A thrilling second edition of the U18 Six Nations Festival concluded with a bucket-load of tries as young stars of the future put their best foot forward at Kingsholm.
France ensured they completed a flawless campaign as they defeated England 40-19 to add to their previous victories over Ireland and Italy, ending the unbeaten run of Jim Mallinder’s side.
Meanwhile, there was late drama as Scotland edged out Ireland 42-40 after Harry Paterson kicked a late conversion to secure his side’s first win after defeats to Italy and Wales.
Italy also finished on a high as they triumphed against Wales for their second win and following an action-packed three days, here’s a review of how the six teams fared in this year’s Festival.
FLAWLESS FRANCE SHOW PROMISE
The signs are very good for the future of France on the basis of their performances in this year’s U18 Six Nations Festival as they emerged with the title after three wins from three.
Maxime Baudonne was the star of the show in the opening game as the flanker crossed once in each half to secure a hard-fought 29-24 victory against Ireland at Hartpury College.
And the flanker made the difference once again against Italy, scoring two first-half tries as Les Bleuets raced into a 28-8 lead at the break at Sixways Stadium.
The Azzurrini fought back after the restart and gave France a scare, with replacement Dorin Tica crossing twice, before Thibault Debaes’ late score sealed a 40-32 win.
Gérald Bastide’s squad then completed a hat-trick of victories by getting the better of previously unbeaten England with a 40-19 triumph to cap off a perfect Festival for France.
ENGLAND REFLECT ON POSITIVES
There were plenty of positives from Jim Mallinder and his England outfit to take from their U18 Six Nations Festival despite finishing with a defeat to France in their last game.
Orlando Bailey showed his potential with a brace as England got off to winning start against Wales at Hartpury College, before a Jude Williams double delivered a 24-17 win over Ireland.
But while France ultimately proved too strong in their final game, England improved drastically on their performance a year earlier when they were winless in their three games.
“Hopefully the players would have learned a lot from the three Test matches and what it takes to play international rugby against these top teams,” said Mallinder.
“When you are not quite on it, like we were [against France], with our set piece and defence not good enough then you get punished. We need to learn the lessons from this performance.”
RESILIENCE FROM THE AZZURRINI
Having impressed with a victory against England last year, Italy’s U18s stepped up another gear in this year’s Festival as they finished with two wins from three.
The Azzurrini began their campaign with a stunning victory against Scotland after Fabio Schiabel went over the whitewash in the final play of the game to snatch a famous 19-18 win.
It was then the turn of France to face Italy’s wrath and while Les Bleuets came away from Sixways with the win, they were pushed all the way by their dogged opponents.
France came out of the blocks firing to establish a 28-8 lead at the break, but the Azzurrini showed their character to stage a second-half fightback thanks to a Dorin Tica double.
And they took that momentum into their encounter with Wales, with scrum-half Stephen Varney scoring twice to ensure Italy finished this year’s Festival on a high with a 34-14 win.
FINAL FLOURISH FOR SCOTLAND
While Scotland were unable to live up to their billing as last year’s champions, they demonstrated their never-say-die attitude after prevailing against Ireland in their final game.
There will still be frustration about the way they conceded a 18-7 lead against Italy in their opening game and the defeat to Wales, but the 42-40 triumph over Ireland was a fabulous finale.
Scotland U18 head coach Ross Miller said: “The players’ work rate in the heat [against Ireland] was phenomenal. The group has come together well over the past few months.
“Obviously we faced a few challenges against Italy and Wales from a performance perspective but we really tightened the group up.
“The guys are obviously really pleased with the result but as always it’s about what key learning we can take from the experience. The character and effort from the group can’t be faulted.”
INDIVIDUALS STAR FOR IRELAND
Peter Smyth will reflect on what might have been for his Ireland side after they concluded their U18 Six Nations Festival with a heart-breaking defeat to Scotland.
Ireland appeared to be in control as they searched for their first win in this year’s Festival, taking a 40-35 lead through Oisin McCormack’s try with only five minutes left on the clock.
But Finlay Callaghan drove over in the dying seconds of the game, before Harry Paterson held his nerve to kick the extras, as Ireland were left to reflect on a third defeat from three.
Ireland will take plenty of encouragement from their performances, though even if the results did not go their way – most notably their narrow 29-24 defeat to unbeaten France.
They also pushed England all the way before eventually losing 24-17, while Chris Cosgrave was one of many Irish starlets to shine during the Festival, finishing with a 33-point haul.
WALES ENJOY ROLLERCOASTER RIDE
It was a rollercoaster of a U18 Six Nations Festival for Wales as Chris Horsman’s side finished their campaign with one win, two defeats and plenty of individual highlights.
Wales finished second in the table a year ago, winning two games from three, but their final return this year only told part of the story after they produced a fine display to beat Scotland.
Full-back Ioan Lloyd was one of the stars of the Festival and he was among the try-scorers as Horsman’s side were beaten by England in their opening game at Hartpury College.
But they bounced back in style as Lloyd scored another two tries to earn a magnificent 28-17 win against the Scots, with Louis Rees-Zammit also bagging a brace.
And while Italy got the better of them in their final game, Ioan Evans had given Wales the lead as they also deliver an impressive defensive display to hold the Azzurrini at bay for so long.