Battered and bruised Wales U20 prepare for the Baby Blacks

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When Wales U20 head coach Gareth Williams was picturing the World Rugby U20 Championship pool stage pre-tournament, he probably would have taken two wins and a defeat for nine points.

However, he probably wouldn’t have taken how everything else has panned out for his squad, as injuries and unavailability have plagued team selections, while performances have not all been at the level that was hoped for when making the 5th-8th place play-off.

From the first few minutes of the opening encounter against Argentina U20 there was adversity to face, as Aneurin Owen’s contribution came to an end after a nasty clash of heads, while Lennon Greggains followed before the first half came to a close with a shoulder injury that has ruled him out since.

With Harri Morgan not available in the games that followed against France U20 or Fiji U20 due to illness, and Teddy Williams not named in either squads for an unknown reason, the 28-man squad has quickly become just 24, as replacements are not easily able just to pop over to South America.

This has prevented Williams from making the wholesale changes to his starting XV that we have witnessed in tournaments gone by, and that other teams have been able to do in the year’s edition. France, for example, made 12 changes to the team that beat Fiji on the opening day for our clash in round two.

Linked to this has been the way the fixtures have fallen, with Wales really unable to do anything other than play the best team against Argentina, and then decide to either throw the game against France to rest players, or just make minor changes to keep a few players fresh.

Harri Morgan Argentina U20 2
Harri Morgan has been ruled out of the two most recent games through illness

In the end they have gone for the second option, with more minor changes coming against Fiji, but the end result is a number of key players down the spine of the team playing the majority of minutes so far.

Of the 240 minutes played, Jac Price has been on the field for 187, Ioan Davies for 199 and captain Dewi Lake has played for 206 minutes. Tommy Reffell has 238 minutes, while Jac Morgan, Cai Evans and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler have played every minute of the three games so far.

When looking at those stats it’s hardly surprising that there was a noticeable fall-off in performance during the second half against France, and some very soft defending against Fiji both in terms of structure and tackling.

Factor in the physically demanding showing to overcome Argentina in the first game, and the ploughed field the game against Fiji took place on in Santa Fe, and the squad will no doubt be feeling very sore today.

There is some positive news on the horizon for Gareth Williams, as Cardiff Blues back rower Ioan Rhys Davies arrives in camp before the next game, and Harri Morgan is expected to be fit for that encounter, which will take place back on the artificial pitch in Rosario.

However, the opponent will be New Zealand U20, wounded after a defeat at the hands of South Africa. It doesn’t get much tougher than that!

Wales U20 v New Zealand U20 will take place at 14:30 on Monday, live on S4C.

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