With the recent announcements of the Six Nations U20 squads, the blend of youth and experience has given a new look to sides ahead of the competition.
England go into the tournament as defending champions. A grand slam clinched after a thrilling performance in Ireland last season. This time round, both sides will lock horns in the final round once more. Both are likely to fight it out for the title that will provide ample preparation for the U20 World Championships, in May and June. From the Six Nations U20 squads, one team will stand on top, after the five rounds are completed.
Speaking to Six Nations media on the announcements, the coaches give their verdicts on the sides they’ve selected. Last Word on Rugby will be following the U20 tournament all the way, so we’ve put together a run down of the all of the squads:
England U18s Given Chance to Step-up
The most notable inclusions of England’s 32-man Elite Performance Squad are the eight U18s players.
After an impressive tour to South Africa, the likes of Ben White and Fraser Dingwall get the opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of the World Championships. Both White and Dingwall feature in LWOR’s key England players to watch.
Sale Sharks’ Ben Curry also makes the 32, despite brother Tom being involved in Eddie Jones’ senior squad. Gabriel Ibitoye, Alex Seville and Will Butler are just a few of the names making successive Six Nations appearances.
“We’ve got some exciting backs so if we can create some space for them we’ll be a threat. This is what we’re concentrating on.”
England’s coaches Anthony Allen, Richard Blaze and James Ponton head up a new-look team tasked with continuing a proud history in the tournament. Being favourites though, they’re likely to be tested along the way.
O’Brien leads experienced Ireland Side
Ireland will be out to avenge their fourth place finish in last year’s tournament, by naming a squad full of experience.
11 players in the 32-man group featured in both Six Nations and World Championships last season. Forwards Jordan Duggan, Ronan Kellerher, Diarmuid Barron and back-row Sean Masterson are involved for a second time. Similarly, scrum-half Jonny Stewart, fly-half Conor Dean, centres Angus Curtis, David McCarthy and captain Tommy O’Brien join Mark Keane and Michael Sylvester in an experienced Ireland side.
In a hugely motivating move, former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell joins head coach Noel McNamara as an assistant coach.
“The players have all been working hard over the past number of months and we’re confident in the ability of the squad we have selected.”
O’Connell’s playing experience will undoubtedly rub off on Ireland’s young players. Motivation in itself to go out and perform and possibly competing for a Six Nations title showdown with England.
Six Nations opportunity to increase depth for Wales
Wales have opted to pick an exciting youthful look to their squad with one eye on the World Championships in the summer.
Head coach Jason Strange has chosen to include two U17s scrum halves. A decision he believes will pay off.
”We want to develop our players, allowing them to play with flair and to express themselves as much as possible.”
Dragons’ Dan Babos and Ospreys’ Harri Morgan both make the cut. There are also places for 16 of Wales’ U18 squad from last season. Most notably, is Tomi Lewis who made his debut for the Wales Sevens team in the World Rugby Sevens Series, during the Dubai leg in December.
The Welsh begin their campaign at home to Scotland. A winning start will certainly give them the momentum to build on last year’s third place finish.
‘Les Bleuets’ add Top14 Experience to their Ranks
Toulouse fly-half Romain Ntamack is the stand out player in France’s Six Nations U20 squad.
Ntamack played a pivotal role in last year’s tournament and will once again be called upon to work his magic. This year even more so, given Bordeaux’s fly-half sensation Matthieu Jalibert being called up to the senior squad.
His Top14 experience alongside Cameron Woki (Bordeaux) and Arthur Coville (Stade Francais) could prove fruitful in their quest to secure only a third title since 2008.
“This selection is the synthesis of these three different set-ups, bought together to bring the best of their potential.”
Preparations for the Championships began in Doha for winter training. Head coach Sébastien Piqueronies increased his selection quota by including the U18s and U19s squads.
France may be seen as underdogs by some and given their selection, they may just create an upset or two.
Italy Look to Improve on Last Year’s Finish
The only way is up for Italy, who finished last season’s competition having played five, lost five.
But four players of last year’s squad will be part of the 2018 group looking to improve in picking up at least one victory.
Antonio Rizzi, Giovanni D’Onofrio, Jacopo Bianchi and Edoardo Iachizzi make up a 24-man squad who entertain England in round one on Friday.
Both Rizzi and Bianchi featured in all five of the Azzurini’s fixtures last season and their experience will be crucial to achieving their aims.
”Improving the results compared to 2017 is our goal – it is not easy but the attitude of the team and their ability to respond has been superb.”
Coaches Fabio Roselli and Andrea Moretti lead the Italians, who have picked up seven wooden spoons in their 10 appearances in the competition. With the strength of their rivals, they’ll need to pull off something remarkable to avoid furthering that trend.
Scottish Rugby Academy Well Represented in U20 Squad
10 of Scotland’s 28-man Six Nations U20 squad have made the step up from the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy.
These include hooker Robbie Smith, back-row Archie Erskine, fly-half Ross Thompson as well as winger Sam Yawayawa.
“They’ve already shown throughout our training camp that they have the ability, which will be vital as we look to lay down a marker in this year’s tournament.”
There are also a number of inclusions from the Scottish Qualified Programme. Most notably, Nathan MacBeth (Golden Lions), Ewan Johnson (Racing 92) and Charlie Gowling (Stade Francais) get the nod from head coach Stevie Scott.
Scott has opted for an inexperienced group of players where 24 of which are set to make their debut at U20 level. The head coach will be hoping the short turnaround time will be enough to help his players get off to a winning start.
With only days away until the 2018 tournament gets underway, the stage is set for the next generation of international stars to mark their mark.
The Six Nations U20 squads look a likely bunch to make this year’s competition the best yet.
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