Wales U20 head coach Gareth Williams will name his squad for the U20 Six Nations in the near future as age grade rugby finally returns after over a year away.
The young Welshmen’s game against Scotland on Friday 13th March 2020 was one of the final games played in the sport before the covid-19 pandemic hit, and since then there has been no schools, colleges or age grade rugby in the country as Academies have battled hard to continue developing their next generations of players.
Ahead of the U20 Six Nations, which will be played at the Arms Park over three-and-a-bit weeks in late June and early July, I’ve had a look at the Cardiff Blues Academy prospects who could be in with a shout of making the squad, which may well be enlarged due to six-day turnarounds between matches and 26-man matchday squads.
Starting up front and Theo Bevacqua is as close to a dead certainty as you can get with the loosehead prop set to be a senior member of the squad having impressed while playing in all five games last year, starting four, and has gone on to make his first team debut at the Arms Park during this campaign.
As the only returning loosehead from last year’s squad he will have new competitors for the number one jersey, with the strongest likely to be a former Cardiff Blues player in Garyn Phillips, now plying his trade at the Ospreys where he too recently made a first team debut.
At hooker there will be a complete change as none of the players selected in last year’s squad are eligible this year, therefore former Rhondda Schools and Cardiff Blues U16 North captain Efan Daniel could be in line for a call-up.
Scarlets hooker Morgan Macrae would appear to be the front runner to start in the middle of the front row, with his club mate Lewis Morgan, Oliver Burrows of Exeter and Dragons’ Conor Chapman also in contention alongside Daniel.
On the tighthead there could well be a return for Bath prop Archie Griffin, who made his debut last year and is eligible again this season, but with Ben Warren now too old for the U20s there could be an opportunity for highly-rated Nathan Evans to stake a claim for the number three jersey.
The former Cardiff & Vale College 1st XV squad member has been a key part of successful Cardiff Blues U16 and U18 sides, becoming renowned for his scrummaging power throughout his development thus far.
In the second row Gareth Williams has the luxury of selection continuity as Ospreys duo Rhys Thomas and James Fender continue to be eligible, as does Ben Carter who has had a breakout season for the Dragons first team, although he could well be involved with Wales’ senior team this summer.
Caleb Salmon at Scarlets and Joe Peard at Dragons are both prospects, while Exeter’s Christ Tshiunza is a dead certainty for selection, but Rhys Anstey with Cardiff has been a key part of successful Cardiff Blues U16 North, Cardiff Blues U18 and Coleg y Cymoedd sides, and has trained with the Cardiff first team this season alongside appearing in A game friendlies. An out-and-out lock, rather than a back row hybrid, he is one to track over the next few years.
The back row, as you would expect for any Welsh side, is an exciting area, with Ospreys’ Travis Huntley possibly returning from last year’s squad, while Carwyn Tuipulotu is a much talked about talent at Scarlets, George Young has been in and around the first team at the Dragons, and the Ospreys have added guys like Benji Williams and Harri Deaves.
At Cardiff we have our own conveyor belt of back row talent of course, and I expect at least two of those to be involved for Wales U20 as former U18 and Cardiff & Vale College 1st XV captain Evan Lloyd is a very exciting talent as a big physical number eight, while Alex Mann is a superb fetcher of an openside very much in the Ellis Jenkins mould of being hugely skilful.
Ethan Fackrell is also in the running having been a key part of the aforementioned Cardiff Blues U16 North, U18 and Coleg y Cymoedd sides, while McKenzie Martin is an intriguing prospect as a physical former prop of a flanker who has had a scholarship offer from Clifton College, although this season’s U20 will likely be a touch early for him.
Into the backs and it would be a surprise if Ethan Lloyd was not in the scrum-half contingent. A standout performer for Cardiff Blues U18 and Coleg y Cymoedd, as well as catching the eye on six performances for Cardiff RFC during the 2019/20 campaign at just turned18 years old.
Dan Hiscocks at Ealing Trailfinders, Harry Williams and Luke Davies, fitness depending, from the Scarlets and Dylan Davies formerly of the Dragons could also come into contention, but Lloyd stands a great chance of winning a few caps if he impresses in training.
Fly-half is a particularly exciting spot in the team with Scarlets’ Sam Costelow still eligible having already won 13 caps over the last two years for the U20s, full international Ioan Lloyd of Bristol still eligible too, with his brother Jac also coming through the system at Ashton Gate, while Joe Hawkins at the Ospreys and Will Reed at the Dragons are both excellent prospects.
From a Cardiff perspective Jacob Beetham could well retain his place in the squad, with the capability to play at full-back appealing from a versatility perspective, while Ben Burnell is a talent to keep an eye on and could sit behind some of the aforementioned fly-half candidates, especially if Lloyd and Costelow are kept back for the senior squad, ahead of potentially wearing the number 10 jersey next season.
The excitement continues into the centres where the capital city club could well be key players as Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Mason Grady prepare to properly make their mark on the U20s squad.
The former, a Clifton College scholar, would be new to the setup having made his first team debut against Ospreys last month, while the latter featured briefly on the wing last season for the 20s and, if fit, will be looking to show off all the talent that has made him one of the hottest properties in Welsh rugby.
They will have to do battle with the likes of Bradley Roderick at the Ospreys forming an eye catching and, crucially, experienced midfield corps.
Finishing with the back three and, alongside the likes of the Lloyd brothers, Beetham, Grady and Feyi-Waboso who can operate at either full-back or on the wing, there are some specialists in Carrick McDonough and Morgan Richards at Dragons, Dan John of Exeter, and Josh Carrington at Ospreys who will come into contention.
Theo Cabango could be in line for a call-up from Cardiff, as the speedster looks to make the step up from featuring for Cardiff Blues U18 and Ysgol Glantaf’s 1st XV, where he also played at full-back.
With plenty of talent at the Arms Park feeding into a wider pool of talented U20s eligible to play for Wales it will be an exciting few weeks across late June and early July when the squad take the field.