Rory Darge (pictured below) missed Scotland’s relegation campaign in the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 through injury, but as captain this year he has seen at first-hand how the disappointment in Argentina eight months ago has been turned into a positive.
Scotland’s 52-17 win over Wales in the U20 Six Nations in Colwyn Bay last Friday was one of the most impressive and also most surprising results at this level for quite a while, but 20-year-old Darge, a versatile back-row who shows game understanding beyond his tender years, says such a performance was slowly building.
After losing 38-26 to Ireland in their Six Nations opener, Scotland came within a score of England and France either side of a 30-29 win away to Italy.
“We deserved a performance like that because we’d been running people close all through the Six Nations other than against Ireland who we got a try against in the last minute to get a try bonus point," said the Edinburgh player likened to his boyhood hero John Barclay.
“We’d not been happy with the results, especially against France and England, as we felt both those games got away from us, so to have a performance like that was very pleasing.”
To put a half-century of points on a side that had beaten England and world champions France in the previous rounds was no mean feat.
“That performance was the culmination of all the best bits from the other matches,” said Darge, who also credits a mind shift for the about-turn in fortunes.
“We felt we had the wrong sort of mentality in those games, we’d score a try and then we’d kind of switch off a little bit. I think we were a bit too nice.
“But against Wales, we had the mentality to keep the foot on the throat if we scored, and not let them back in.”
Back in June, then under the coaching of Carl Hogg, Scotland became the first tier-one side to be relegated from the World Rugby U20 Championship since Italy in 2012. A 59-34 defeat to a rampant Fiji left them on their knees.
However, they refused to be down for too long and two U20 Six Nations wins and near-misses in two others represents a good bounce back from the boys in blue.
As things stand, they sit second in the U20 Six Nations table, albeit having completed their campaign compared to the likes of leaders Ireland who have two games outstanding.
“We’ve had a lot of time together and played a couple of warm-up games against Watsonians and another one against a Scotland Club XV," explained Darge.
“I can’t speak for the guys that were there at the U20s World Championship last year, but I think it was a pretty tough experience and they were hurting from it.
“Thankfully the guys who played last year didn’t bury their head in the sand or get upset, they got stuck into training and tried to make a statement. The attitude has been really, really positive."
Darge played U20 international rugby as an 18-year-old, celebrating a Six Nations win over England on his ‘coming of age’ birthday, and went to the U20 Championship in France in 2018.
However, a dislocated kneecap while playing in a Scottish Premiership fixture for Melrose against Stirling County ruled him out of Scotland’s doomed campaign in South America.
Changing of the guard
Since then, former Scotland centre Sean Lineen has returned as Scotland U20 head coach with Darge as captain.
“He (Lineen) has brought in a different attacking mentality. He likes varying it during the game: he wants us to do little break-outs and play a bit more rugby.
“Thankfully the scrum and the maul has been a weapon for us and that’s given us the ability to do that.”
Now that their U20 Six Nations season is complete, Scotland’s focus is on the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Spain in September, as they bid to make their stay in the second tier of international age-grade rugby as short as possible.
A keen schoolboy boxer, Edinburgh-born Darge is just the sort of character needed to help get them back off the ropes.
“Japan went up last year, but they were run close. There are a lot of good teams in the tournament so it’s going to be really tough," he said.
Main photo credit: WRU