Five Wales players to watch at the World Rugby U20 Championship
The World Rugby U20 Championship is beginning to creep closer and we kick off our look at the northern hemisphere nations involved with Wales, identifying five key players who could make a significant impact over the next month.
Corey Baldwin, Scarlets
Whilst it’s often the exceptional finishing of his regional and international teammate, Ryan Conbeer, that makes the highlight videos, Baldwin is the multi-faceted operator at outside centre that regularly facilitates the scores.
He has an eye for a gap and the speed to exploit it, but doesn’t shy away physically from contact, either, and has already shown himself to be a capable contributor at senior level, having made a handful of appearances for the Scarlets this season. If Wales can deliver him quick ball over the next month, he’ll make the opposition pay.
For all his attacking skills, though, his defensive work might be what proves most crucial to Wales over the coming weeks, with his side in the same pool as the prodigious back line threats of New Zealand, Australia and even Japan. If Wales want to emerge from that pool and qualify for the semi-finals, Baldwin’s decision-making in defence will be key.
Rhys Carre, Cardiff Blues
It feels as though Carre has been playing at this level for years, but that’s just a mark of the early impact he made as a strong scrummager and dangerous ball-carrier.
That leap to senior involvement with the Cardiff Blues hasn’t happened just yet but another U20 Championship will do no harm to Carre’s development, who could well turn into Gethin Jenkins’ long-term replacement at loosehead. If Wales want to unleash Baldwin, Carre will help shoulder the burden of keeping the Welsh pack moving forward consistently.
As valuable as his contributions in the loose are certain to be, his ability to anchor a scrum will be equally important, with Wales needing a consistent platform from which to launch their back line, something which they lacked during the U20 Six Nations.
Max Williams, Dragons
Thanks to an injury crisis at the Dragons earlier in the season, Williams has had his fair share of senior playing time over the last nine months.
The versatile lock/blindside did not look out of place in the senior game and will demonstrate his impressive strength and speed in the south of France this summer. He will most likely be deployed in the second-row, with Wales’ captain Tommy Reffell holding down the six jersey, where he will bring another important ball-carrying presence to the Welsh pack and operate as an able lineout option.
Keep an eye out for Williams’ impressive regional teammate Taine Basham, too, with the number eight likely to be a key contributor to Wales’ fortunes over the coming weeks.
Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Ospreys
Having also played U18 rugby this season, Thomas-Wheeler is one of the newer faces in this Wales U20 side and one that could find an impactful role immediately.
The inside centre spot was a rotating door during the U20 Six Nations, with Callum Carson, Ioan Nicholas, Ben Thomas and Max Llewellyn all taking turns in the jersey and that lack of continuity is something that Thomas-Wheeler could take advantage of. He is certainly physical and that seems a prerequisite for Welsh centres at this level, but he is also a confident and accurate passer, a solid defensive option and would seem to complement Baldwin well in the midfield.
Ryan Conbeer, Scarlets
A name that many are already familiar with and many more are likely to be come the end of the U20 Championship next month, Conbeer is a walking highlight reel thanks to his exceptional speed and physics-defying finishing ability.
He’s no slouch in other areas of his game, either, and, at just 19 years of age, is beginning to push up into the fringes of the Scarlets senior squad. Like Baldwin, he’s another threatening offensive player that should only continue to improve under the tutelage of Wayne Pivac, but unlike Baldwin, Conbeer has another season at this level still to go following the conclusion of the Championship next month.
With Baldwin’s playmaking and Conbeer’s speed and finishing, the Welsh back line could be as deadly as any in the south of France next month, but will they have the platform to showcase it?
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