The World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 kicks off in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Saturday with three nations that have won the tournament in the past and Scotland, making their debut after being relegated from the U20 Championship in 2019.
Scotland may be many people’s tips to lift the coveted trophy on 30 July and secure an immediate return to the premier age-grade competition, but neither coach Kenny Murray nor co-captain Liam McConnell are buying into the favourite’s tag.
"We expect each team to be a tough game and can’t take anyone lightly,” admitted McConnell. “Every team has some really good players amongst them and have played some good rugby over the last six months, but we have areas where we think we can really put the pressure on them.
“It will take a lot to win the tournament with effectively four finals. So, we will need to take it one game at a time and give each game our full focus.”
Scotland start their campaign against Zimbabwe, African champions after winning the U20 Barthés Trophy in April at the same Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi that will host the four match-days of the U20 Trophy from 15-30 July.
“Zimbabwe will be a tough opponent,” Murray said. “They’re coming off the back of a very impressive win against Kenya in the Rugby Africa Barthés U20 Trophy in April, so they’ll be wanting to continue this form going into the tournament.”
Scotland finished fifth in this year’s U20 Six Nations, their only win coming against Wales (18-17), but it is the experience of playing against the likes of World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 finalists Ireland and France that McConnell hopes will stand them in good stead.
“I think the Six Nations has showed us a new level of rugby that a lot of us hadn’t played before,” he said. “Playing teams like Ireland and France who are two of the best under-20 teams in the world at the moment gave us exposure to a new level of speed, physicality and accuracy that we look to get closer and closer to.”
Scotland and Zimbabwe get play underway at 10:00 local time (GMT+2) with the other Pool A match, between 2008 champions Uruguay and 2012 winners USA, kicking off at 14:00.
Los Teritos captain Juan Ignacio Cambón recognises his country’s rich history in the tournament.
“Our goal is, obviously, to perform as a team and this is our priority,” he said. “We all know that we will play against teams that are bigger physically, so that will be our principal challenge.”
In between the Pool A matches, Kenya will get their campaign underway against 2011 and 2016 champions Samoa at 12:00 local time and are hoping to make the most of home advantage, according to captain Michael Wamalwa.
“It is a great feeling captaining this team on home soil, and in front of our home fans. This is one memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” admitted Wamalwa.
“The fact that we are donning the national colours in front of our own fans. Many long for this moment and we are honoured to be representing the country on the global stage.”
He’s looking for ‘all-out rugby’ from his side - and set a high target. “We want to improve on our performance from 2019 and 2009 when we last hosted it. We are playing for each other, we are playing for Kenya, we are playing for the title.”
Spain take on Hong Kong China in the final match of day one at 16:00 and captain Álvaro García promised that Los Leones would treat every match as ‘a final’ as they look to go better than their 2016 counterparts, who lost the final to Samoa in extra-time.
“Precisely because Spain has had few opportunities to play this tournament, we will hold on to this great opportunity with everything we have and more,” he said. “It is time to show that Spanish rugby is really one of the great emerging powers in international rugby.”