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Under-20s Six Nations: Round 1 Preview

Under-20s Six Nations: Round 1 Preview

The next generation of European rugby talent will be on show this weekend, with the opening round of the Under-20s Six Nations getting underway.

Everyone will be hoping to match France as they begin their title defence at home against Wales on Sunday afternoon.

But the action kicks off with Ireland welcoming England to Irish Independent Park on Friday evening, with Scotland against Italy taking place on the same night.

England will have their hopes set high with a squad packed with Premiership experience, as they look to take back the title they last won in 2017.

 

Ireland U20s v England U20s, Irish Independent Park, 7.15pm kick-off

Senior international Ted Hill is named at blindside for England while Northampton Saints’ outside centre Fraser Dingwall will captain the side.

Both featured in last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship final, where they lost out to France, as did lock Joel Kpoku, flanker Aaron Hinkley, No.8 Tom Willis, fly-half Marcus Smith and centre Tom Hardwick.

The side boasts some serious experience at age-group level, with prop Marcus Street lining up for his third U20 Six Nations.

Last year’s runners up still have a host of debutants in the starting XV including Olly Adkins, Nic Dolly, Alex Coles, Sam Maunder and Ollie Sleightholme as well as Ben Atkins, Bevan Rodd, Rusiate Tuima and Ollie Fox from the bench.

Head coach Steve Bates said: “This is a very exciting, talented group of players and they should not forget to play like it, we have to go out there on Friday and really express ourselves on the pitch but we know we have to respect the opposition who will be positive about their chances in this competition as well.

“This is a team full of experience, who are hugely talented and it is a shame we can only pick 15 as we’ve left out some very good players.”

Ireland are not able to boast quite the same experience as their opposition but Noel McNamara’s youngsters still have plenty of Guinness PRO14 experience in their ranks.

Openside Scott Penny was a star for Leinster in their domestic fixture last weekend, making 23 tackles on their way to a 22-17 win against Scarlets.

Ireland, who finished third last year, have lock Charlie Ryan returning for a second Championship while hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin was a feature at last year’s U20 World Rugby Championship.

Six Munster players are among the starting XV including the entire back three – Jake Flannery, Conor Phillips and Jonathan Wren.

McNamara said: “We have a very talented group of players in the squad, and there were a number of tight calls on selection for this game.

“There is a lot of rugby to be played over the coming weeks and months, so the competitiveness in the squad is a real positive and bodes well for the season ahead.”

 

Scotland U20s v Italy U20s, Netherdale, 7.30pm kick-off

Seven of Carl Hogg’s Scotland team will make their debuts when they line up for the second game of the weekend on Friday night.

Glasgow Warriors’ Ollie Smith will make his debut at full-back while two newcomers, Cameron Anderson and Robbie McCallum, are the centre partnership.

Flanker Connor Boyle takes the armband, with stand-off Ross Thompson is chosen as his deputy.

Hogg was excited with the mix of pace and power in the line-up, as Scotland look to improve on the 2018 Championship where they finished bottom of the table.

He said: “The boys have trained really well in the run up to the match and I’ve been impressed with their mind-set and positivity throughout training camp.

“Italy are a tough, combative side and we’re well aware of the passion that they bring to the fold.

“The boys know how tough the game will be and we’ll have to match their intensity from the get-go on Friday night.”

Italy will go into the match with confidence, having won 45-31 on the closing weekend of last year’s Championship.

No.8 Antoine Koffi and his back-row partner Davide Ruggeri, who skippers the side, both featured in the 2018 victory last time out.

Centre Damiano Mazza is another name retained from the victory. He is partnered in the midfield by Matteo Moscardi.

Head coach Fabio Roselli said: “The mental aspect will be fundamental. They have a game very similar to that of the senior team, based on possession, so we will have to be good at limiting their attacks.”

 

France U20s v Wales U20s, Stade de la Rabine, 2pm kick-off

Eight Wales players will be making their first appearance in the U20 Six Nations when they take to the field on Sunday.

Leicester Tigers Tommy Reffell captains wales from No.8 while Dragons trio Tom Hoppe, Aneurin Owen and Deon Smith will be making their debuts in the tournament.

Cardiff Blues full-back Ian Davies gets the nod to make his debut, while Ben Warren, Teddy Williams, Jac Price and Jac Morgan all feature among the forwards.

Gareth Williams’ side are looking for their first age-group title since 2016, having finished fifth last time out – with their victories coming against Scotland and Ireland.

He said: “We’re very excited about our first competitive game of the season, and it doesn’t get much bigger than against the current world champions,” said Williams.

“The occasion will be superb and it will be a true test for us as a group. We have ambitions to emulate them in the coming years, so it will be a good start.”

The defending champions are yet to name their line up for the game on Sunday afternoon, the final piece of action in the U20 Six Nations weekend.

Sébastien Piqueronies has named 34-players in his squad for France’s opening two games with Wales and Scotland, with his XV to take the field at Stade de la Rabine set to be announced imminently.

On their travels in 2018 they took a 24-3 win in Colwyn Bay as Romain Ntamack, who will line-up at inside centre for France against Wales in the Championship opener at Stade de France in the Guinness Six Nations, pulled the strings as Les Bleus secured the title.