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6 exciting prospects to watch out for in the U20 Six Nations

We’ve picked out a player from each of the six teams ahead of this weekend’s first round.

THE U20 SIX Nations kicks off tomorrow night with Ireland’s trip to face Italy, and with that in mind we’ve picked out a player of high potential from each of the competing countries.

Round one fixtures:

Italy v Ireland, Friday [18.00 Irish time], Stadio Pozzi Lamarmora

Wales v England, Saturday [19.30], Parc Eirias

France v Scotland, Saturday [19.55], Stade Jean Lavie

Fergal Cleary

While the man alongside him in the centre tomorrow is most certainly the star name among this Ireland U20 group, Cleary is also a player of rich promise.

He shone during Clongowes run to the Leinster Schools Senior Cup final last year, and is very much in the mould of the modern inside centre given his experience as an out-half. Cleary possesses a wide range of passing, identifies space well and is composed in phase play.

Fergal Cleary Cleary is part of a star-studded Irish backline. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Equally as impressive during his schools career was the bite he brought in contact, relishing opportunities to leave a shoulder in or add an aggressive edge in whatever way he could.

The Lansdowne man should take some of the playmaking pressure off out-half Ross Byrne, while his distribution skills could allow Ireland’s talented backline to attack in wider channels.

Rory Thornton

The Welsh captain is a slab of prime beef, weighing in at close to 120kg and standing 6ft 7ins tall. The Ospreys lock is back for his second season of U20s rugby, having started five games at last year’s Junior World Championship in New Zealand.

Thornton is not simply a special physical specimen, with his strong lineout calling, movement and jumping marking him out as a player of quality. The 20-year-old has only one senior appearance for the Ospreys, but looks likely to add to that in the coming year.

For now, the imposing second row will be aiming to help Wales to a Six Nations title, starting against England on Saturday night. Watch out for Thornton’s second row partner Joe Davies too, another large figure.

Nick Tompkins

The Saracens wing is another player back for his second season at U20s level, having started all 10 of England’s Six Nations and JWC games in 2014. While he only dotted down twice in those appearances, there is little doubt about his attacking ability.

Rugby Union - LV=Cup - Saracens v Harlequins - Allianz Park Tompkins in LV=Cup action for Saracens. Source: Nigel French

Formerly a captain of the England U16s and U17s, Tompkins’ experience will be important over the coming weeks. The 19-year-old has already made eight Premiership appearances for Mark McCall’s Sarries side and is highly-rated within the club.

A 90kg frame means Tompkins is not the biggest of wings, but his footwork and speed more than compensate. If England are to claim the title, it seems likely the Saracen will be a vital factor behind their success.

Zander Fagerson

Gregor Townsend is an excellent judge of a player, and if tighthead prop Zander Fagerson is good enough for the Glasgow Warriors, then he has every chance of making a major impact in this U20 Six Nations.

The 19-year-old featured at last summers’s JWC, although just one of his five appearances was a start. This year, Fagerson is a clear first-choice for Sean Lineen’s side and wears the number three shirt against France on Saturday evening.

Fagerson has already made five Pro12 appearances for the Warriors, starting against the Scarlets back in November. Welshman Samson Lee has shown that young tightheads can thrive in senior international rugby, and Fagerson might be the next to follow.

Thomas Ramos

The France fullback is as classic as they come, wrapping a whole lot of cliché into one lightweight but explosive package. His daring counter-attacking, pace, and visual skills make him a real danger with ball in hand.

Source: Stade Toulousain, ô fil des essais/YouTube

That much was in evidence when Ramos made his Top 14 debut for Toulouse as an 18-year-old last season, scoring a try against Castres. Guy Novès and the club’s hierarchy handed Ramos a new two-year contract soon after that senior bow.

He’s gone on to make four further Top 14 appearances this season, but there’s a dark side to Ramos too. On the second weekend of the French league, the fullback was red carded for kicking an opponent just two minutes after coming off the bench, leading to a three-week suspension.

When he focuses on le jeu, however, Ramos is a sensational talent. Also watch out for Ramos’ fellow Toulousain Arthur Bonneval on the right wing – he also has four Top 14 caps at the age of 19.

Luca Petrozzi

The prestigious Whifgift School in London provided the Ireland U20s with bulldozing Frankie Taggart last year, a back row who is now on the books at Ulster. This season, Whitgift alumnus Lorcan Dow lines out at number eight in Nigel Carolan’s team.

Dow, who has also linked up with Ulster, will come across a face he knows all too well in Italy tomorrow night as ex-Whitgift man Luca Petrozzi starts for the home side.

Petrozzi was a try-scoring wing in his time at the South Croydon school, but starts at scrum-half for Italy U20s against Ireland. The fact that former Italy scrum-half Alessandro Troncon is now head coach of the U20 side makes the move far easier to understand.

Petrozzi is under fine tutelage with Troncon as his coach, although Italy are expected to struggle.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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