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Six players who stood out during the U20 International Series and Six Nations U20
U20 international rugby returned in June and July, and did so in some style. We look at some of the stars who shone the brightest in South Africa and Wales.
A busy four weeks of international U20 action came to an end on Tuesday as England completed a Six Nations U20 Grand Slam with a win against Italy.
The final day of the Championship was an eventful one as England made it five wins out of five, France beat Ireland to second and Wales defeated Scotland.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, South Africa beat Argentina, Georgia and Uruguay to claim the U20 International Series title on home soil.
But who were the players who impressed most in Cardiff, Cape Town and Stellenbosch? We take a look at six stars whose stock has risen over the last month.
How good has @englandrugby's Sam Riley been this Championship? 🔥💪— Six Nations Under-20s (@SixNationsU20) July 1, 2021
🔜 Next up, a huge, potentially title-deciding encounter against @IrishRugby at 8pm BST! 🏆#SixNationsU20 #SixNations #England #Rugby pic.twitter.com/1tpNhBMZQn
Sam Riley (England)
Harlequins hooker Sam Riley made his Six Nations U20 debut as a replacement against Wales last season, and has emerged as one of the stars of this year’s Championship.
Riley started England’s opening match against France on the bench but emerged early in the second half and scored two tries as Alan Dickens’ side turned a 19-3 half-time deficit into a 38-22 win.
Thereafter he became a vital cog in the England front-row, and scored in consecutive starts against Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Riley’s try-scoring run came to an end in the final match of the Championship, but he was again in the thick of the action as England wrapped up the Grand Slam with a 27-17 defeat of Italy.
Nolann Le Garrec (France)
Nolann Le Garrec missed Les Bleuets’ opening defeat to England and was only a replacement as France edged past Italy in round two.
However, the scrum-half and captain’s importance to the side was highlighted as he masterminded a 36-19 win against Wales in round three.
Le Garrec kicked 11 points and pulled the strings to perfection as the World Rugby U20 Championship holders ran in five tries to the hosts’ three.
He followed up that performance with nine points in the 45-21 defeat of Scotland and rounded off the Championship with 14 as France edged Ireland to second. Les Bleuets won every match in which the scrum-half was involved.
Alex Kendellen (Ireland)
CJ Stander has left a big hole in the Munster back-row, but Alex Kendellen’s performances over the past few weeks have prompted some to ponder whether the 20-year-old could fill it.
The Ireland U20 captain has enjoyed a fine few weeks in Cardiff, scoring tries in the wins against Scotland, Wales and Italy.
It was in the comeback victory over the Azzurrini that Kendellen was at his most influential, crossing the whitewash twice in the second half as Ireland recovered from 23-12 down, to win 30-23.
“The fact is Alex is a very good age group player,” Ireland coach Richie Murphy said after the Italy win.
“There is a big step up to provincial level, but I think he’s definitely a player Munster will have their eye on for the future. He’s someone who is very talented and a great individual.”
Simone Gesi with an electric run down the wing 🏃♂️! 🇮🇹 @Federugby v @IrishRugby ☘️@SixNationsU20 #SixNationsU20 pic.twitter.com/uPhfp0mVuo— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) July 7, 2021
Simone Gesi (Italy)
A lightning quick winger, Simone Gesi highlighted his huge potential with a couple of electric tries against France and Ireland.
For his first try of the Championship, against France, Gesi was forced to pick up a pass off his bootlaces.
But, despite being on his own 10m line, the winger breezed past two Les Bleuets defenders as if they weren’t there as he homed in on the goal line.
Against Ireland, Gesi was in the right place at the right time as a charge down fell to him and he made the most of the opportunity, displaying strength and speed to finish in the left corner.
Ramiro Waisberg (Argentina)
No player scored more points during the recent U20 International Series than Argentina fly-half Ramiro Waisberg.
In fact, no player got within 40 points of the playmaker’s remarkable 65-point haul in South Africa.
Waisberg kicked off his tournament with two tries and 32 points as Los Pumitas beat Georgia 82-10 in Stellenbosch. 16 points followed against the hosts, but he was unable to prevent his side slipping to a 33-26 defeat.
The 20-year-old then slotted four conversions as Argentina beat South American rivals Uruguay 35-12 to set up a rematch with the Junior Springboks.
Waisberg struck three first-half penalties to keep his side in touch at half-time of the final match at Newlands, but was powerless to stop another South Africa victory as Andre-Hugo Venter scored two late tries.
George Cronjé (South Africa)
South Africa U20 coach Bafana Nhleko rotated his squad during the U20 International Series, but captain George Cronjé stepped up in the moments that mattered.
Cronjé skippered the Junior Springboks from number eight in his side’s two crucial matches against Argentina, both of which South Africa won to claim the title.
The Cheetahs forward, who spent time in France at the Clermont academy, led by example in those matches and also came up with two tries as a replacement in the 42-0 defeat of Georgia.
“Playing for your country and everything associated with that made this a memorable journey for all of us,” Cronjé said.
“Everyone wanted to play for the Junior Springboks and every time we did so, it was with massive pride and honour.”