"We need to be better. We need to develop our players better to compete at the highest level and at the moment we are a fair bit off that."
After concluding the 2023 U20 Six Nations with a 40-17 loss at home to Italy, Scotland head coach Kenny Murray didn't mince his words.
He reflected on the challenges his young squad have faced during the tournament and hopes his side can learn from finishing fifth in the final standings.
He said: “Against France and Ireland, we were well beaten and there's a lot of learning from that. They were just miles better than us and again, we were outmuscled [by Italy].
"It highlights where we are as an under-20s team and as a rugby-playing country. The support and commitment has been excellent. I'm here in a new role as head of player transition, we've got coaches in to work with the players, so we're definitely on an upward ladder.
“But the big thing is that we need to be better at producing players and developing players to come and compete at this level,” Murray added.
Despite an encouraging opener against England, Scotland’s only win came against a struggling Wales team in the second round of the tournament. With Scottish Rugby still waiting to reap the supposed benefits from the FOSORC Super Series, the next generation of young talent remain well behind the rest of the world when it comes to much-needed game time at a high level.
Murray commented: "I'm disappointed that we didn't win at least two games over the course of the tournament. If we'd been two out of two from England and Wales, that would have been a brilliant start for us so to be 36-31 up against England with eight minutes to go and not find a way to win is disappointing.”
Scotland’s co-captain Liam McConnell discussed what was holding his side back from reeling in the top teams in the tournament: “It’s definitely the level of games that the boys are playing outside of the Six Nations.
“We’ve got boys playing third division club rugby and a lot of these boys, I’m not sure about the Italian lads, but with the English lads playing in the Premiership, all the French lads playing Top 14, we just need to be playing at a higher standard of rugby outside of the Six Nations.
Murray agreed with the Boroughmuir flanker: “Today [Sunday] we were down to pretty much our last prop available in Scotland to play at tight-head, and other countries don’t have those problems. We need to develop players younger because physical development doesn't start at 18, but needs to start at 14 or 15."
The FOSROC Super6 came to life in November 2019. Its purpose was to support players with dreams of playing at a sold-out BT Murrayfield.
After three-and-a-half years, it grew from Super6 to the Super Series due to eight teams now participating in the Super Series Sprint (a shortened competition) and seven teams competing in the flagship Super Series Championship later in the calendar year.
For the future success of Scotland’s senior team, this expanded league must reach its potential. This is because Scottish Rugby are no longer in a position to rely on a network of foreign players from places like South Africa.
Per World Rugby: “The sixty-month residency requirement comes into effect after the cut-off date of December 31 2021. The residency requirement up to and including December 31 2021 is “thirty-six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing.”
Therefore, Murray and McConnell have both stressed the importance of the current crop of U20s getting stuck into the upcoming domestic tournaments.
"I'm absolutely not going to criticise the players who have worked hard in training," Murray added. "Their commitment on and off the field has been excellent. They want to play rugby, but at the moment we can't impose ourselves physically on this level of opposition.”
McConnell backed up his coach: “We’ve got a fairly young squad with a lot of boys coming back so that will be good.
“A lot of the boys have signed Super Six for after this tournament so they should get a decent standard of rugby between now and the summer series which they weren’t before. A lot of the boys were just playing third division as I said. If a lot of the boys get stuck into Super Series, then it will definitely bring the level up.”
Scotland’s U20s now turn their attention to the Junior World Trophy in Kenya in late July. It is a must-win tournament to secure promotion back to the top-flight World Championship come 2024, and it could also be important in aiding their development as the Scots continue to aim to compete at the highest level.