The U20 Six Nations Championship returns to its regular window this year after the 2021 campaign was held in Cardiff last June and July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting underway on the eve of the men’s Championship, on 4 February, the tournament will showcase the best young talent from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
Musgrave Park, DAM Health Stadium and Stade Guy Boniface will play host to those opening matches, and ahead of the tournament’s return we give you the lowdown on the U20 Six Nations Championship 2022.
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 U20 Six Nations was held between 1 February-13 March.
However, in line with the impending switch in focus to U20 rugby, most nations 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?
England have been the most successful team in the tournament since it became the U20 Six Nations Championship in 2008.
Noah Cato scored six tries as England claimed a Grand Slam in the inaugural tournament, and they have gone on to win six further titles, three of them – in 2011, 2017 and 2021 – without losing a match.
France are the next most successful side at this level, having won three Championships, one of which was a Grand Slam, since 2008.
Ireland have claimed two titles, including a clean sweep in 2019, while Wales completed a Grand Slam in 2016.
What happened in 2021?
Due to the ongoing pandemic the decision was made to hold the Championship in one location across June and July last year.
Cardiff Arms Park was selected as the venue but being at home proved little advantage for Wales. Their campaign was bookended with wins against Italy and Scotland, but in between the hosts lost to Ireland, France and England.
England had opened the Championship with a five-try defeat of France and they racked up 165 points in total to claim a fourth U20 Grand Slam.
At the other end of the table, Scotland endured a tough tournament, losing all five matches to finish with the wooden spoon.
Who were the stars of the U20 Six Nations 2021?
England captain Jack van Poortvliet became the inaugural winner of the U20 Six Nations Player of the Championship award, winning a vote that featured the head coaches and captains from each nation.
Ireland scrum-half Nathan Doak top-scored with 48 points from his four appearances at Cardiff Arms Park, which included 20 points against Wales.
Doak’s team-mate Alex Kendellen and England winger Arthur Relton ended the tournament top of the try-scoring charts with six apiece.
Orlando Bailey played all five matches for England last year, while Raffi Quirke was a member of Alan Dickens’ squad, and both have been promoted to the senior squad for this year’s Championship by Eddie Jones.
Wales second-row Christ Tshiunza has also earned a shot at his senior Six Nations debut, while France winger Nelson Epee – who scored four tries in Cardiff – was part of Les Bleus squad that finished fifth on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Malaga last weekend.
Who are the favourites this year?
Defending champions England will again be the team to beat over the next two months.
England coach Dickens has been able to call on 10 players with previous U20 experience for the tournament, while adding to his coaching team with the appointment of Jordan Turner-Hall as defence coach.
Ireland and France, who remain the World Rugby U20 Championship holders, will both be keen to topple England and win another title, while Wales – under returning coach Byron Hayward – Italy and Scotland each have squads bursting at the seams with talent.
Anything to look out for in 2022?
Sara Cox, Maria Beatrice Benvenuti, Maria Giovanna Pacifico, Julianne Zussman, Nikki O’Donnell, Joy Neville, Aurelie Groizeleau, Hollie Davidson, Clara Munarini, Aimee Barrett-Theron and Precious Pazani, as well as TMO Claire Hodnett, have all been included on the panel.
World Rugby is committed to ensuring that its match officials receive the highest level of preparation ahead of all major tournaments, and so the group of female officials selected will be brought together to cultivate a team environment in the lead up to RWC 2021.
When and where will it be played?
This year’s U20 Six Nations will kick-off on 4 February, when France host Italy in Mont de Marsan, Ireland take on Wales in Cork and England head to Edinburgh to face Scotland.
Seven days later, Les Bleuets welcome Ireland to Aix-en-Provence, Italy host England in Treviso and Wales play Scotland in Colwyn Bay.
Following a rest weekend, the action returns on 25 February as England and Wales meet in Doncaster, Italy head to Cork to play Ireland and Scotland face France in Edinburgh.
The penultimate round features Wales’ match against France in Colwyn Bay, Italy’s encounter with Scotland in Treviso and Ireland’s trip to North London to take on England.
Round five is scheduled to take place on Sunday, 20 March and gets underway with Wales against Italy in Colwyn Bay. Ireland then take on Scotland in Cork before the Championship concludes when France host England in Perpignan.