France include nine members of the squad that conquered the world on home soil last year for the defence of their U20 Six Nations title.

Louis Carbonel, the scorer of 23 points in Les Bleuets 33-25 World Rugby U20 Championship final defeat of England, is among the players who retain their place, as is back-row sensation, Jordan Joseph.

A future French test star in the waiting, Joseph, then just 17, inspired France to their first U20 Championship title with some stunning performances – making more carries (54), metres (587) and offloads (13) ­than any other player.

Joseph has since gone on to make his Top 14 debut with Racing 92 and looks certain to join the 600-plus players who have graduated from the World Rugby U20 Championship stage to senior international honours.

Early dress rehearsal

For this year at least, though, and maybe next, the strapping teenager is the property of France U20s, who begin their campaign against Wales on Sunday at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes.


Wales coach Gareth Williams includes 13 players who have already gained experience at U20 level, captain Tommy Reffell among them, while two of the standout performers from last year's Wales U18 squad, Dragons centre Aneurin Owen and Leicester fly-half Sam Costelow, also feature.

"This is the first selection point gearing towards the World Cup when looking at the bigger picture," explained Williams, who is in his first campaign as head coach.

With momentum everything in a tournament with such a short time-span as the Six Nations, both sides will be hell-bent on getting off to winning starts.

Psychologically, victory will be important not just to the Six Nations but also looking ahead to the next edition of the World Rugby U20 Championship, held in Argentina between 4 -22 June, as the teams are paired together in Pool A. The same is true of Ireland and England. 

England ruined France’s hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2018 with a 22-6 win in Beziers, on the same ground where their world title dreams were later dashed.

Steve Bates’ England squad oozes with Premiership talent and is headlined by the likes of Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and Worcester back-row Ted Hill, who was capped by Eddie Jones in November.

New home for Ireland

An 11th place finish at the U20 Championship in 2018 does little justice to the talent possessed by Ireland at this level, and coach Noel McNamara’s charges will be determined to put the record straight.

Five players with previous experience of U20 duty both in last year’s Six Nations and the U20 Championship are included. They are Harry Byrne, Angus Kernohan and James McCarthy in the backs and Dylan Tierney-Martin and Charlie Ryan up front. Ryan is named as one of the squad’s vice-captains alongside Craig Casey while leading the group is David Hawkshaw.

Their new home for their upcoming fixtures is Irish Independent Park and McNamara is confident his squad can shine after last year’s third-place finish.

“It’s always an exciting time when the Six Nations comes around and things have been building well since before Christmas,” he said.

“We had two good run outs against Leinster and Munster Development sides where the players had the opportunity to put their hands up for selection for this squad.

“There’s a lot of talent in the playing group, and we’re looking forward to seeing these young men run out in the green jersey over the coming weeks.

Italy on the rise

England and Ireland will be accompanied by Italy and hosts Argentina in a European-heavy pool at the U20 Championship in June.

The Azzurrini have enjoyed incremental success in the last few years and they enter this year’s Six Nations with high hopes. First-round opponents Scotland were beaten twice in the space of three months, and fourth and eighth-place finishes were achieved at the U20 Six Nations and U20 Championship respectively.

Discipline remains a work-on, against Wales in their final game of the U20 Championship they were briefly down to 12 players, but captain Michele Lamaro remains positive they can keep moving forward.

“It was a wonderful experience in France, as it had been last year,” he said. “ … even the younger ones have learned something from this World Championship, and I am sure that next year they will be able to transmit what we have taught them this year.”

Having done the double over the Scots, the higher-ranked Italians will start Friday’s match at Netherdale, Galashiels, as favourites.

Scotland finished bottom of the table in last year’s Championship, but they showed they have the potential to beat anyone on their day when downing England 24-17.

Some of the more experienced names in the Scotland squad include Jack Hill, Ross Bundy, Kyle McGhie, Murray Scott, Nathan Chamberlain, Robbie McCallum, Jacob Lineen and Matt Davidson, who have all previously represented Scotland at age-grade levels.