Ireland wrapped up their first Grand Slam in the U20 Six Nations on Friday evening, beating Wales, 26-17, at Stadiwm Zip World.
The young Irish side were the pick of the teams this year, showing composure and consistency throughout the tournament, with tight wins over England and France showing that they are not to be taken lightly in the summer at the World Rugby U20 Championship, either.
We’ve trawled through all 15 games of the tournament and put together our pick of the players.
- Jake Flannery, Ireland
A converted fly-half playing full-back, Ireland have followed in the footsteps of New Zealand, England and South Africa in recent years of making use of that kind of creative skill set in the 15 jersey. Flannery’s reading of the game, counter-attacking and kicking ability all shone through and it was a mark of how well he performed in those areas that he sees off the challenge of the impressive Josh Hodge of England.
- Vincent Pinto, France
Pinto was a consistent threat for France out wide and is already showing all the hallmarks of the traditionally clinical French wings, whose reading of the game and timing of their runs often have them among the more predatory finishers in world rugby. He is quick, too, as well as showing good footwork in tight spaces. He’s already begun to breakthrough for Pau in the Top 14 and Challenge Cup and the future looks bright.
- Matteo Moscardi, Italy
Italy’s promising outside centre was excellent in the win away against Scotland in Round 1, as well as making the most of what his pack delivered in the losses to Wales and Ireland. He is a balanced 13, with the speed to beat players on outside arcs, the footwork and power to cut back inside and run hard and straight, as well as a good passing game that can help him link up with the back three.
- Julien Delbouis, France
Delbouis was influential in France’s win over Wales at the beginning of the tournament, as well as being one of, if not the standout performer for his side in the losses to England and Ireland. He offered a direct-running threat for France, as well as a ball-handling skill set that allowed him to distribute and give his side width, as well as keep phases alive after line-breaks with composed offloads.
- Michael Mba, Italy
Not too dissimilar to Pinto, Mba took the opportunities well that came his way in the wider channels. He was ever-present for Italy during the championship and was as strong fielding kicks and positionally, as he was going forward with the ball in hand. If Italy can get him to track the ball in the midfield and come off his wing looking for work, they could do some damage at the U20 Championship in the summer.
- Harry Byrne, Ireland
Byrne has refined his game after making his U20s debut last season and was pivotal to Ireland in their victories over England and Scotland early in the tournament. Injury meant that Ben Healy stepped in for the decisive games against France and Wales, but Byrne was the standout man this year at 10. Marcus Smith and Louis Carbonel will have their minds set on revenge in the summer, but Byrne showed that he can definitely cut it amongst the pair, both of whom are regulars in senior club rugby already.
- Craig Casey, Ireland
The diminutive scrum-half packed a punch over the last seven weeks and the tempo he brought to Ireland allowed them to nullify, in part, the power games of both England and France. His distribution is very good, he’s not afraid to snipe and expose defensive holes around the fringe, and he gets to spend the next couple of years honing his box-kicking craft alongside one Conor Murray.
- Josh Wycherley, Ireland
Another important part of the Munster age-grade resurgence this season, the loosehead locked horns with and more than held his own against the powerful tightheads from England, France and Wales in particular. He was able to stay straight and still beat his opposite number in the scrum, whilst he also offered plenty of punch around the fringes as a ball-carrier.
- Dewi Lake, Wales
The hooker took up the captaincy after injury ruled out Tommy Reffell in the first game of the tournament and did not look back for the remaining four rounds. He delivered for Wales in the loose, with his carrying and work clearing out and providing quick ruck speed standing out. The Welsh lineout has been solid, too, and his throwing will only improve as he practices the craft even further.
- Marcus Street, England
Street only ended up playing two games at the tournament due to commitments with his club, Exeter Chiefs, but the destruction of the French scrum and the job he did on Jean-Baptiste Gros, who is a very promising loosehead, were just too emphatic to pass him up here. He is in his third year of U20 rugby now and will fancy his chances of fully making the leap the senior game next season, when Exeter will likely lose Harry Williams and Tomas Francis to the Rugby World Cup.
- Joel Kpoku, England
Arguably England’s player of the 2018 U20 season, Kpoku re-emphasised his ability during this year’s Six Nations. He was ever-present during the first four fixtures, before being recalled by Saracens for the Premiership Cup final and missing the game against Scotland. He was particularly influential in England’s powerful performance against France at Sandy Park.
- Thomas Parolo, Italy
Another example of Italy’s vast improvements at this level in recent years, Parolo looks like a second row who is not far off being able to contribute regularly for Benetton or Zebre. He was a good lineout option and brought the mobility that is so prized in modern-day locks, whilst he also offered a physical element that should see him cope with the step up to senior rugby. He could be the long-term partner to Federico Ruzza in the Azzurri engine room.
- Jac Morgan, Wales
Morgan started the tournament at six before moving over to seven when captain Reffell suffered injury in the tournament opener against France. He doesn’t have the billing of Reffell or Taine Basham, but Morgan was crucial in Wales’ wins over England and Italy and has shown that the extraordinary production line of Welsh flankers has continued unabated this season. He carried, tackled and worked away at the contact area well throughout the tournament.
- Aaron Hinkley, England
After having had a solid season with England in 2018, Hinkley has ‘made the leap’ in 2019. He looked a more powerful carrier with the ball in his hand and his fetching work at the breakdown was pivotal for England. If opportunities come at Gloucester, Hinkley is showing the kind of potential that could throw his name into the mix with the Tom Currys, Ben Earls and Sam Underhills of English rugby.
- John Hodnett, Ireland
In an age of giants at the number eight position, it’s refreshing to see a smaller player making hay with good carrying technique, a strong reading of the game and a formidable leg drive. Ireland will welcome Azur Allison back from injury in the summer which could prompt a move for Hodnett to six, but he was crucial to Ireland during this Six Nations with his ability to get them over the gain-line and able to up the tempo.
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