Wales U20 clinch Grand Slam

Date published: March 20 2016

Wales U20 overcame a nervy start to beat Italy 35-6 and win their first-ever Grand Slam at U20 level on Friday in front of a sell-out Parc Eirias crowd in Colwyn Bay.

Number eight Harrison Keddie, Man of the Match against England the week before, led from the front again with two of Wales’ four second-half tries, after the sides had gone into the break all-square at 6-6, with Joe Thomas and Evans dotting down in between.

Going into the game on the back of four straight wins and an unbeaten record against Italy, the landslide Welsh victory that most people expected never materialised.

Despite showing just one change to the starting line-up that had won so convincingly against England in Bristol, with Joe Thomas replacing the injured George Gasson on the wing, Wales struggled to rise to the occasion and were pinned down inside their own half for the majority of the first period.

The Italians dominated territory and possession without seriously threatening the Welsh try line and the Azzurrini had to settle for parity at half-time with two penalties from the boot of fly-half Matteo Monizzi matched by Daniel Jones.

Wales started the second half much brighter and were good value for their lead when Jones kicked a penalty.

The game-changing moment came when Keddie collected the ball at pace near to the Italian line and barged his way over. Jones converted and from there it was one-way traffic.

Evans dotted down soon after from a driving lineout and worse was to come for the Azzurrini when prop Daniele Rimpelli paid the price for his side's set-piece struggles with 10 minutes in the sin-bin.

Thomas finished off a well-executed move in the corner to press home Wales' advantage. It was then left to Keddie to putting the finishing touches to a memorable evening for Welsh rugby.

“It’s a great achievement, we’re all so happy that we won it,” said man-of-the-match and centre Owen Watkin, who imposed himself on the game in both attack and defence. “It was a tough game and I think the occasion got to us but in the second half we came out firing and we got there in the end.”

Wales can now look forward to going to the World Rugby U20 Championship in June as Six Nations champions. There they will face reigning world champions New Zealand, Ireland and Georgia in Pool A.

“It’ll be a big test; we’ve got New Zealand in our group. But we love a challenge,” Watkin added.

England finished in their worst-ever position in the U20 Six Nations after conceding over 40 points for the second week running.

A hat-trick from impressive centre Damian Penaud saw France seal second place in the table with a 41-17 victory over an England side left languishing in fifth.

France had not lost at home in the Six Nations for over three years, and they made a brilliant start with winger Gabriel Ndandebe scoring in the opening few minutes. That set the tone for a frantic first quarter with Penaud and powerful flanker Judicaël Cancoriet both touching down to give France a comfortable lead.

England replied through Max Malins who showed great finishing skills to score in the corner but, with the conversion missed, Ndandebe broke through once again to put France further ahead. The visitors gradually worked their way back into the game through Jack Singleton, who powered over under the posts, but the hosts responded immediately as Penaud showed good strength to score his second.

France started the second half with just as much intent as Penaud broke through England’s line to claim his hat-trick. England gradually started to build the pressure by going through the phases and it paid off when the ball was fed out wide for Sam Aspland-Robinson to score.

England imposed themselves for much of the second half but they weren’t able to come away with points. A powerful driving maul from France late in the game was finished by scrum-half Arthur Retiere to end the match 41-17.

Will Connors' second-half score and a dominant scrummaging performance earned Ireland a hard-fought 26-18 victory over their Scottish counterparts at Donnybrook to claim third place in the U20s Six Nations.

Scotland will be disappointed not to have made more of a strong first-half. Two Adam Hastings penalties and a Ben Robbins score were scant reward for the amount of possession and territory they enjoyed.

It was Ireland though who looked more clinical in attack as outstanding hooker Adam McBurney barged over from a lineout and Jacob Stockdale finished some flowing backs play.

Connors scored immediately after half-time before the front-row earned Ireland a penalty try, and despite George Taylor's consolation score, John Dalziel's boys fell to their third defeat and will finish fourth in this year's Championship.

With thanks to the World Rugby website