Mixed campaign for Wales Under-20s

The Wales Under-20s squad for this year’s Six Nations contained 10 previously capped players from last season, including the return of Cardiff Blues hooker Ethan Lewis. Those inclusions injected experience into the predominantly fresh-faced squad, which included Blues newcomers Ben Roach, Callum Lewis, Tom Williams, Garyn Smith and James Sheekey.

Coach Byron Hayward stressed at the beginning of the campaign the need to retain experience, creating a balance between new arrivals and existing players.

First up in the campaign, Wales welcomed Italy to Eirias Park. Italy gave Wales a tough examination during the first half, but the fitness and skill of the Welsh side got the better of the Italians. Wales dominated possession and territory, which helped secure a 26–9 opening-day victory.

Wales then travelled across the Irish Sea to Athlone, where the harsh weather conditions made for a tough game. Nevertheless, Hayward’s side dominated the set-piece and exhibited a solid defence.

Both teams fought hard until the 58th minute when Wales captain Steffan Hughes spotted an opportunity to cross the line and score the only try of the match in a 16–0 victory for the visitors.

The Under-20s suffered their first loss of the tournament against France, 16–10, at Eirias Park. Wales struggled in the set-piece and territory battle, granting France field position that resulted in yellow cards for both Steffan Evans and Dafydd Howells as the hosts infringed under pressure. Wales fought back during the last 20 minutes, with Lewis scoring a consolation try.

Wales were overrun at Newcastle’s Kingston Park against an impressive England side, with the front row of Lewis, Nicky Smith and Nicky Thomas’ controlling of the scrum the only positive aspect. However, the home side ran in try after try, resulting in a devastating 67–7 defeat.

“I have never been on the receiving end of a scoreline that big,” Lewis commented.

“It was disappointing. We needed to rebuild as a team. I believe we achieved that within the short time leading up to the Scotland game.”

In the final game of this year’s competition against the Scots, Wales started poorly with their opponents scoring the first try within 10 minutes. Wales had plenty of gain-line success through strong carries from Roach and Scott Otten, allowing centre Jack Dixon to reply.

Another strong set-piece performance saw Wales awarded a penalty try, with two Scottish yellow cards allowing the Welsh to capitalise. Tom Williams scored his first try of the campaign to extend Wales’ advantage as they romped to a convincing 43–15 victory.

Ahead of the Junior World Championship in New Zealand this June, Blues flanker Roach is optimistic. He said: “The Six Nations campaign has been a great stepping stone for the World Cup. We had some tough times. Lessons were learnt, but I feel we have a good, collective squad that will hopefully be successful in the World Cup.”

 Lauren Davies