With so many players now graduating from the u20 programs to senior international level, it’s a surefire way to catch a glimpse of the stars of the future. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the players on show this weekend.
Alessandro Troncon’s future Azzurri side features six returning players from the Junior World Cup, including captain Paolo Buonfiglio and highly rated fullback Giacomo de Santis. Vice-captain Maicol Azzolini has been switched from scrumhalf to flyhalf, a change that worked for Edoardo Padovani in the past. Another switching positions is Luhandre Luus, a heavily armored back row from Natal Sharks who looks to follow in the footsteps of countryman Bismarck du Plessis with a move to hooker.
Hard-running Enrico Lucchin joins returnee Matteo Gabbianelli in a useful midfield, with gas man Yannick Agbasse outside. Renato Giammarioli and Matteo Archetti enjoy their second go at the tournament, but Matteo Cornelli can only make the bench, and there is no sign of Marco Lazzaroni, the star flanker who misses out with injury.
Ireland had a disappointing tournament last year but have a squad familiar with each other and a new coach in Nigel Carolan, the Connacht academy head honcho, highly rated in Irish circles. He will have seven JWC players at his disposal, including one of the IRB award nominees Garry Ringrose, an outstanding centre with future star written all over him. Scrumhalf Jack McCarthy leads the side and has Ross Byrne again as his halfback partner.
Oisin Heffernan, Rory Moloney, and tall timber Josh Murphy return in the pack. Along with even taller Alex Thompson, Ireland should enjoy a decent lineout advantage. Lorcan Dow is expected to carry a lot of the heavy duty carrying, and he’ll have to make up for the absence of injured hooker Sean McNulty. Ciaran Gaffney is another to miss out, with some reports suggesting the winger could miss the entire tournament with a torn hamstring.
Giacomo de Santis; Luca Sperandio, Matteo Gabbianelli, Enrico Lucchin, Yannick Agbasse; Maicol Azzolini, Luca Petrozzi; Dino Dallavalle, Luhandre Luus, Paolo Buonfiglio (capt.); Davide Zanetti, Davide Fragnito; Matteo Archetti, Dennis Bergamin, Renato Giammarioli. RES: Vincenzo Barbuscia, Enjel Makelara, Federico Pavesi, Ugo D’Onofrio, Matteo Cornelli, Riccardo Raffaele, Matteo Minozzi, Tommaso Beraldin.
Billy Dardis; Greg O’Shea, Garry Ringrose, Fergal Cleary, Jack Owens; Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy (capt.); Jeremy Loughman, Zack McCall, Oisin Heffernan; David O’Connor, Alex Thompson; Josh Murphy, Rory Moloney, Lorcan Dow. RES: Adam McBurney, Michael Lagan, Conan O’Donnell, Cian Romaine, Nick Timoney, Jack Cullen, Joey Carbery, Sam Arnold.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistants: Simon Rees (WRU) & Jon Hardy (WRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)
The young men in red were absolutely throttled at Kingston Park last season, and they will be out to make amends, but will have to do so without start centre Tyler Morgan, who misses out due to injury. Wonderfully-named Barney Nightingale steps in to partner Garyn Smith in his stead, but much of the attacking threat will now fall on the shoulders of Dafydd Howells, the only player in the tournament with senior caps already on his resume.
Strong men feature up front for Wales, with three returnees from the JWC including a pair of specimens in the second row in Joe Davies and captain Rory Thornton, both massive in size and potential. Towering Ospreys prospect Adam Beard can only make the bench, demonstrating the impressive depth of the Welsh engine room. Scrumhalf Tomos Williams is fresh off a run with the senior 7s side and offers considerable pace off the mark.
England of course are now 2-time defending world champions at this level, and feature five members of the winning JWC side, including four in the pack. Charlie Ewels, who has a few first team appearances for Bath this season, captains the side that also contains dynamic Harlequins back rower James Chisholm. Leeds tighthead Paul Hill returns beside clubmate Jack Walker with Bristol’s Ellis Genge teaming up to form an all-Championship front row.
