It might have got lost in the furore around Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola, not to mention the build-up to two exhilarating Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals, but the U18 Six Nations Festival has been taking place in the West Country over the last eight days.
Matchday one saw the six teams descend on Hartpury College for three games, before moving on to Sixways in Worcester for the next set of fixtures. On Sunday, the festival was brought to its culmination at Kingsholm.
England vs France was the big ticket on the final day, as the two previously unbeaten teams went head-to-head. England had no answer for the power and cohesion of France, with les Bleuets completing a mini-Grand Slam, whilst there were also wins for Scotland and Italy against Ireland and Wales respectively.
We have shortlisted six standout players from the tournament, all of whom offer plenty of promise in the years to come.
Continue reading below…
Watch: The Academy – Part Two
Jamie Dobie, Scotland
It was a disappointing start to the tournament for Scotland in terms of results, losing to Italy and Wales, but a win over Ireland lifted spirits and the performances of Dobie throughout have been exemplary. The young scrum-half instilled energy and tempo into a team that was often on the back-foot or struggling, whilst his work rate in defence never fell short. RugbyPass understand that Glasgow Warriors are interested in offering him a senior contract, something which would see him bypass the usual academy contract route taken in Scotland. With Ali Price and George Horne both likely to be involved with Scotland at the Rugby World Cup later this year, Dobie is a player who we could be seeing in the senior game very soon.
Ioan Lloyd, Wales
The fly-half, who was awarded a professional contract at Bristol Bears earlier this year, took the festival as an opportunity to impress both as a first receiver and as a full-back. He started at 15 against England and showed the counter-attacking ability and control he can put on the game from the back, before playing 10 from the outset in Wales’ 28-17 victory over Scotland in the second round. He should see plenty of playing time next season in Bristol’s Premiership Shield and Cup sides, as well as a prominent role with the Wales U20 side, alongside fellow English-based playmaker Sam Costelow.
Continue reading below…
Watch: The Academy – Part One
Maxime Baudonne, France
Hugely impressive against Ireland and Italy, back rower Baudonne was arguably the difference between victory and defeat for France in both of those games, as well as shining brightly in the win over England. He was key to les Bleuets’ fast starts against both Ireland and Italy, showing up well as a ball-carrier, support-runner and with his ability to link play, but perhaps more importantly, when momentum had swung against France and their conditioning looked like it was beginning to flag in the second half, he was still leading the defensive effort. A member of the Racing 92 academy, his work rate and all-round game looks like it could be a very effective foil for the class of Jordan Joseph in the years to come.
Alex Kendellen, Ireland
A lot of what was just said about Baudonne can be applied to Kendellen, too. The Irish captain was notable with his ball-carrying from number eight, giving Ireland a source of front-foot ball that they often, particularly in the first halves of games, struggled to otherwise generate from their pack. He was impressive at the festival last year, whilst he has also represented Ireland at U18 7s level, something which shows up in how comfortable he is in space with the ball in hand. In Kendellen and John Hodnett, the current Ireland U20 number eight, Munster have two very contrasting but effective options to work with.
Orlando Bailey, England
Like Baudonne, Bailey has another year of U18 rugby to go after this one, but the Bath fly-half already looks remarkably polished as a player. He switched between 10 and 12 over the course of the festival and showed both the control required to be a professional fly-half, as well as the running threat to be an effective inside centre. His reading of the game was key to a successful tournament for England and if his rate of improvement continues into next season, Bath will be keen to lock him into a senior academy contract as soon as possible, where he will join the likes of Max Ojomoh and Tom de Glanville in the senior set-up.
Tommaso Menoncello, Italy
If there’s an en vogue position in Italian rugby right now, it’s outside centre. From Michele Campagnaro’s breakthrough a couple of seasons ago to Matteo Moscardi helping the U18s to a win over England last year and transitioning through to the U20s this season, Italy are beginning to build real depth and exciting promise at the position. Menoncello is the next in line and has the advantage of coming through at Benetton, where the likes of Marco Riccioni and Antonio Rizzi are among the young players currently being given opportunities. Menoncello’s incisive lines, footwork and solid distribution are worth keeping an eye on over the next few years.
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