighted London Wasps Academy pair, flanker Calum Stidson-Knott and Dundee-born prop Anthony Kent, who he believes will contribute to the team.
He said: “We’ve brought in Calum and Anthony; both of them are from Wasps Academy and have done well through the Scottish Rugby Exiles programme.
“They look as if they can step up to the mark which is why they’ve been brought into the squad.”
Another player who Robertson admits has caught his eye is National Academy full-back Tom Brown, who has benefited from a recent run of games in Edinburgh’s back-up team.
He said: “Tom has shown a lot of promise over the past couple of years and he is an exciting runner. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.”
After the Italy match, Scotland’s youngsters face a potentially tough trip across the channel to face France (Saturday, 4 April), but Robertson says the squad is in the right shape to successfully meet the challenge.
He said: “We are happy with the balance of the squad. We’ve got two hard games; Italy will be a physical side and France away is one of the hardest challenges in rugby.
“But we have enjoyed a training camp with the players and they understand what is required of them, so we are confident moving forward.”
After the training session on Monday 23 February and following assessment of injuries, the current squad of 26 will be reduced to the final match selection of 22 players to face Italy.
Scotland under-19 squad (team sponsor Martin Currie) to face Italy (Sunday 1 March, midday) at Lasswade: (Backs): Alex Black (Leeds Carnegie), Kris Hamilton (Caithness), Ross Aitken (Howe of Fife)*, Matthew Scott (Currie), James Johnstone (Watsonians)*, Michael Tait (Kelso)*, Gary Johnstone (Hawick), Douglas Fife (Currie), Max Learmonth (Watsonians), Seumas MacKenzie (Murrayfield Wanderers), Tom Brown (Edinburgh Academicals)+, Euan Shand (Exeter University)
(Forwards): Andrew Fraser (Leeds Carnegie), Anthony Kent (Wasps), Nicky Little (Hawick)*, Craig Owenson (Musselburgh)*, Mungo Strachan (Edinburgh Academicals)
Alun Walker (Currie), Grant Gilchrist (captain, Stirling County)*, Aaron Hall (Newcastle Falcons), Matthew Reid (Heriot’s), Michael Walker (Lancaster University), Jason Hill (Stirling)*, Michael Maltman (Musselburgh)*, Calum Stidston-Nott (Harrow &Wasps), Ross Sutherland (Murrayfield Wanderers).
+ denotes National Academy Contracted Player
*denotes National Academy Area Institute Supported Player
Standby players: Patrick Boyer (Glasgow Hawks), Callum Williams (London Scottish), Paul Creek (Colston’s School), Sam Blackwood (Glasgow Hawks), Euan Dods (Gala), Luke Pettie (Gala), Callum Williams (London Scottish), Michael Fedo (Watsonians)
Not considered due to injury: Callum Connor (Manchester University), Robert Harley (West of Scotland)+, Alex Blair (Edinburgh Accies)+, Alex Dunbar (Selkirk)+.
FREE TO ATTEND HOME REPRESENTATIVE AND AGE-GRADE FIXTURES
Friday 27 February – Scotland under-20 v Italy under-20, Dens Park, Dundee (kick-off, 7.30pm)
Friday 13 March – Scotland under-20 v Ireland under-20, McDiarmid Park, Perth (kick-off, 7.30pm)
Friday 20 March – England under-20 v Scotland under-20, Sixways Stadium, Worcester (kick-off 8pm)
Sunday 1 March – Scotland under-19 v Italy under-19, Lasswade RFC, Midlothian (kick-off, 12 noon)
Saturday 4 April – France v Scotland under-19, Dourdan, (kick-off tbc)
Scotland under-18 6 Nations Festival preparation fixtures
Sunday 22 March – England under-18 v Scotland under-18, Kingston Park, Newcastle (kick-off 2pm)
Sunday 29 March – Scotland under-18 v The Boys Club of Wales, Bridgehaugh (kick-off 2pm)
Sunday 5 April – Leicester Academy v Scotland under-18, Leicester (kick-off 12 noon)
Tuesday 7 April – England A v Scotland under-17, Millfield Festival, Somerset (kick-off 7pm)
Thursday 9 April – Belgium v Scotland under-17, Millfield Festival (kick-off, 11.45am)
Sunday 12 April – Wales A v Scotland under-17, Millfield Festival, (kick-off, 9.30am)
Scotland club international
Friday 13 March – Scotland Club International v Ireland, Myreside (kick-off 7.30pm)
Saturday 28 February – Scotland Women v Wales Women – Meggetland (midday)
Friday 13 March – Scotland Women v Ireland Women – Meggetland (kick off 7.30pm)