The Under-20s Six Nations Championship offers a glimpse of the future as the Northern Hemisphere’s most promising players showcase their talent and potential. Aron looks previews the teams ahead of a star-spotting tournament.
Since 2008, some of Europe’s finest players – Wales’ Sam Warburton, Scotland’s Jonny Gray and Ireland’s Garry Ringrose – have featured in this competition and gone on to bigger things.
Names to watch out for at this year’s Six Nations include England centre Jacob Umaga (nephew of New Zealand great Tana) and France prop Daniel Brennan (son of ex-Irish international Trevor).
The beauty of this Under-20s competition is that every year is different from the one before due to its succession policy, making each Championship an unpredictable and exciting contest.
Round One fixtures
Friday 3rd February 2017
Italy U20s v Wales U20s. Kick-Off 18:00pm.
Venue: Stadio Giovanni Mari, Legnano. Broadcaster: S4C
Friday 3rd February 2017
Scotland U20s v Ireland U20s. Kick-Off 20:30pm.
Venue: Broadwood Stadium, Glasgow
Saturday 4th February 2017
England U20s v France U20s. Kick-Off 12:00pm.
Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter. Broadcaster: Sky Sports
Like their senior counterparts, Italy U20s often struggle to compete in the Six Nations Championship. The Azzurrini have ended up with the Wooden Spoon in six of the nine tournaments to date with three victories over Scotland and a draw against Ireland being the only highlights.
Last year Italy again finished winless and bottom, but did secure 11th place and avoid relegation to the World Trophy with a 41-17 romp over Japan at the 2016 U20s World Championships.
The Italians will take confidence from this result into their home Six Nations’ clashes with Wales, Ireland and France plus England and Scotland away as they seek to avoid another Wooden Spoon.
Coach: Alessandro Troncon
Captain: Marco Riccioni
Prediction: Wooden Spoon
Scotland equalled their best U20s Six Nations’ finish of fourth last year and in doing so, upset England 24-6 in what was their first win over the Red Rose at this level.
This feat was later followed by a historic victory over Australia on the opening day of the U20s World Championships last summer before eventually coming eighth.
These two standout results show the overall standard of Scottish rugby at underage, club and international level is on the rise again.
Like their seniors, Scotland U20s too will be competing with Ireland, Wales and Italy at home plus England and France away for a top three finish at the 2017 Six Nations tournament.
Coach: Sean Lineen
Captain: Callum Hunter-Hill
Just three players remain from a much-changed Ireland U20s side which finished third place at last year’s tournament.
Only lock Cillian Gallagher, out-half Johnny McPhillips and back-row John Foley return for their second Six Nations as Ireland look to build on the euphoria of last summer’s U20s World Championship.
The Irish defeated Grand Slam winners Wales, 2015 champions New Zealand and Argentina on their way to making the final, where they lost out to hosts England.
However, it was Ireland’s best finish at the U20s World Championships and are looking to push on at the 2017 Six Nations against England and France at home with Wales, Scotland and Italy away.
Coach: Nigel Carolan
Captain: Jack Kelly
Two-time winners France have twice come second since they last lifted the U20s’ Six Nations trophy in 2014 and are hoping to be third time lucky at this year’s tournament.
Les Bleuets finished a disappointing ninth at the U20s World Championships last year losing to semi-finalists Argentina and South Africa in the pool phase.
The French though are often in and around Europe’s top two making them seasonal title challengers and are the second most successful team in the competition after England.
France hope their form does not desert them again when they face Wales and Scotland at home with England, Ireland and Italy away as they hone in on 2017 Six Nations glory.
Coach: Gerald Bastide
Captain: Florian Verhaeghe
Champions Wales welcome back seven of last year’s Grand Slam-winning squad as they bid to defend the title they won for the first time in 2016.
They secured the Slam with a 35-6 triumph over Italy following four impressive performances, which featured a first away success over England (42-16) at this level.
Wales though were undone at the U20s World Championships losing to Ireland, New Zealand twice (the second a 71-12 hammering), with a fortunate 10-9 win against Georgia and victory over Scotland salvaging seventh spot.
The Welsh open their campaign against Italy knowing that a good start is imperitive with home tests against England and Ireland plus away trips to France and Scotland to come.
Coach: Jason Strange
Captain: Will Jones
World Rugby U20s winners England will be looking regain and secure their sixth Six Nations ahead of their World Championship defence in Georgia next summer.
The English finished a disappointing fifth at the 2016 tournament, losing four of their five matches as they tamely surrendered their 2015 crown to Wales.
However, there was an emphatic turnaround in fortune at the U20s World Championships as hosts England swept aside all before them to lift their third World title at this level.
Following their success last summer, the Red Rose are expected to do better at this year’s Six Nations as they face France, Scotland and Italy at home with Wales and Ireland away.
Coach: Rory Teague
Captain: Ben Earl