Wales U20 get their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign underway against host nation Argentina U20 at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario on Tuesday, with a 5pm kick-off UK time.
The young Welshmen will be looking to make amends for last year’s 5th-8th place semi-final defeat at the hands of Los Pumitas, which saw them go down to a heavy 15-39 loss and leave them playing Italy for seventh place in the competition, which they duly secured.
Since then the Argentinians have gone on to win the Youth Olympics Sevens gold medal, with four of that team in this summer’s squad, as well as put in impressive showings against Georgia and South Africa in a mini-tournament back in March.
It gives hope to a Pumitas side that haven’t finished higher than third in their pool at either of the last two editions of this tournament, but have a better record than any nation when it comes to players going on to get capped at senior international level after playing for the U20s.
Head coach Jose Pellicena has attempted to fill his first starting XV of the competition with as much experience as possible with only nine debutants at the World Rugby U20 Championships.
Four players are in their second year of playing in the tournament, while two, in the form of captain Juan Pablo Castro and scrum-half Gonzalo Garcia, will line-up for the third time courtesy of playing while still technically U18 qualified the first time around.
One of 12 players to watch picked ahead of the tournament by journalist Alex Shaw, a player ID specialist, was number eight Bautista Pedemonte, who despite not being the biggest player in the side has the carrying ability to cause real problems.
Argentina U20: Ignacio Mendy, Rodrigo Isgro, Juan Pablo Castro, Santiago Chocobares, Mateo Carreras, Geronimo Prisciantelli, Gonzalo Garcia; Francisco Minervino, Pablo Dimcheff, Francisco Coria, Manuel Bernstein, Lucas Bur, Juan Cruz Perez-Rachel, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Bautista Pedemonte
Replacements: Thoms Gallo, Ramiro Gurovich, Francisco Calandra, Estanislao Carullo, Agustín Toth, Ramiro Tallone Nadaff, Jerónimo Gómez Vara, Federico Parnas, Joaquín Pellandini, Joaquín de la Vega Mendía, Nicolás Roger, Tomás Acosta Pimentel, Marcos Moneta
Wales U20, meanwhile, have finished seventh in the last three World Rugby U20 Championships, but will be looking for an upturn in form as Gareth Williams leads us into this competition for the first time since taking over from Jason Strange last summer.
A slightly disappointing Six Nations campaign started slowly against France but reached a high point with back-to-back wins over Italy and England, but losses at the hands of Scotland and Ireland brought the competition to a close on a sour note.
In some areas of the field Williams has stuck with recognisable combinations, with captain Dewi Lake and Ben Warren continuing their run of starting every game this season at hooker and tighthead respectively, while Lennon Greggains and Tommy Reffell team up at flanker after featuring in last year’s squad as well.
In the backs Harri Morgan, Cai Evans and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler form an all-second year Ospreys 9, 10 and 12 combo that should work together like a well-oiled machine.
However, outside of that there is individual talent that hasn’t featured together as much as you might like going into a must-win game first up.
Kemsley Mathias has only started once at loosehead, getting selected ahead of Rhys Davies who featured regularly in the Six Nations, while Morgan Jones was not involved in the Six Nations squad at all at lock. Finishing off the forwards, Jac Morgan gets the nod over Iestyn Rees at number eight, despite starting every Six Nations game at openside flanker.
Outside that Ospreys three-quarter line, Aneurin Owen will feature at outside centre, despite naturally being an inside centre, while Rio Dyer and Ryan Conbeer start on the wings after having not played in the Six Nations with the former involved with Wales Sevens and the latter injured.
In a new rule for this year, every squad member not selected in the starting XV is an option off the bench, although fly-half Sam Costelow is unavailable due to sitting an exam.
Wales U20: Ioan Davies (Cardiff Blues), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Aneurin Owen (Dragons), Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler (Ospreys), Ryan Conbeer (Scarlets), Cai Evans (Ospreys), Harri Morgan (Ospreys); Kemsley Mathias (Scarlets), Dewi Lake (Ospreys)(c), Ben Warren (Cardiff Blues), Morgan Jones (Scarlets), Jac Price (Scarlets), Lennon Greggains (Dragons), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Jac Morgan (Aberavon/Scarlets)
Replacements: Will Griffiths (Dragons), Garin Lloyd (Ospreys), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Tom Devine (Dragons), Nick English (Bristol Bears), Teddy Williams (Cardiff Blues), Ed Scragg (Dragons), Iestyn Rees (Scarlets), Dafydd Buckland (Dragons), Max Llewellyn (Cardiff Blues), Deon Smith (Dragons), Tomi Lewis (Scarlets)
That selection of Jac Morgan at number eight rather than Iestyn Rees suggests that Wales are not going to try and meet the forward power of Argentina in open play and at the set piece head-on.
Instead we’re going to try and move them around the field, target the breakdown, and secure quick and turnover ball for the exciting talent in our backline that no doubt will cause problems for Los Pumitas.
The slight concern is whether the selection of both Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler and Aneurin Owen in the centres will restrict our width slightly, with both naturally inside centres, but if Ioan Davies or the blindside winger can work to hit that gap then there should be no problem. Otherwise expect to see Max Llewellyn rising from the bench sooner rather than later.
If Wales harbour hopes of topping the pool and making the semi-finals then a win here is a must to boost confidence ahead of taking on pool favourites France on Saturday. Lose, and it could be a scrap with Fiji for third place. Come on Wales!