By Tom Prosser
Newly appointed Wales U20s coach Ioan Cunningham is excited for his young players to be back on the pitch again ahead of their opening Six Nations fixture against Italy at the Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.
“There is a lot of excitement amongst the boys, a lot of them haven’t played in 15/16 months so the key has been to get them up to speed with the contact side of the game again,” said Cunningham.
The former Llanelli skipper is relishing the opportunity to lead the U20s in the Six Nations and is hoping the players will use this platform to establish themselves in the sport.
“They have got to learn how to win in a Welsh shirt, if they manage to do that it will be massive for their careers going forward, regarding expectations, I am just delighted to see them back playing again and hopefully they will show what we have put into place.”
The successful U20s side in 2017 featured the likes of Owen Lane, Rhys Carré and James Botham, all of these players are now regulars in senior regional rugby and have featured on the international stage for Wales too.
Cunningham believes this will provide big motivation for his young players.
“That’s massive, things can happen quite quickly for these players, Wayne Pivac spoke to the group last week and said opportunities will come if you work hard enough and show you can cope with the physical demands of the game.
“You only have to look at the Dragons’ Ben Carter who was included in the senior squad for the summer tests, he is still actually eligible for the U20s,” said Cunningham.
Ioan Cunningham previously worked at the Scarlets during Wayne Pivac’s time at the West Wales region. This familiarity could be a boost for the pathway between the U20s and the seniors.
“I think having alignment is really important in elite sport, a seamless transition between a youth team and senior team is vital for the progression of players.
“I am sure that having the same structures and thought processes can only be a positive and will help the Welsh game as whole.”
Alex Mann of the Cardiff Blues has been named captain of the team that includes many players that have recently made their senior debuts at regional level such as Sam Costelow, Joe Hawkins and Theo Bevacqua to just name a few.
Unusually, every match in this U20s Six Nations is played at the Cardiff Arms Park and Wales will kick off their campaign on Saturday at 8pm.