Postponed from its usual window in February and March, the 2021 Six Nations U20 Championship will get underway in Cardiff on 19 June, with games between Scotland and Ireland, England and France and Italy and Wales.
The tournament is being played over five rounds as usual but in one venue, Cardiff Arms Park, and in a condensed time frame of 24 days because of the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
It helps to partly fill the gap left by the cancellation of the World Rugby U20 Championship, part of the proven pathway from age-grade international rugby to the test arena, with the best young talent in the northern hemisphere ready to show the world what they are made of after 18 months without a showcase for their skills.
Many of the present stars of the test arena have used the Six Nations U20s and the World Rugby U20 Championship as a springboard to full senior honours, while others are still waiting to fulfil the promise they showed as a youngster at the highest level.
We take a look at some of the individuals who have enjoyed stellar Six Nations U20 campaigns in recent years.
Baptiste Serin (France, 2014)
The latest in the long line of French goal-kicking scrum-halves, Serin enjoyed an outstanding campaign in 2014 as Les Bleuets achieved their first-ever U20 Six Nations clean sweep. Serin kicked 13 points from three penalties and two conversions in the Grand Slam-clinching win over Ireland in Tarbes to take his overall tally for the championship to an impressive 44 from four starts.
Joe Marchant (England, 2015)
Comparisons were drawn between Jonathan Joseph and the young Harlequins centre because of his footwork and devastating outside break as England recovered from an opening round loss to Wales to win their next four matches. Marchant followed up a hat-trick against Italy with the matchwinner against Ireland and then bagged a brace in the title decider against France.
Harrison Keddie (Wales, 2016)
You could have taken your pick from any number of the Wales Grand Slam team of 2016, but no-one could touch the explosiveness of their number eight, Harrison Keddie. His pace off the mark and footwork belied his huge stature and saw him billed as the heir apparent to Taulupe Faletau. He scored three tries in the Championship including one in the spectacular 42-16 win over England.
Zach Mercer (England, 2017)
England’s captain and talisman secured the title for England with a round to spare when scoring his third try of the tournament in the win against Scotland on the penultimate weekend. The number eight was outstanding throughout the campaign with his ability to pirouette out of tackles and make it over the gain line a standout feature of his play. England were a joy to watch that year, and Mercer epitomised the real sense of freedom that they played with.
Romain Ntamack (2018)
The young Toulouse fly-half had given glimpses that he had the potential to be every bit as good as his famous father, Emile, in his debut U20s season in 2017. But 2018 was the year that he really kicked on. Ntamack ghosted in for two effortless-looking tries in the opening round win against Ireland before following up his 17-point haul in that match with another 20, all from the kicking tee, in round two against Scotland. After being rested to the bench against Italy and a subdued display against England, Ntamack was back pulling the strings as France outclassed Wales to clinch the title. The gifted playmaker then went on to play an integral part in France’s first-ever World Rugby U20 Championship win a few months later.
Dylan Tierney-Martin (Ireland, 2019)
An ever-present throughout the Championship, Tierney-Martin formed a superb front-row partnership with props Thomas Clarkson and Josh Wycherley in an Ireland pack that did not lose a single scrum. The back-rower turned hooker’s throwing never let him down and he was a constant threat in the loose with his dynamic ball-carrying. With five tries in as many games, Tierney-Martin finished as the tournament’s top try-scorer. Still only 21, the Connacht man has just penned his first professional provincial contract and looks set for a big future.