Tue, 30 May 2017 11:04
Large u20 championship throphy

UNDER-20 SPOTLIGHT: The Under-20 Championship kicks off in Georgia on Wednesday, with defending Champions England facing the 2016 Trophy winners Samoa.

Three of the six fixtures will see a battle between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

Wales face Australia,  Scotland meet five-time World Cup champions New Zealand, and France meet 2012 Champions South Africa.

2016 Runners-up Ireland will tackle Italy in a Six Nations encounter, while Argentina meet the host Georgia.

The teams are all chomping at the bit to get onto the field for their first matches, and have come to understand the significance of the tournament.

Since 2008 the tournament has seen 485 players - which include Aaron Cruden, Tyler Bleyendaal, Luke Whitelock and Maro Itoje -  graduate to the test arena and this year would be no different.  

"This is a wonderful stepping stone, not only for us as South Africans but also for any team the U20 Championship it can put you on the map," said South Africa captain Ernst van Rhyn, one of eight players in the Junior Springboks' side that finished fourth last year.

"If you perform well here, you have a good chance of getting into your senior national team. For now, we are just focused on France and getting a good result. Our main focus is the team, not to impress anyone, we want the team to do well and I think with that the players will grow and get selected for the senior team,"

Australia captain Reece Hewat added: "It's a massive platform and it really does shape a lot of players in terms of their abilities and their confidence outside of rugby and exposes them to this professional level. There have been a lot of young players coming through and you sort of think 'well they've done it, they've put the in hard work and effort so why can't we?'

"It's a massive motivation and to see a lot of successful Australian players who have risen through the ranks and where they are now, it makes you think it's definitely doable,"

For Scotland captain Callum Hunter-Hill, whose side open their campaign against five-time champions New Zealand on Wednesday, the tournament is a key part of a player's development as it provides both the opportunity to embrace a new culture and learn from the experiences of playing on such a global stage where the future stars of world rugby emerge.

"I think it is just the pressure that you are put under being in a world tournament where everyone is looking at you and watching you. That’s something you need as a young player because it is something you are constantly faced with as a professional in a senior set-up. It is a pressure you either thrive on or don’t, personally, I like to go into each game and enjoy it,"

One team that undoubtedly understand the importance of being among the world's best teams at the U20 level are Samoa, having won the sister U20 Trophy event last year to bounce back straightaway after their relegation from the elite tier in 2015.

"It is a huge honour for us to be back in the Championship, not only for our young guys that are in Samoa, the local boys but in trying to bring rugby out more in Samoa to promote it more," explained captain Ivan Fepuleai. "The England team, they are the best in the world and that is what we want, to be playing the best teams in the world and it is going to be a huge game for us.

"We have huge support back home, from families not just in Samoa but in Australia and New Zealand and from all around the world, really proud Samoans who are looking forward to seeing us play."

Samoa's first opponents will be defending champions England and captain Zach Mercer was part of the squad that lifted the distinctive trophy on home soil in Manchester last year and the Six Nations Grand Slam a few months ago, although he is quick to point out that the class of 2017 want to write their own chapter in U20 Championship history.

"We can't look back on that, we have won the Grand Slam which is a massive achievement. We can't hide that but we are in the World Cup now and you can see the calibre of teams we have got in this tournament. It's a massive tournament for us and we know the challenge, but the boys are really up for it.

"I really enjoyed the experience last year, but that is a different team - we are here to create our own legacy this tournament. I am hoping to bring experience this year but to represent my country, England, against other nations is massive and I can't wait to get out on the field on Wednesday and play against a really passionate Samoan side,"

Wednesday, May 31:

Round one, Fixtures:

Australia U20 v Wales U20
Argentina U20 v Georgia U20
Ireland U20 v Italy U20
South Africa U20 v France U20
New Zealand U20 v Scotland U20
England U20 v Samoa U20

*For an in-depth look at the fixtures CLICK HERE!

Confirmed teams for Round one:

Pool A:

England: 15 Tom Parton, 14 Ali Crossdale, 13 Dominic Morris, 12 Will Butler, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Theo Brophy Clews  captain, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Josh Bayliss, 6 Max Davies, 5 Dino Lamb, 4 Josh Caulfield, 3 Marcus Street, 2 Jamie Blamire, 1 Ollie Dawe.
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Alex Seville, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Justin Clegg, 20 Joe Mullis, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Max Malins, 23 Jacob Umaga.