The backs are slightly depleted with Nick Tompkins and Aaron Morris ruled out, leaving Howard Packman as the only second year representative, though scrumhalf Stuart Townsend did see time as a reserve in this fixture last year. Bath players occupy the 10 and 12 jerseys with Rory Jennings and Max Clark tasked with moving the line forward, but out wide there is no place for promising London Irish utility Tom Fowlie, who instead waits his turn as a reserve.
Dafydd Howells; Joshua Adams, Barney Nightingale, Garyn Smith, Rhys Williams; Dan Jones, Tomos Williams; Luke Garrett, Liam Belcher, Dillon Lewis; Joe Davies, Rory Thornton (capt.); Tom Phillips, Ollie Griffiths, Harrison Keddie. RES: Ryan Elias, Keegan Bale, Joe Jones, Adam Beard, Jordan Viggers, Kieran Hardy, James Whittingham, Owen Watkin.
Piers O’Conor; George Perkins, Joe Marchant, Max Clark, Howard Packman; Rory Jennings, Stuart Townsend; Ellis Genge, Jack Walker, Paul Hill; Kieran Treadwell, Charlie Ewels (capt.); Charlie Beckett, Will Owen, James Chisholm. RES: Jake Farnworth, Seb Adeniran-Olule, Ciaran Parker, Joe Batley, Josh Bainbridge, James Mitchell, Tom Morton, Tom Fowlie.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)
Assistants: Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (IRFU) & John Carvill (IRFU)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)
A home fixture is always a welcome thing for the French, and Fabien Pelous will have his charges cranked up for this. He’ll have plenty of experience to call upon, with nearly all of his backs enjoying previous experience at this level and a handful of forwards as well. Mobile hooker Camille Chat is the only returning member of the JWC pack, but Tristan Labouteley, Sekou Macalou, and captain Lucas Bachelier all saw action in last year’s Six Nations, and prop Rodrigue Neti has already played four times for Toulouse in the Top 14.
This year’s backs division has a dangerous look about it, with no big bruisers but plenty of class. Arthur Bonneval, brother of Hugo and son of Éric, is a highly rated attacker out wide, and Lucas Blanc is no slouch on the other side either. François Fontaine is a key man in the midfield, while Lucas Meret is a typical French distributor capable of playing either halfback position.
Scotland were dead last in the tournament last year, but like their senior team have plenty of reasons to be hopeful this time around. The outside backs are a bit of a question mark but Northampton’s Rory Hutchinson adds experience at flyhalf and George Horne, whose brother Peter is among the senior reserves this weekend, is yet another highly rated scrumhalf of the Scottish production line, having switched from flyhalf in the past year.
The forwards, on the other hand, look very formidable, and should cause problems for all comers. Neil Irvine-Hess can only make the bench, with standout returnees Magnus Bradbury and captain Jamie Ritchie preferred in the back row, and springheeled Lewis Carmichel beside top prospect Scott Cummings at lock. There is strength and experience all across the front row, and the battle between Neti and Glasgow tighthead Zander Fagerson should be a real treat.
Thomas Ramos; Arthur Bonneval, Léo Ghirard, François Fontaine, Lucas Blanc; Lucas Meret, Anthony Meric; Rodrigue Neti, Camille Chat, Quentin Bethune; Tristan Labouteley, Julien Delannoy; Sekou Macalou, Lucas Bachelier (capt.), Fabien Sanconnié. RES: Julien Marchand, Thibault Estorge, Michaël Simutoga, Cyril Cazeaux, Martin Devergie, Antoine Dupont, Thomas Roudil, Valentin Saurs.
Ruairi Howarth; Harvey Elms, Archie Russell, Patrick Kelly, Alec Coombes; Rory Hutchinson, George Horne; Murray McCallum, Ross Graham, Zander Fagerson; Scott Cummings, Lewis Carmichael; Lewis Wynne, Jamie Ritchie (capt.), Magnus Bradbury. RES: Jake Kerr, Gary Robertson, Dan Elkington, Neil Irvine-Hess, Matthew Smith, Andrew Manson, Tom Galbraith, Ruaraidh Smith.
Referee: Ian Tempest (RFU)
Assistants: David Procter (RFU) & Andrew Pearce (RFU)