The Scotland under-18 squad will be hard at work over the Christmas period as new challenges lie in store in 2011.
Historically the national under-18s have taken part in a Six Nations Festival over the Easter period but in the New Year they will face a qualifying competition to determine which element of a new European under-18 championship they will join. “It’s a huge step-change for us to go from a Festival format into what is effectively a shoot-out to get into the European Championship,” explained Scotland under-18 head coach Grant McKelvey.
Thus a 34-strong squad will gather for training sessions next week (29 and 30 December) as preparations are stepped up for 2011, where the young Scots will face Japan Schools at Braidholm, Glasgow on 20 March, before their FIRA/AER European Championship qualifying matches over the following fortnight.
McKelvey said: “The matches are against England at Headingley on 27 March and Ireland at Braidholm on 3 April. We have to win at least one of these games to qualify for the FIRA/AER Under-18 European Championship elite group (comprising the top four teams in the Six Nations).
“Otherwise we are in the Division 1 competition, which comprises the bottom two teams from the Six Nations and the top four from countries playing within the FIRA framework. The championships themselves take place in Tarbes in France from 13-24 April.”
In addition the young Scots will play a warm-up match away against the Welsh on 10 April.
McKelvey added: “It’s very encouraging that we have real competition for places and if we can continue to improve, particularly in our setpiece, then we can target a place in the elite group.
“Our back-row is particularly strong, Callum Templeton is back from injury in the second-row where he faces intense competition from, among others, Jonny Gray, the younger brother of Scotland and Glasgow Warriors lock, Richie Gray.
“And elsewhere we have three quality scrum-halves, our back-three contenders are all rapid and among our centres Robbie Fergusson has been playing senior rugby for Ayr in Premier 1.”
McKelvey and his fellow coaches, Alex Duncan and Gordon Henderson, joined by Edinburgh’s assistant coach, former Scotland and British Lions prop, Tom Smith, have already made arrangements for the Arctic blasts that have battered Scotland with the first day’s training on Wednesday 29 December taking place at a new indoor facility at Ravenscraig, Lanarkshire.
McKelvey concluded: “There will be further opportunities for any players currently not included to gain selection for our final Scotland under-18 Squad.
“Player performances during our under-18 regional programmes, our school/club domestic programmes and of course our Exile under-18 programmes will be monitored closely and we look forward to selecting the squad from an increased pool of players.”
Scotland under-18 training squad:
Backs – Corey Venus (Leicester Tigers), Murray Beckwith (Marr College/Ayr)*, Rory Hughes (GHA/Glasgow MET College)* Jamie Farndale (Edinburgh Academy)*, Ewan Brumwell (Aberdeen Grammar School), Matthew Lamb (Stirling County), JJ Kilmartin (Millfield School), Chris Auld (Dumfries/Austin Friars School), Robbie Fergusson (Ayr), Josh Nutton (Merchiston Castle School), Keith Buchan (Strathallan), Sam Hidalgo Clyne (Merchiston Castle School), Tommy Allan (RGS High Wycombe), Alex Glashan (Edinburgh Academy), Scott Steele (Merchiston Castle School/Dumfries)*, Cameron Meakin (Ivybridge)
Forwards – Jamie Bhattie (Stirling County), Robby Wilson (Dunbar Grammar School)* , Colin Hutton (Stirling County), Callum Maguire (Berwick), Shawn Muir (Hawick PSA), Russell Anderson (Langholm), Callum Black (London Irish), Callum Templeton (Dumfries)*, Adam Barnett (GHA/Mearns Castle School), Jonny Gray (Cambuslang/Calderglen HS)* , Adam Sinclair (Stirling County/Loretto), Alex Henderson (Strathallan), Will Bordill (Sandbach/Sandbach School), Rhys Davies (George Watson’s College), Danny Kennedy (Congleton), Michael Vernel (Allan Glen’s/St Aloysius College), Adam Ashe (Stirling County), Murray Galbraith Lowe (Harlequins/Skinners School)
* = Member of Performance Player Development Programme supported by Area Institutes of Sport
Not considered due to injury: Jonathan Mathews (St Edwards College/Liverpool) and Calum Gordon (Deeside).
Our picture shows Scott Steele in action for Scotland under-17 last season.