Preview: World U20s Championship

Date published: June 1 2015

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England will look to make it three wins in a row at the World Rugby U20 Championship but they face stiff competition.

Last year England claimed victory in New Zealand as they beat the Baby Boks in the final, a year after claiming their first title against Wales.

This year they've shown their pedigree by winning the Six Nations title, but 2012 champions South Africa, and four-time winners New Zealand will fancy their chances of getting their hands back on the trophy in the tournament that kicks off on Tuesday.

The tournament returns to Italy, site of New Zealand's last success when a star-studded team featuring the likes of Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Charles Piutau, saw off England in the final.

Pool A: England, France, Japan, Wales

Defending champions England will face two European rivals as well as Japan in Pool A, in what could potentially be a tight group.

While England won the Under-20s Six Nations, they lost their opening fixture against the Welsh, so there will be plenty on the line when the two meet in their second pool game.

They secured the Six Nations title thanks to a win over the French in the final round, and the two will again meet to finish the pool stages.

Japan, meanwhile, lost all three of their warm-up fixtures and look to be outsiders in the pool.

Pool B: Australia, Italy, Samoa, South Africa

Last year's runners-up South Africa look set for a straight shootout with Australia for top spot in Pool B, with the runners-up probably favourites to also make the semi-finals.

That's because Italy were whitewashed during the Six Nations, while Samoa could only beat Japan during the recent Oceania Junior Rugby Championship.

South Africa bring a side with Super Rugby experience, while Australia will have prolific winger Andrew Kellaway back for a second campaign after a record-breaking performance in New Zealand.

Pool C: Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland

New Zealand will be favourites in Pool C, but having completely dominated the first four editions of this competition, they have now gone three years without a title.

Last year they were twice beaten by South Africa, in the pool stages and the semi-final but they come in this year having won the Oceania Junior Rugby Championship.

Argentina warmed up for the tournament with two games against South Africa, losing both, while Scotland finished third in the Six Nations, including a win over Ireland in the final round.

Players to watch:

Tevita Li (New Zealand): The Blues winger has been a regular in Super Rugby and is one of the most experienced players heading to Italy. Combining power and speed, Li will be tough to stop out wide.

Thomas du Toit (South Africa): A powerful loosehead, du Toit was part of the South African team that reached the final last year and plies his trade with the Sharks. He should play an important role again this year for the Baby Boks.

Sekou Macalou (France): Macalou made his name during the Six Nations with a sensational long-range try, looking more like a winger than a flanker. Signed up for Stade Français next season, this rangy back row looks set for big things.

Paul Hill (England): Highly-rated Leeds tighthead Hill has impressed enough to earn a contract with Northampton next season. An immense scrummager, he helped England to glory last year and will be looking to repeat the trick this season.

Rory Thornton (Wales): While the comparisons with Alun-Wyn Jones might be a little premature for the Wales captain, Thornton has followed a similar path. In the same squad as Jones at the Ospreys, he has had the opportunity to play in the Pro12 this year and looks comfortable at that level.

Andrew Kellaway (Australia): One of the stars of last year's tournament, Kellaway's ten tries were a record for a single tournament. Capable of playing both on the wing and in the centres, he will be a menace in both spots.

Zander Fagerson (Scotland): Arguably the star of a promising generation for the Scots, Fagerson is still a year young but already has senior experience for Glasgow. The young tighthead looks set for big things with the Pro12 champions and beyond.

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