Preview: Wales U20 v New Zealand U20

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Wales U20 head into the second half of the World Rugby U20 Championship with a tough tie against New Zealand U20 in the 5th-8th place bracket.

It follows a bizarre final day of the pool stages that saw Argentina comfortable overcome France to go through to the semi-finals as pool winners, while England beating 14-man Australia and South Africa beating New Zealand meant they drop out of the top four for the first time since 2016.

The harsh nature of the seeding system has counted against the Baby Blacks as they secured comfortable bonus point wins over Georgia and Scotland, but a 25-17 defeat against the young Springboks left them a point off qualifying for the semi-finals.

As a result it is Wales who will face them next, after our bonus point win over Fiji, as we look to put an end to a four-game winning streak that New Zealand have over us.

Those defeats see an aggregate score of 161-45 in favour of the Baby Blacks, with only a 17-16 scoreline in 2016 having a margin of less than 24 points. The most recent of those losses came last year when Taine Basham scored Wales’ only try in a 42-10 pool stage defeat.

taine-basham-wales-u20.jpg
Taine Basham takes on New Zealand U20 last year

You have to go back to the pool stages in 2012 for the last Welsh victory over New Zealand when the boots of Matthew Morgan and Tom Prydie secured a weather-affected 9-6 win, under the coaching of former Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson.

Baby Blacks head coach Craig Philpott has continued to make changes to his starting XV, tinkering between each game so far, with seven new faces in from the side which lined up from the start against South Africa.

Tighthead prop Tamaiti Williams is in up front, while Swansea-born lock Taine Plumtree returns to the engine room, with Kaylum Boshier back at blindside flanker, while in the backs Taufa Funaki gets the nod at scrum-half, Quinn Tupaea is in at outside centre, and winger Lalomilo Lalomilo along with full-back Scott Gregor freshen up the back three.

The backline is particularly potent having scored the most tries in the tournament so far with 17, led by winger Leicester Faingaanuku who has made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders earlier this season.

New Zealand U20: Scott Gregor, Lalomilo Lalomilo, Quinn Tupaea, Dallas McLeod, Leicester Faingaanuku, Fergus Burke, Taufa Funaki; Ollie Norris, Kianu Kereru Symes (c), Tamaiti Williams, Taine Plumtree, Tupou Va’ai, Kaylum Boshier, Kohan Herbert, Devan Flanders

Replacements: Shilo Klein, George Dyer, Fletcher Newell, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Cullen Grace, Samipeni Finau, Jeriah Mua, Simon Parker, Leroy Carter, Rivez Reihana, Billy Proctor, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Cole Forbes

Leicester Faingaanuku New Zealand U20
Leicester Faingaanuku is a danger man

It’s a similar story for Wales U20 under Gareth Williams who makes six changes to his starting XV, keeping players in certain positions fresh as Kemsley Mathias and Ben Warren are back in at prop after being rested against Fiji.

Morgan Jones re-joins Scarlets team-mate Jac Price at second row, while Lennon Greggains recovers from the shoulder injury picked up against Argentina in the first game to start at blindside.

In the backs Max Llewellyn at outside centre and Ryan Conbeer on the wing are back after sitting out against Fiji, but there is still no sign of Harri Morgan at scrum-half after his illness.

Teddy Williams returns as an option on the bench after his exam period out in South America, while Ioan Rhys Davies is available having flown out as an injury replacement.

Wales U20s: Ioan Davies (Cardiff Blues), Deon Smith (Dragons), Max Llewellyn (Cardiff Blues), Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler (Ospreys), Ryan Conbeer (Scarlets), Cai Evans (Ospreys), Dafydd Buckland (Dragons); 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: Garin Lloyd (Ospreys), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Nick English (Bristol Bears), Ed Scragg (Dragons), Iestyn Rees (Scarlets), Harri Morgan (Ospreys), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Sam Costelow (Leicester Tigers), Teddy Williams (Cardiff Blues), Tom Devine (Dragons), Ioan R Davies (Cardiff Blues), Will Griffiths (Dragons), Tomi Lewis (Scarlets)

Max Llewellyn Wales U20
Max Llewellyn is back for Wales at 13

As mentioned, New Zealand are the top try scorers in the tournament so far, but with Wales leading the goal kicking statistics thanks to the boot of Cai Evans we could be in for a high scoring affair.

Playing back on the plastic pitch in Rosario will certainly assist that, but Wales will have to improve on what was a tired and lacklustre defensive showing against Fiji last time out, where too many missed tackles made the game closer than it really should have been.

While New Zealand have an exciting backline, their pack is potentially where Wales can look to for a weakness, as South Africa bullied the Baby Blacks in the final pool stage game, while the Welshmen benefitted from a dominant driving maul.

Through Tommy Reffell, Dewi Lake and Jac Morgan they also have the breakdown ability to cause problems, so if they can get the upper hand up front then an historic victory could be on the cards.

It will take the performance of the tournament so far from Gareth Williams’ men to accomplish that though.

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