Two rounds in and already the U20 Six Nations is living up to the billing as an exciting competition full of talent and finding the next generation of international stars.
The French and the English have set the pace early on, with Ireland and Wales playing catch up. Both Scotland and Italy are yet to register wins in the competition.
Round three returns on Friday night, but here’s the story of the Championship so far:
French Flair in Les Bleuets
The lack of flair, we’ve been so accustomed to seeing in the past, in the senior French side has had little impact on their young counterparts.
Having finished in their joint best position ever of fourth in the World Championships last year, the French have taken that momentum into this year’s U20 Six Nations. A great start against Ireland was backed up a showing of strength against the Scots in Round Two. At the heart of that momentum is Toulouse’s Romain Ntamack.
Ntamack is just one of a number of young players in France emerging in the fly half position. He showed against Ireland and also against Scotland his vast array of skills. His kicking is strong – 98% success so far in the competition. His passing is crisp and his pass to find Boudenhent to score against Scotland was nothing short of sublime.
— Paul Eddison (@pauleddison) February 9, 2018
To become a top fly half in the game, players have to be able to adapt and have a heightened sense of game awareness. Ntamack is playing to the line, breaking the line himself or providing the killer pass that gives his team mate the chance to break the line. That in itself is giving defenders a hard time in stopping their go forward. Certainly one Frenchman to watch in Round Three, but Ntamack is reigniting the French flair of old.
Poor Starts Costly in Tournament Rugby
One of the big cliches in tournament rugby is about getting good starts. A good start helps to build momentum and holds teams in good stead going forward. As for Ireland, Italy and Scotland the impact of a bad start has a knock on effect on confidence and hopes of a good finish.
Italy’s defeat to England in Round One did have positives – Matteo Canali disrupting England’s lineout and scoring off the back of a strong rolling maul. Fly half Antonio Rizzi has also stood out as one of Italy’s top performers.
In Round Two, the Italians looked a rejuvenated side – even with a man down. Against Ireland, at Donnybrook, had their been an extra five or ten minutes at the end, Italy would have likely won the game. Despite losing out by four points, the momentum was with the Azzurini for the majority of the second half. Three unanswered tries in the final gave Ireland a scare, but having been ruthless and clinical early on, saved the blushes at the end. Again, Rizzi putting in a superb display and scoring 14 points in the process.
Scotland’s inexperience has told. Two big defeats to Wales and France has in effect foretold their fate. A likely wooden spoon finish but head coach Stevie Scott has made it clear his implications on picking a young squad. Building for a World Championship in May allows a stepping-stone process with the Six Nations.
Wales’ youth looked good against Scotland but were ultimately found out by England in Round Two. Corey Baldwin starred against the Scots but his Welsh team mates couldn’t find their rhythm against a strong, clinical English side chasing back to back grand slam titles.
Anglo-French Showdown Likely to Decide Championship
The English have matched the French dominance in the opening rounds of the competition. Unfavourable conditions in Italy hampered a free flowing game, despite England securing the bonus point victory. Tom Parton’s disregard for the conditions led to a man of the match display, scoring a classy try on the way to a winning start in the competition.
Despite Parton being led off injured at Kingston Park against Wales, captain Ben White picked up the baton and led his side from the front to make it three consecutive victories against the Welsh.
Gabriel Ibitoye’s stunning solo try against Wales, shows just how strong England are right across the pitch. Having the calibre of Ibitoye, who was recently named as one of Eddie Jones’ apprentices, provides England with so much attacking threat that he can score from anywhere.
— Gary Woodcock (@GaryWoodcock67) February 13, 2018
Both England and France have undoubtedly looked the strongest of the six sides. England’s trip to France in Round Four could be the title-deciding clash and with the French being at home, the advantage may just sit with Les Bleuets. This of course, based on the premise that Italy don’t spring an upset on Friday night and likewise with Scotland against England.
U20 Six Nations: What to Expect in Round Three
Italy have built a lot of confidence and even momentum in their first two games. However, a trip to France may just be a little too much against a French side coming off the back of a big win in Scotland.
The French have strong ball carriers in Sacha Zegeur and Ibrahim Diallo, but there’s no doubting the impact Ntamack will have from the bench. The French will look to play a fast, free-flowing game against the Italians – test their fitness and create gaps in the defence that Louis Carbonel and Ntamack can exploit. It may not be as heavy as the Scotland game, but it’s difficult to see anything other than an Italian defeat.
🔴 L'équipe de #FranceU20 a rendez-vous à Gueugnon ! Découvrez les joueurs sélectionnés par Sébastien Piqueronies et son staff pour affronter l'Italie pour ce 3e match du tournoi des @SixNationsRugby ! pic.twitter.com/U8rYgppP7l
— FF Rugby (@FFRugby) February 21, 2018
Scotland host England at Myreside in Edinburgh and following heavy defeats against Wales and France, the strength and experience of the English should prevail. Josh Basham has been excellent in the loose and a dominant forward pack should provide the platform for England’s ball players to take advantage of Scotland’s inexperience.
Ireland’s clash with Wales may prove to be a closely contested encounter. Both sides are needing a win to keep their title hopes alive. Both sides have also leaked tries in their opening two games. Ireland’s James McCarthy will want to continue his good form, having picked up a couple of tries against Italy. Defence will need to be high on the agenda for both teams, but Ireland’s attack may just come out on top against the Welsh.
Round Three of the U20 Six Nations gets underway on Friday night. For the best part it should be dominated by the French and the English. The Championship is slowly building and Round Four is more likely to provide the answer to the big question.
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