Scotland’s young starlets opened their World Rugby U20 Championship account with a 42-20 defeat to tournament favourites New Zealand.
The scoreline may look comprehensive but the ‘Baby Blacks’ were put to the test throughout Wednesday’s clash by John Dalziel’s young charges at the AIA Arena in Kutaisi.
The Scots trailed by just 19 points to 10 at the half-time interval.
Hawick pair Fraser Renwick and Darcy Graham had kept the Darks Blues competitive with two well-taken tries, after scores from Asafo Aumua and a brace from Tima Faingaanuku, with Tiaan Falcon converting two, had handed the All Blacks the advantage.
In the second half, the five-time champions’ quality eventually shone through as Dalton Papalii, Orbyn Leger and a third from Faingaanuku all crossed the whitewash to make sure New Zealand opened the competition with a victory.
A Connor Eastgate penalty and a Josh Henderson try and conversion were all the Dark Blues could manage in reply.
“Really proud, and I think we showed a spirited performance and showed we are ready to compete at this level,” said Scotland captain Callum Hunter-Hill.
In many ways, Wednesday afternoon’s pool B opener was a glimpse into the future of what both international sides may look like in the coming years.
New Zealand, stocked full of Super Rugby talent, were not far off full international standard, while Scotland, made up of either BT Premiership or BT Academy prospects, were a half-step
behind their opponents. In the end, there was little surprise the All Blacks came away with the win.
Following an emotional and passion-filled Haka, New Zealand wasted little time in registering the opening score.
Tasman Makos winger Faingaanuku slipped down the wing untouched after quick ball from a ruck in midfield had stretched Scotland’s defensive line thin, Falcon converting.
Hooker’s Renwick and Aumua then traded similar close-range touchdowns before Graham rushed home for a second score by a Hawick-developed player – Kinghorn failing to convert both attempts, while Falcon added one.
As the heat and pace of play bore down on the two sides, the young Scots began to tire.
Winger Faingaanuku punished the weary Scots with his second try, Falcon converting, to hand the All Blacks a 19-10 half-time lead.
The Scots kicked off the second half with a quick penalty from Eastgate, but New Zealand were never worried.
Falcon hit back with a penalty of his own two minutes later before Auckland Blues bakrower Papalii and centre Leger added to New Zealand’s total. Falcon converting one.
The stand-off then stretched the All Blacks’ lead to 37-13 with his second three-pointer before Henderson, taking advantage of Papalii’s yellow card for collapsing a maul, found his way over for the Dark Blues, the replacement stand-off converting.
Scotland failed to make any further inroads into the All Blacks’ lead and man-of-the-match Faignaanuku brought the curtain down on a thrilling contest with his hat-trick try late on.
Next up for Scotland is a match against Ireland, who were edged out 22-21 by Italy in their opening pool game.