Head coach John Dalziel believes his Scotland Under-20 side can match the achievements of former stars Mark Bennett and Jonny Gray in the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester.
Bennett and Gray were part of the Scotland side who pushed Australia to the brink in a 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final just two years after playing in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
Dalziel’s young Scots begin this year’s tournament against Australia Under-20 at the AJ Bell Stadium tomorrow (June 7), before clashes at the Manchester City Academy Stadium with their English counterparts on June 11 and Italy Under-20 on June 15.
The tournament reaches its conclusion on June 25, with Sky Sports broadcasting over half the matches live, and despite the quality opposition ahead, in Scott Cummings and Ally Miller, Dalziel believes he has the firepower to cause any side trouble.
“This group has been together for a while and I would say it is one of the strongest Under-20s teams we have seen,” Dalziel said.
“Probably since Mark Bennett and Adam Ashe three or four years ago, there’s a lot of expectation on these guys, but they are still learning and developing.
“Ally has been a mainstay of the team, he has been a key guy, he is in his second World Championship here as well and working with him domestically and in the 20s, we’re looking for him to keep improving – he has quality in him – and there are some key parts he has been working on since the Under-20 Six Nations.
“I am really excited to see him unleashed on this competition.”
Skipper Cummings follows in the footsteps of Jonny and Richie Gray by captaining Scotland at this level and Dalziel believes he can emulate them further by graduating to the senior international stage.
He said: “Jonny and Scott are very different players in some ways, but the key things are that they are very high-eventers and they are very consistent.
“For such a big man, if you look at Scott’s tackle count, the low level of missed tackles he has, the ball carries he has and the events he has in the game, it is actually pretty outrageous for a lock of his size – same as Jonny.
“Scott has had that opportunity quicker than Jonny and I think he will be another one that goes on to partner Jonny in the national side.
“Scott has had 12 games of pro rugby this season with Glasgow Warriors this year, he comes with a lot of knowledge, he is developing himself and he is a consistent player.
“He will lead the team with his performances first and then we have three or four other leaders around him who will help to share that load.”
And it is this leadership which will be key as the Scots aim to turn over Adrian Thompson’s Australians, who claimed a first-ever win against the Baby Blacks in a two-Test Oceania Championship series in May, losing the first Test 30-10 before winning the second 25-24 thanks to a last-play Mack Mason penalty.
“Our PRO12 players give us a real boost coming into the competition,” Dalziel said.
“We have watched Australia’s games and you can’t really narrow down to one or two players, there are six or seven key players.
“Their centre Sione Tuipulotu, their scrum-half and captain James Tuttle – these guys that have had a lot of Super Rugby experience.”
See the Future Stars of Rugby at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June. For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit http://www.englandrugby.com/u20championships/#WorldRugbyU20s