Living in the shadow of its senior counterpart, the U20 Six Nations won’t be appointment viewing for a lot of rugby fans over the next two months, but it really should be.

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The competition is the first glimpse for many of the future stars of the northern hemisphere and the quality of the competition has consistently grown over the past 10 years, with a number of the stars of the tournament not only going straight into starring roles for their club sides, but also winning international caps.

Among the players involved last year were full England cap Ted Hill and recent apprentice call-up Josh Hodge, whilst Ireland’s Harry Byrne was included as a development player in Andy Farrell’s senior Six Nations squad. As for France, the quartet of Jean-Baptiste Gros, Killian Geraci, Louis Carbonel and Arthur Vincent were all named in the senior side’s training squad for the current tournament.

There are plenty of candidates this season to go on similar journeys over the next 12 months and with four of the six senior sides involved under new head coaches, they will be particularly keen to cast their eyes over the next generation of talent and potentially find some core members of their squads moving forward.

We have selected one player from each nation to keep an eye on over the next couple of months, all of whom have the ability to make the step up sooner, rather than later.

Continue reading below…

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Rufus McLean, Scotland

This is an important year for Scotland who, unlike their Six Nations rivals, are not preparing for the World Rugby U20 Championship, but instead attempting to bounce back from the second tier Trophy competition at first time of asking. McLean’s elusive running and counter-attacking will help them in that goal, whilst he also boasts an incisive kicking game from hand.

He is no lightweight in defence, either, something which is not always true of the attack-oriented back three players at this level. McLean will be joined by returning players Ewan Ashman, Connor Boyle and Jack Blain, all of whom had good seasons last year, despite the side’s overall struggles. McLean and Blain combining in attack could light up the Six Nations and Trophy tournaments.

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Alfie Barbeary, England

Barbeary’s introduction to U20 rugby happened a year early, although it ended in ignominious manner, as he was sent off at the U20 Championship for a spear tackle off the ball, something which saw his start to life as a professional at Wasps delayed. That said, it was a momentary rush of blood to the head and his potential in rugby is still extremely high.

A dominant ball-carrier, if Barbeary can steer clear of injuries and put five solid games at the Six Nations under his belt, he could well push for further honours with Wasps after the tournament’s conclusion. His physicality is rare and puts him in that conversation, even playing in a such a demanding position as the front row. Elsewhere, Freddie Steward, Max Ojomoh and Tom Curtis will all look to leave their mark on the competition and they should all excel with front-foot ball.

Hayden Hyde, Ireland

Outside centre Hyde is one of the new faces in an Ireland squad that will attempt to defend their Grand Slam title from last year, and he brings a physical carrying presence in the midfield that could make that possible. The Cranleigh product transitioned from the back row to the centres during his time in the Harlequins academy and although he is still learning his trade there, he is set to be a real coup for Ulster and the Irish Exiles programme.

If Ireland can deliver Hyde the ball in space, he could run rampant during the Six Nations and, as with many of the backs at the competition, that will come down to the work done by the pack. Up front, Ireland welcome back promising tighthead Thomas Clarkson and lock and captain David McCann, both of whom will be key to that goal of getting Hyde running on to the ball against a retreating defence.

Matthias Haddad, France

After excelling for the U18 side last season, Haddad is primed to take the U20 age-grade by storm this year. He is a relatively rare thing in France, in that he is a slighter flanker, very much built in the traditional openside mould. His speed, ferocity of tackle and strength over the ball all separate him from the chasing pack at this level.

If France can put a strong workhorse alongside Haddad and Jordan Joseph this year, their back row will be as explosive and potentially dominant as any in age-grade rugby. Gifted lock Florent Vanverberghe is back for another season, whilst Cheikh Tiberghien, who was snapped up by Clermont from Bayonne last year, is well worth keeping an eye on, too.

Ioan Lloyd, Wales

Of all the players mentioned in this article, none has had that impact at the senior level yet that Lloyd has had with Bristol Bears. The fly-half has transitioned to senior rugby as seamlessly as you could hope for and he has shown that he is more than capable of executing his impressive array of skills from U18 rugby at a level that is already beyond that which he will face in the Six Nations over the next two months.

Combined with Sam Costelow, Wales have two excellent playmakers to call upon and how they are used in conjunction with one another will be one of the more interesting aspects of the competition. Lloyd could slot in at full-back, whilst Costelow has experience at inside centre from the Leicester Tigers academy. Captain Jac Morgan will have to lead his pack forward and over the gain-line if we are to see the best of these two exciting talents.

Paolo Garbisi, Italy

Garbisi takes over from Italy’s standout last year Matteo Moscardi, not only as captain, but also as the primary attacking threat in the Italian midfield. His running ability makes him a difficult fly-half to defend against, although he will also need to be aware of the space further outside and move the ball, rather than just shouldering the burden himself.

With Italy having jumped from fly-half to fly-half at the senior level over the years, there is always interest when a player at this position performs well for the Azzurri at age-grade level. Garbisi began to tick that box last season and if he can continue develop during this campaign, it won’t be long before people begin talking him up as the heir to Diego Dominguez’s long-vacated throne.

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