HAVING suffered heavy defeats to Wales and Italy, it has been a fairly demoralising Summer Series for Scotland under-20s so far, but the form of Liam McConnell has been a silver-lining.
The flanker, who celebrated his 18th birthday the day before making his under-20s debut in that Wales defeat, has shown a physical and mental maturity which underlines why he has emerged as one of the most exciting prospects in the Scottish game during recent months.
McConnell scored the match-winning try for Boroughmuir Under-18s in their National Youth Cup success over West of Scotland back in March, led the national under-18s team during their Six Nations Festival campaign in April, and has coped admirably with the step-up to senior rugby since making his Super6 debut for Boroughmuir Bears at the start of May.
He's set to be named as a Scottish Rugby Academy Stage Three – full-time – player for next season and, while he plans to combine that with picking up some work experience with his family’s property business, making it in the pro game is definitely the priority.
“He is a talented player and my mindset is get these guys in early and get them battle hardened to play under-20s rugby,” said Scotland under-20s head coach Kenny Murray. “If a player is good enough, he is old enough, it doesn’t matter if they are 18, 19 or 20.
“I think Liam experiencing this level of rugby, the physicality, the intensity, the speed of the game, this will benefit him. He now has potentially three years in the under-20s so he is going to be an asset not just as a player but as a leader over the next couple of years at this level.
“He and Kerr Johnston have both come up from the under-18s and they have set high standards for themselves. They put in the yards on the pitch and off it they are really diligent around their review process and they want to improve. They are great guys to have in the environment and they will become good rugby players.”
Scotland play their final pool match of the Summer Series against Georgia on Wednesday afternoon.