Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins has been named Wales’ captain for the U20 Summer Series being staged in Treviso and Verona between June 24 and July 12.
The powerful Swansea-born player leads a 30-man squad that’s been boosted by the return to the fold of hard-running Cardiff three-quarter Mason Grady and Exeter Chiefs locks Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza after the trio missed the 2022 Six Nations.
Highly-rated Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera product Morgan Morse, who is still only 17, also features in the line-up, along with five uncapped players — Scarlets back-five forward Caleb Salmon, Cardiff back-rower Mackenzie Martin, Aberavon flanker Ben Williams, Ospreys scrum-half Rhodri Lewis and Dragons No. 9 Che Hope.
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Hawkins is named as skipper as injury rules out Alex Mann, with the strong-running 6ft 2in, 15st 5lb midfield man having already impressed Wales U20 coach Byron Hayward.
“Joe had led the side in the Six Nations when Alex was unavailable due to suspension,” said Hayward. “He’s been here from day one. Him and Alex are very close and are similar in terms of people in how they drive standards on and off the field.
“I would put Joe in exactly the same category as Alex – a leader. He is going to be a top professional and a future captain for one of the regions.” You can read more about Hawkins here.
That said, Wales are not downplaying the blow of being without back-rower Mann. “Alex is a massive loss for us,” admitted Hayward. “He is definitely a leader on the field and off the field and players have so much respect for him as do the management. It’s just one of those things that happen in rugby. We just have to put it behind us and move on and move forward.
“Bad news for one player is good news for someone else and now it’s all about looking forward. We have depth in the back row now, so it’s a good opportunity for someone else.”
Having Exeter locks Tshiunza and Jenkins in the squad should power-up Wales’ ball-winning capacity. The pair are being seen as potentially the senior squad’s second-row pairing for the 2027 World Cup, though Tshiunza has already won two caps for Wayne Pivac’s side and could find himself on the radar for the global tournament in France next year if he has an injury-free run and hits form.
He is with Wales U20 this summer rather than the seniors to allow him to ease his way after a long absence because of injury.
Pivac is also aware of Jenkins’ potential, with the 6ft 7in Porthcawl Comprehensive School product having already shone for the Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership and emerged as a key figure in Exeter University winning this year’s BUCS Super Rugby final: indeed, Jenkins scored a try with minutes left to play and was named man of the match as his team beat Durham University 14-13 in a high-quality encounter.
The series will see the Six Nations unions and Georgia and South Africa compete in two groups, with Wales facing Scotland, Georgia and Italy in Pool B before a play-off match to determine their final placing, Hayward’s team start against Scotland at Stadio Di Monigo on Saturday, June 25.
“If you get a good win under your belts then you are then up and running,” said the coach. “It will be imperative for us to get that first win and that is all we are focussing on at the moment. We’ve got two games after that, but we won’t even think about them until the Scotland game.”
Wales U20 squad for Summer Series in Italy
Forwards: Rhys Barratt (Cardiff Rugby), Cameron Jones (Ospreys), Efan Daniel (Cardiff Rugby), Oli Burrows (Exeter Chiefs), Morgan Veness (Ealing Trailfinders), Adam Williams Dragons), Nathan Evans (Cardiff Rugby), Ellis Fackrell (Ospreys), Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs), Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs), Caleb Salmon (Scarlets), Ryan Woodman (Dragons),Ben Williams (Aberavon),Ethan Fackrell (Cardiff Rugby), Morgan Morse (Ospreys), Benji Williams (Ospreys), Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby).
Backs: Morgan Lloyd (Dragons), Che Hope (Dragons), Rhodri Lewis (Ospreys), Dan Edwards (Ospreys), Josh Phillips (Scarlets), Joe Hawkins (capt, Ospreys), Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby), Bryn Bradley (Harlequins), Joe Westwood (Dragons), Oli Andrews (Dragons),
Harri Houston (Ospreys), Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby), Iestyn Hopkins (Ospreys).
Six Nations U20 Summer Series
Sat 25 June – Scotland v Wales – Stadio Di Monigo 5pm
Thu 30 June – Wales v Georgia – Stadio Di Monigo – 5pm
Wed 6 July – Wales v Italy – Stadio Di Monigo – 8pm
Tue 12 July Play-off – opposition/KO TBC