Young Scottish Rugby Players to Watch This Season

Young Scottish rugby players

Last year, we listed four young Scottish rugby players that had the potential to become big names in the world of rugby and burst onto the international scene. Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie, Ewan Ashman and Ross Thompson were the four players to look out for and, since publishing, all four had stellar campaigns last season and all four have now been capped for Scotland. 

With their places now cemented in and around Gregor Townsend’s squad, here are four more young Scottish rugby players that could follow those footsteps in the 2022/23 season and continue Scotland’s strong growth of up-and-coming players.

Matt Currie

First on the list is 21-year-old Edinburgh Rugby centre Matt Currie. Currie’s career in rugby first started in his home town, playing at Park Farm for Dumfries Saints RFC. He then attended Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh where he was able to really develop his skills and make the outside centre position his own, which then allowed him to further kick on and play for Watsionians in Scotland’s Super 6 club competition. 

In 2020, Currie played all five games of the U20 Six Nations campaign and, just a few months later, made his professional debut for Edinburgh against Munster in the PRO14 at BT Murrayfield. He signed his first professional contract in January 2022 and even went on to vice-captain the team shortly after he put pen to paper, in a game against Welsh side Ospreys, at the age of just 20.

Currie’s strengths lie in playing heads-up rugby. He is particularly good with the ball in hand, especially in the wide channels, and is a fantastic reader of the game. His line speed is quick, he is strong in the tackle and has already shown the mature leadership skills he possesses. With the exits of centres James Johnstone, George Taylor and Jordan Venter from the capital city side, this season could be a perfect opportunity for Currie to lock down a place as a regular starter. Despite having already trained with the Scotland first team, consistent good performances at the DAM Health Stadium this year could easily see him pick up his first cap.

Connor Boyle

Another Edinburgh player with the potential to have a very bright future is back-row forward Connor Boyle. Despite being just 22 years old, Boyle has impressed as a flanker for a number of years now, having first played 1XV rugby at Stewarts Melville as well as representing Scotland at U16 and U18 levels, before going on to captain the U20s side in both the 2019 Six Nations and 2019 World Rugby Championships. 

Since his debut for Edinburgh against Connacht, which came in October 2020, Boyle has played over 20 games for the club and has scored three tries. He has had strong competition for game time, with the likes of Scotland internationalists Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie all playing their club rugby in the capital, but has managed good minutes under his belt and remains to be a useful and reliable asset for head coach Mike Blair.

Boyle is a sharp defender. Good at pressuring the opposition and works hard for those around him to break down play, while also being agile and forward-thinking in the attack makes him something of an all-rounder. One of Scotland’s strongest sections of the squad is in the back-row but with a long career ahead of him still to come, Boyle has every chance of making it.

Stafford McDowell

Merchiston Castle School’s second graduate on the list is the powerful Glasgow Warriors centre, Stafford McDowell. McDowell, like his Edinburgh counterpart Matt Currie, is also from Dumfries but played his club rugby with Stewartry and Ayr. He was just 19 years old when he broke into the first team at Glasgow Warriors under Dave Rennie and has made almost 40 appearances in total since, 25 of which have come as starts. 

McDowell picked up the young player of the year award at Glasgow in the 2018/19 season and has been a regular face in and around the squad since pinning his first professional contract with the 2014/15 PRO12 winners. On the international stage, the 6ft 4 utility back has represented Scotland at U18 and U19 levels, has captained the U20 team and has been involved in some of Gregor Townsend’s squads but is yet to receive his first full cap.

Now at 24, McDowell somewhat struggled for game time in recent months under Glasgow boss Danny Wilson but has now been given a fresh start with the appointment of Franco Smith as head coach just last month. McDowell is a strong ball carrier but is also very clever in his play to help create space around him and put his teammates into gaps, making him effective as both a 12 and a 13. He can also play at fullback and is very useful from the boot as well as being a solid and organised defender. Centre is another position that Scotland has multiple good players at but McDowell’s versatility makes him a very useful young Scottish rugby player to have in the side and with a more active role in Glasgow’s season this year another call-up to the international squad may just be around the corner. 

Ollie Smith

The final name on the list is former Strathallan and Ayrshire Bulls fullback Ollie Smith. The 22-year-old joined the setup at Glasgow Warriors ahead of the 2018/19 season as a stage 3 academy player and has come on leaps and bounds ever since. In January 2021, he made his professional debut against bitter rivals Edinburgh in a breathtaking game that saw his side win 23-22 at Scotstoun. 

Since then, Smith has featured in 21 games for the Warriors, scoring five tries, as well as making nine appearances and scoring three tries for the Scotland U20s. He also won the young player of the year award in 2021/22 after his breakthrough season that saw him put in some great performances, including scoring a brace in the Champions Cup tie with La Rochelle. 

Smith is the only player on this list that has already been capped for Scotland after he pulled on the shirt for the first time last month in an agonising 34-31 loss to Argentina in Santiago. Although already proven as a top-class player in the eyes of both the general public and the coaches in Scotland, Smith still has a long and exciting future ahead of him. With the ball in hand, Smith is deadly. His direct running and ability to pick the perfect line make him a very effective threat in the back line. He has shown what he can do on rugby’s biggest stage and a good campaign this season at Glasgow could see him nail down a spot in a Scotland side that only has a handful of out-and-out fullbacks to pick from.

There is a whole host of young Scottish rugby players that are making themselves known to the rugby world and, if coached right and performances are strong, could have very long and successful careers at the top of the game. Scotland have done well in recent years to nurture young talent to grow and push those in the team already for a place in the squad. Hopefully, the trend continues and these four players, among many others, seem to be doing just that.

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