PREVIEW: Wales U20s vs Ireland U20s

PREVIEW: Wales U20s vs Ireland U20s

Defending champions Ireland begin their campaign against Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series runners-up Wales in a fascinating Round 1 clash.

Ireland went through the 2022 Championship undefeated but won just two of their matches on their expedition to Italy, hampered by injuries to key personnel.

Whereas Ireland wowed in the spring and wilted in the summer, the reverse occurred for Byron Hayward’s Wales side, who picked up just one victory in last year’s Championship before a run to the final of the event which replaced the 2022 World Rugby U20 Championship.

Wales also impressed during a recent warm-up fixture, sweeping Poland aside 71-12 at Cardiff Arms Park.

As ever with Under-20s rugby, there is a new cohort of players ready to make their mark as they continue their ascent up the international ladder.

With the Wales XV containing four players who have graced the Under-20 Six Nations previously and Ireland featuring just three, there is little to choose between the teams when it comes to experience and the margin on the scoreboard may be just as minimal come full time in Colwyn Bay.


Team news

Wales’ back line is stacked with returning stars, all equally capable of affecting the outcome of a close-fought game.

Wing Harri Houston is arguably the pick of the bunch. The 19-year-old scored three tries during the Summer Series including an impressive double against resolute Georgia.

Joining him in the back three and for a second run at the Under-20 Six Nations is Cameron Winnett, who has made three United Rugby Championship appearances for Cardiff Rugby following a try on his Heineken Champions Cup debut against Harlequins.

And pulling the strings is Dan Edwards, a rock-solid kicker and fearless fly-half who will be looking to make a big impact in his second year at this level.

More familiar faces to fans of Under-20s rugby can be found on the replacements bench in the form of Mackenzie Martin and Harri Williams, while Ryan Woodman, who started three matches in last year’s Championship wearing the No.5 shirt, will captain the side from the back row

Hayward is without three stars he would likely have called upon in Morgan Morse, Bryn Bradley and Oli Andrew but will be optimistic about his side's chances on home soil.

Ireland, meanwhile, have been able to call upon three players from their Grand Slam campaign, all of which start in the pack.

Leinster duo Diarmuid Mangan and Conor O’Tighearnaigh start in the second row, while James McNabney is named at blindside flanker.

And three men who starred during the Summer Series are on the teamsheet once more, in the form of Sam Prendergast, George Hadden, and Harry West.

Fly-half Prendergast will be looking to follow in his brother Cian’s footsteps, with the older sibling having won his first senior cap in the autumn against Fiji.

Wing Ike Anagu is one to watch out for, he is the only player in the 23 plying his trade outside Ireland, with the 19-year-old on the books at Heineken Champions Cup holders La Rochelle.

Key battle - Brian Gleeson v Ryan Woodman

Ireland’s Brian Gleeson will take some stopping with ball in hand.

Since ditching his beloved hurling for the oval-shaped ball, Gleeson has tried a number of positions throughout the pack before settling on No.8, which spells danger for the opposition back line when it comes to scrum time.

With fellow giants Diarmuid Mangan and Ruadhán Quinn alongside him, the Irish pack will not be found wanting for size.

Perhaps the Wales player best equipped to stop the towering Gleeson is opposite number Ryan Woodman, who is the only member of the pack to have appeared at this level previously.

Described by coach Hayward as the 'overwhelming candidate' for the captaincy, Woodman is a quietly determined character who will let his performance on the pitch do the talking.

Perform strongly over the next weeks and he will be hoping to follow fellow back row Jac Morgan's lead and make the step up to the senior squad before too long.


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