Samoa: TBC

Australia: 15 Liam McNamara, 14 Henry Hutchison, 13 Izaia Perese, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Simon Kennewell, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Harrison Goddard, 8 Reece Hewat (captain), 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Ryan Mccauley, 3 Shambeckler Vui, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Cody Walker.
Replacements: 16 Efi Maafu, 17 Sama Malolo, 18 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Rob Valetini, 21 Harry Nucifora, 22 Nick Jooste, 23 Semisi Tupou.

Wales: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Ioan Nicholas, 12 Cameron Lewis, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Arwel Robson, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 James Botham, 7 Will Jones (captain), 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Callum Bradbury, 4 Will Griffiths, 3 Kieron Assiratti, 2 Ellis Shipp, 1 Rhys Carre.
Replacements: 16 Owen Hughes, 17 Tom Mably, 18 Scott Jenkins, 19 Sean Moore, 20 Aled Ward, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Ben Jones, 23 Joe Goodchild.

Pool B:

New Zealand: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Orbyn Leger, 11 Tima Faingaanuku, 10 Tiaan Falcon, 9 Ereatara Enari, 8 Luke Jacobson (Captain), 7 Tom Christie, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Samuel Slade, 4 Isaia Walker Leawere, 3 Ryan Coxon, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Ezekiel Lindenmuth.
Replacements: 16 John (JP) Sauni, 17 Tim Farrell, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Sam Caird, 20 Marino Mikaele -Tuu, 21 Kemara Hauiti Parapara, 22 Thomas Umaga Jensen, 23 Caleb Clarke
Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Lewis Berg, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Ross McCann, 10 Connor Eastgate, 9 Charlie Shiel, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Thomas Gordon, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill (captain), 4 Alex Craig, 3 Fergus Bradbury, 2 Fraser Renwick, 1 George Thornton.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Smith, 17 Ross Dunbar, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Bruce Flockhart, 20 Tom Dodd, 21 Ruaridh Dawson, 22 Josh Henderson, 23 Robbie Nairn.

Ireland: 15 Jack Kelly, 14 Colm Hogan, 13 Gavin Mullin, 12 Ciaran Frawley, 11 Calvin Nash, 10 Conor Dean, 9 Jonny Stewart, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Paul Boyle (captain), 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Oisin Dowling, 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 Charlie Connolly, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 1 Joey Conway.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Greg McGrath, 18 Peter Cooper, 19 Jack Regan, 20 Sean Masterson, 21 Jack Stafford, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Alan Tynan

Italy: TBC

Pool C:

South Africa: 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 David Brits, 11 Wandisile Simelane, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Rewan Kruger, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Zain Davids, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Kwenzo Blose, 17 Daniel Jooste, 18 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 Nama Xaba, 21 Francois de Villiers, 22 Damian Willemse, 23 Gianni Lombard

France: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Lucas Tauzin, 13 Nathan Decron, 12 Pablo Uberti, 11 Faraj Fartass, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Baptiste Couilloud,  8 Charlie Francoz, 7 Baptiste Pesenti, 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Mickaël Capelli, 4 Florian Verhaeghe  (captain), 3 Zakaria El Fakir, 2 Florian Dufour, 1 Hassane Kolingar.
Replacements: 16 Ugo Boniface, 17 Mauvaka, 18 Daniel Brennan , 19 Alexandre Roumat, 20 Ibrahim Diallo, 21 Arthur Coville, 22 Mathieu Jalibert, 23 Geoffrey Cros .

Argentina: TBC

Georgia: TBC

Source: @WorldRugby

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Chiefs v Waratahs 07h35 Hamilton
Reds v Highlanders 09h45 Suncorp Stadium
Bulls v Brumbies 13h05 Loftus Versfeld
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens 14h00 London
Stormers v Lions 15h15 Newlands
Leinster v Scarlets 17h00 Dublin
Pool A
Team P W D L Pts
England U20 3 3 0 0 14
Australia U20 3 2 0 1 10
Wales U20 3 1 0 2 6
Samoa U20 3 1 0 3 1
Pool B
Team P W D L Pts
New Zealand U20 3 3 0 0 15
Scotland U20 3 2 0 1 9
Italy U20 3 1 0 2 6
Ireland U20 3 0 0 3 2
Pool C
Team P W D L Pts
South Africa U20 3 2 1 0 12
France U20 3 2 1 0 11
Argentina U20 3 1 0 2 6
Georgia U20 3 0 0 3 0