More than a year after the 2020 campaign was curtailed due to COVID-19, the Six Nations U20 Championship returns this weekend.
The best young men’s talent from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales will go head-to-head in Cardiff over the next month to gain European bragging rights.
Ahead of the first match of the tournament between Scotland and Ireland on Saturday, we give you the lowdown on the Six Nations U20 Championship 2021.
When was the first tournament?
Although age-grade teams representing the competing nations faced each other regularly, it was not until 1998 that a formal Five Nations U21 Championship was held.
In 2008, ahead of the inaugural World Rugby U20 Championship in Wales, the first Six Nations U20 was held between 1 February-13 March.
However, in line with the impending switch in focus to U20 rugby, most nations had fielded teams from that age group to compete in the Six Nations U21 Championship 2007.
Italy, though, were allowed to play an U21 side during that tournament.
Who wins it?
Ireland won the final Six Nations U21 with an U20 side, completing a Grand Slam with a team featuring future test stars Keith Earls and Cian Healy.
The Irish won only two matches a year later, though, as England won the inaugural Six Nations U20 in style.
A team that included Alex Corbisiero and Alex Goode, and would reach the World Rugby U20 Championship final in Swansea later that year, won all five of their matches.
In total, England have won six of the 12 Six Nations U20, three of which were Grand Slams. France and Ireland have each won two titles (and one Grand Slam) since 2008, while Wales enjoyed a clean sweep in 2016.
What happened in 2020?
Only three rounds were completed last season as COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of three matches in the final two match-days, and ultimately the tournament.
Scotland and Wales were the only sides to play all five of their matches, with each picking up two wins. England and France each won two of their four matches, while Italy earned one victory in three.
Ireland, meanwhile, were top of the standings when the decision was made not to play the outstanding fixtures despite only playing three matches.
The defending champions secured bonus-point victories against Scotland, Wales and England — scoring 36 points or more in each of those matches.
Who were the stars of the Six Nations U20 2020?
Ireland’s impressive form in the early rounds of last season’s Championship owed much to fly-half Jack Crowley, who scored two tries and a total of 36 points in just three matches.
Second-row Thomas Ahern, meanwhile, contributed three tries to the cause, which included a brace of scores in the 39-21 defeat of England in Northampton.
However, it was Scotland’s Nathan Chamberlain who finished the abbreviated tournament as its top-scorer with 63 points — and four tries — from five matches.
None of those players will be in action this year as they have all since turned 21, but Wales’ Sam Costelow, who scored 36 points in 2020, is eligible and has been included in the 2021 squad.
Who are the favourites this year?
Ireland head into this year’s tournament as reigning champions, having completed a Grand Slam in 2019.
Under previous coach Noel McNamara, the team also made a perfect start to last season’s Championship as they won three matches out of three before it was curtailed due to the pandemic.
New head coach Richie Murphy has picked a squad featuring five players who played in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, but the Irish will not have it easy in Cardiff.
France’s squad boasts World Rugby U20 Championship winners Matthias Haddad and Paul Mallez, while England, Scotland and Wales can all call on a strong group of players.
When and where is it being played?
In order to reduce the risk around travel, and to ensure greater rest periods between matches, organisers made the decision to hold this year’s Championship at one venue.
As a result, Cardiff Arms Park will play host to all five match-days, with fixtures being played at 14:00, 17:00 and 20:00 (all BST) on 19 June, 25 June, 1 July and 7 July.
The final round of matches will be played at 14:00, 16:45 and 20:00 (all BST) on 13 July.
Due to the condensed format of the Championship, match-day squads will consist of 26 players.
How will points be scored in the Championship?
The Six Nations U20 follows the same scoring format as the senior Championship, so teams will be awarded four points for a win and two for a draw. They will also receive a bonus point if they score more than four tries in a match or lose by seven points or fewer.
A Grand Slam bonus of three points will also be awarded to a team if they win all five of their matches in the Championship.
The team that tops the table at the end of the five rounds will be crowned Six Nations U20 2021 champions.
How can I watch it?
It is possible to watch all of the action if you live in any of the Six Nations territories, with matches broadcasted via streaming platforms or the Six Nations digital channels.
In the UK, BBC iPlayer will stream every match, while in addition Italy v Wales will be broadcast on BBC Two Wales. The final game of the Championship on 13 July, Scotland v Wales, will also be shown by the channel.
RTE will show all of Ireland’s matches to fans in Ireland, while France TV will show Les Bleuets’ contests. Italy’s matches will be on Sky Italia.
International fans will be able to watch the matches on YouTube and Facebook Live, while those in France, Ireland and Italy will also be able to catch matches not involving their home sides on these platforms.