The 2019 U20 Six Nations Championship kicks off this weekend, with the first two games on Friday 1st February.
Unlike in the senior Guinness Six Nations though, and Guinness Six Nations tickets are still available, it is not France v Wales that kicks off the tournament, they play on Sunday, instead we start with Scotland v Italy in Galashiels and Ireland v England at Irish Independent Park in Cork.
France are the reigning champions, indeed they are the kings of U20 rugby at the moment. They won four out of five in the last U20 6 Nations, losing only to England, to finish top of the pile before hosting the World Rugby U20 Championships in June, which they won in style.
Since then players from that side have gone on to star, not least Romain Ntamack, who starts at inside centre for the senior side against Wales and Demba Bamba, who covers the tighthead prop position from the bench.
A number of the stars from that championship winning side remain with the U20s though, in particular the barnstorming number Jordan Joseph, who looks set to become one of the leading lights in world rugby over the next decade or so and will certainly be among the stars in this championship.
Wales will push France well on Sunday though, led by Leicester Tigers’ Tommy Reffell and with some really top class players across the pitch, particularly in the half backs, they will pose a big threat.
Probably France’s biggest threat to retaining the title though is England, who last year were the only side to beat France and then went on to face them in that World U20 Championship final.
England’s side for these championships has an enormous amount of Gallagher Premiership experience and a huge amount of senior international exposure too. In Friday night’s 23 to face Ireland Marcus Smith, Joel Kpoku, Cameron Redpath, and Ollie Lawrence have all been to England camps under Eddie Jones, while Ted Hill was capped in the autumn.
It shows the quality of options though that despite all of that experience it is Fraser Dingwall that captains the side from outside centre. The former Bedford School skipper has been in sensational form for Northampton Saints and is rewarded with the captaincy in an area of the field where the options are mind-blowing for England, Marcus Smith, Tom Hardwick, Tom de Glanville, Cameron Redpath, Ollie Lawrence, and Dingwall are just some of the players competing for places in that 10-12-13 axis.
Ireland will be a strong outfit though, the strength of their school system is a widely known fact now and the depth of options coming through for Joe Schmidt’s senior side is something of a wonder. This group will likely provide yet more and, particularly at home, they are going to be a tough side.
Scotland meanwhile have a really exciting squad, leaning heavily on the Scottish Exiles programme too. 2018 was a tough campaign for them, finishing bottom of the table, but a win against England showed what they are capable of and in the likes of Ross Thompson at fly half they have plenty of quality.
Italy defeated them last year though, and while it was an exciting game Scotland will be absolutely determined to avoid that again this year. It will be a tough game up at Galashiels though, Italy hare making huge strides at age group level and will be eyeing moving up that table even further.
Home Nations’ Team News:
U20 6 Nations Fixtures:
Ireland v England – Friday, 7.15pm, Irish Independent Park, Cork
Scotland v Italy – Friday, 7.30pm, Netherdale, Galashiels
France v Wales – Sunday, 2pm, Stade de la Rabine, Vannes
Scotland v Ireland – Friday 8th Feb, 7.30pm, Netherdale, Galashiels
England v France – Saturday 9th Feb, 12.05pm, Sandy Park, Exeter
Italy v Wales – Sunday 10th Feb, 2pm, Stadio Danilo Martelli, Mantova
Italy v Ireland – Friday 22nd Feb, 6pm, Stadio Centro d’Italia, Rieti
Wales v England – Friday 22nd Feb, 7.05pm, Stadwm Zip World, Colwyn Bay
France v Scotland – Friday 22nd Feb, 8pm, Stade du Dameau, Pau
Ireland v France – Friday 8th Mar, 7.15pm, Irish Independent Park, Cork
Scotland v Wales – Friday 8th Mar, 7.30pm, Meggetland, Edinburgh
England v Italy – Friday 8th Mar, 7.45pm, Goldington Road, Bedford
Italy v France – Friday 15th Mar, 6pm, Stadio Pozzi La Marmora, Piedmont
Wales v Ireland – Friday 15th Mar, 7.05pm, Stadiwm Zip World, Colwyn Bay
England v Scotland – Friday 15th Mar, 7.45pm, Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton