Darge reflects on the Six Nations campaign
It was a campaign full of highs, lows and tries aplenty for the Scotland U20 cohort as the young stars produced some thrilling moments in this year’s U20 Six Nations tournament.
It’s fair to say that the group were determined to make amends for a disappointing 2019 season, and with Sean Lineen and Shade Munro taking the reins of the age-grade side, it has brought a new lease of life to the squad.
One of the stand-out performers from the tournament was Southern Knights back-row Rory Darge, who continued to impress with his powerful ball-carrying abilities and solid work-rate.
Despite being initially named in the squad for the 2019 U20 Six Nations tournament, Darge was dealt a devastating blow in January when he dislocated his knee cap during a home game at Melrose.
The lengthy injury spell saw Darge miss out on the Six Nations and Junior World Cup but the disappointment spurred him on to make the most of the opportunities presented to him once he returned to the pitch.
Darge said: “It was tough watching them play last year. It’s tough watching them do well, but it’s even tougher watching them get relegated from the Junior World Cup. Sean asked me to be captain which made it even better for me coming back and having the chance to play in every game uninjured was satisfying.”
The abrasive forward was handed the captaincy responsibilities for the first time in January, and the young no.8 appeared to take it all in his stride. However, the 20-year-old admits it took some time to grasp the off-field responsibilities.
Darge said: “I was more delighted than I was surprised. I was just so happy because it was just so tough watching them while I couldn’t play last year.”
“I think I did get more used to the captaincy as the games went on, especially the off-field responsibilities as the on-field stuff kind of takes care of itself.
“Leading in off-field meetings and things like that took more getting used to, so I’d say that’s the sort of thing that changed the most over the campaign.”
Building a positive team culture is one of the key elements to creating results on the pitch and Lineen was keen to ensure it was a collaborative process with the players.
Darge continued: “Sean and Shade are both keen on bringing in a culture so it was easy to work with them because they’ve obviously both done it before in their professional sides and with Shade his international side. They’ve obviously got a good idea of a winning team culture. They wanted the players to lead it, but they definitely helped.”
“I’ve had some coaching from Sean before throughout the age-grade sides but I’ve never had him as a head coach so that was a bit different. It was my first time ever working with Shade and I really enjoyed working with them both.
“Obviously they’ve asked for feedback, so they are still working hard behind-the-scenes and they put in a lot of work during the Six Nations as well. It was really good to work with them.”
The U20 squad had a tough start to the campaign following a 38-26 defeat to Ireland in Cork and were left rueing missed opportunities in their narrow 17-21 loss at home against England.
In the third round of the competition, the group bounced back in dramatic fashion when they snatched victory in the final moments of the against Italy at Stadio Mirabello, however they suffered another agonising loss at home against France two weeks later.
Determined to show what they were capable of as a group, the players produced an emphatic and dominant performance against Wales in the final round of the competition in March to record a 17-52 victory at Colwyn Bay.
Darge said: “When we look back at the campaign, the most recent game against Wales was a massive and really important result for us.
“The two home games we lost to England and France felt like it got away from us and we definitely could have won those games, so we were disappointed after them.
“That just made the Wales performance even better because it was everything that we were talking about working on and everything came together. It wasn’t just the result but the overall performance from the Wales game that was really pleasing.
“We had talked about that attitude to really beat teams and we were potentially a bit guilty against France and England of gifting an easy try and switching off after scoring. Against Wales I think the result showed we had a slightly different attitude to score and really beat teams when we win a game like that.”
As the world continues to fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, there is still a great deal of uncertainty with regards to the rest of the season, but Darge is determined keep the momentum going if the U20 Trophy goes ahead in September.
He said: “If the Trophy is unaffected by this [COVID-19] then I want to go to the competition and perform well. Obviously as a team we want to go ahead and win that.
“Speaking individually, I want to go and perform well and take any opportunities I get on the back of the Trophy.”