By Harry Corish
Luca Giannini has revealed how the meteoric rise of Joe Hawkins is inspiring the current crop of Wales U20 youngsters.
Scarlets teenager Giannini will make his Six Nations bow as one of the youngest players in coach Byron Hayward’s side when Wales host Ireland in Colwyn Bay on Friday night in a match that is live on S4C.
But the 18-year-old back rower – whose family swapped the Bay of Naples for the Carmarthenshire coast – holds an ultimate aim of following Hawkins into the senior squad in double quick time.
The Ospreys centre will face Ireland in the senior international on Saturday, having made his Wales debut against Australia in the autumn, just four months after playing in last year’s U20 Six Nations Summer Series.
“When you see the likes of Joe Hawkins move up to the senior Wales team so quickly, it makes you realise they (the Wales coaches) are watching all the U20s games very closely,” says Giannini.
“Daf Jenkins, Christ (Tshiunza) and Joe all played very well in that tournament out in Italy last year.
“It shows that if you play well, and also perform well for your club, then you can get picked up by the seniors very quickly after coming through the U20s.”
7. Luca Giannini (@stjohnlloyd)
A great poll with 672 votes, Luca gets the nod for the backrow spot. Ex captain represented Schoolboys for 2 years, winning player & players player last season. He then went onto represent Scarlets East & combined. A bright future ahead. pic.twitter.com/4BWoUv71u5
— Llanelli Schools U15 (@LDSRU15) May 20, 2020
Giannini, who played for Llanelli Wanderers and Llanelli RFC while progressing through the Scarlets Academy ranks, is a cousin of Zak Giannini who played at prop for Wales U20s the season before last.
Both hail from a large Italian family with Luca’s father, Salvatore, the current club president at Division One West, Wanderers.
“My background on my father’s side is Napoli,” says Giannini. “I still have a lot of family members out there but there was never any decision to be made on Italy U20s. I’m Welsh.”
Giannini junior has not confined his impact to just Naples, either, as Poland’s U20s can vouch for his power. It was the flanker’s big early tackle that set the tone in Wales U20s’s recent Test against them in a match Wales went on to win, 71-12.
Life is likely to be a bit tougher against Ireland U20s, who won the Grand Slam last season and crushed Wales, 53-5 in Cork.
The boys in green scored an impressive 29 tries in their five matches and openside Giannini – who has played twice for the senior Scarlets side this season, against Bristol and Ulster – knows the task facing him in the opening round could not be more challenging.
“I am really looking forward to playing for Wales at this level, but we know how much physicality Ireland are going to bring to this game.
“They have strength up front, but a lot of skills in their back line, too. That’s been obvious from the clips we’ve been watching.
“It’s going to be a challenge for me, especially against some older players who’ve already played for Leinster, but I’ve always been up for a challenge.
“I want to put myself out there against the best players I can. I want to learn from them and improve.
“We are learning every week in this squad. Byron and the coaches have been really good to work with. It’s a high quality environment and I’m really enjoying it. I can’t wait for the game.”
Giannini will pack down in a Wales back row that also includes captain Ryan Goodman of the Dragons as well as Sale No.8 Huw Davies.
There are two other Scarlets in the starting line-up, prop Tomas Pritchard and scrum-half Archie Hughes.
“We know this is going to be a much tougher game against Ireland than it was against Poland, but if the forwards do our jobs, then we have got experience in our back line who can cause them problems,” adds Giannini.
Head coach Hayward will start another U20s campaign, 17 years on from his first, when current Wales senior captain Ken Owens was in his first line-up as a 19-year-old.
“It’s a very rewarding job,” says Hayward. “You get a chance to influence young men’s lives. You help them realise their dreams.
“It’s a learning environment, but it’s not one where we want people to be fearful. We want the players to go out and express themselves.”
Ireland will firm favourites, but Hayward h=insists his team have a game plan and nothing to be afraid of.
“We have experience with 12 players from the tournament last summer in Italy and some real talent coming up from the U18s.
“We need to be difficult to break down in those first three phases when the opposition have the ball and we have been working very hard on trying to make sure that is the case.”
S4C: Friday – 6.30pm: Clwb Rygbi Rhyngwladol – Wales U20 v Ireland U20
Live coverage from Eirias Park of Wales v Ireland in the 2023 Under 20s Six Nations. English commentary available.