Preview: Wales U20 v France U20

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Wales U20 return to action in the second pool stage game on Saturday as they take on reigning World Rugby U20 Champions France in Rosario, kick-off 5pm UK time.

Gareth Williams’ men come into the game off the back of an opening day win over Argentina U20 on Tuesday, where tries from Harri Morgan and Ryan Conbeer, the boot of Cai Evans and a strong defensive performance, secured a 30-25 victory.

They now take on France U20, who completed the U20 Six Nations and World Rugby U20 Championship double last season, and finished second in this year’s U20 Six Nations.

On the way to that finish they beat Wales U20 in Vannes 32-10, a comfortable scoreline although a try from Scarlets centre Joe Roberts had seen the half-time score a closer 17-10, before France scored 15 unanswered second half points.

Tommy Reffell Wales U20
Tommy Reffell carries against France

In fact, no Wales U20 team have beaten France U20 for the last three seasons, the last win coming back in 2016 courtesy of a try from Dragons winger George Gasson and the boot of Billy McBryde, now of RGC.

The French make 12 changes to their starting XV which overcame Fiji U20 on Tuesday in a performance that secured a bonus point, thanks to a 36-20 scoreline, but that wasn’t quite in top gear against a side who are only returning to the competition having played in the second tier U20 Trophy for the last four years.

Antoine Zeghdar retains his place in the centre, switching from 13 to 12, while Donovan Taofifenua is also on the move from full-back to wing. The other remaining player is star man Jordan Joseph at number eight, who won player of the tournament last summer despite still being U18 age, and has played 12 times for Racing 92 this season.

Loosehead Jean Baptiste Gros, second row Killian Geraci, fly-half Louis Carbonel and centre Arthur Vincent all return to the starting XV having been in the squad when France U20 lifting the title last summer.

France U20: Alexandre de Nardi, Vincent Pinto, Arthur Vincent (c), Antoine Zeghdar, Donovan Taofifenua, Louis Carbonel, Quentin Delord; Jean Baptiste Gros, Rayne Barka, Paul Mallez, Gauhier Maravat, Killian Geraci, Matthias Haddad-Victor, Sacha Zegueur, Jordan Joseph

Replacements: Theo Lachaud, Giorgi Beria, Alex Burin, Eli Eglaine, Thibault Hamonou, Mathieu Hirigoyen, Loic Hocquet, Leo Coly, Mathieu Smaili, Julien Delbouis, Ethan Dumortier, Matthis Lebel

Jordan Joseph France U20
Jordan Joseph is France’s star man

On the other hand Wales U20 head coach Gareth Williams largely sticks with the team that saw them past Argentina earlier in the week, with only three tactical changes, with two forced by injury.

Aneurin Owen is still undergoing return to play protocols so Max Llewellyn starts at outside centre, while Iestyn Rees slots in at blindside flanker with Lennon Greggains fit enough to be named as a replacement after a shoulder injury, but unlikely to be involved.

Elsewhere Ed Scragg is preferred to Morgan Jones as fresh legs in the engine room, Harri Morgan isn’t risked as he struggles with an illness so Dafydd Buckland starts at scrum-half, and Tomi Lewis gets the nod over Rio Dyer on the wing.

Wales U20: Ioan Davies (Cardiff Blues), Tomi Lewis (Scarlets), Max Llewellyn (Cardiff Blues), Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler (Ospreys), Ryan Conbeer (Scarlets), Cai Evans (Ospreys), Dafydd Buckland (Dragons); Kemsley Mathias (Scarlets), Dewi Lake (capt, Ospreys), Ben Warren (Cardiff Blues), Ed Scragg (Dragons), Jac Price (Scarlets), Iestyn Rees (Scarlets), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Jac Morgan (Aberavon/Scarlets)

Replacements: Will Griffiths (Ospreys), Garin Lloyd (Ospreys), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Tom Devine (Dragons), Nick English (Bristol Bears), Teddy Williams (Cardiff Blues), Morgan Jones (Scarlets), Lennon Greggains (Dragons), Harri Morgan (Ospreys) Sam Costelow (Leicester Tigers), Deon Smith (Dragons), Rio Dyer (Dragons)

Kemsley Mathias Argentina U20
Kemsley Mathias retains his place on the loosehead

Looking at the selected squad it’ll be much of the same from Wales in terms of attack, with the boot of Cai Evans looking to give us field position before an excellent set piece and strong first phase strikeability are used to get points on the board.

They will have to ensure the kicking game is spot on though, with France regularly punishing Fiji on the counter attack on Tuesday, while the selection of Tomi Lewis is a nod to combating the kick-pass threat that the French possess.

Keeping the scoreboard ticking over will be key in keeping up with the opposition, but if we’re still in the game with 15-20 minutes to go and Sam Costelow rises from the bench then Wales have a chance to nick the win.

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