Wales could include Exeter Chiefs forwards Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins in their squad for the U20 Summer Series in Italy, starting later this month.
The pair have been touted as the Wales senior team’s potential second-row pairing for the 2027 World Cup. Headlines have even styled the duo as a lock ‘dream team of the future’. Both were unavailable for the U20 Six Nations this term, with Jenkins involved in club rugby with Exeter and Tshiunza sidelined by injury.
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But Wales U20s coach Byron Hayward is hopeful they will reinforce his squad for a tournament that will see Wales face pool matches against Scotland, Italy and Georgia.
“We have some players available who have been playing regional rugby and Premiership rugby in England, because seasons are finishing,” said Hayward on the Welsh Rugby Union podcast.
“It’s great news because they are such quality, high-level players who have already had experience of senior rugby and they’ll add a massive amount. It’s exciting because it’s not just the value that they add themselves, it’s the value that they add to the boys who may be playing at a lower level and the standards they drive in this environment.”
It is thought that the pair’s Exeter colleague Oli Burrows will also be in the mix, along with the highly promising Mason Grady, who could potentially team up with Joe Hawkins in midfield. Cardiff hooker Efan Daniel, a player Hayward sees as a full international in the making, is also set to be in the squad after injury curtailed his involvement in the Six Nations.
Locks Tshiunza and Jenkins are seen as especially big prospects.
Tshiunza can play at blindside as well as lock and has already won two caps at senior level, while Jenkins has caught the eye in the Gallagher Premiership with Exeter and was named as man-of-the-match for Exeter University in their recent BUCS Super Rugby final win over Durham. You can read more about Tshiunza here.
Wales disappointed in this year’s U20 Six Nations, finishing fifth, with only Scotland below them. They suffered heavy defeats at the hands of Ireland, England and France, and finished with a home setback against Italy.
But Hayward is optimistic the squad will give a better account of themselves in the Summer Series.
He said: “It’s 10 weeks since the Six Nations finished and, results-wise, it wasn’t a good campaign for us for a number of reasons, including the lack of playing time for our players, Covid and restrictions the boys were under going into the tournament.
“But there are no excuses this time around.
“The boys have played plenty of rugby, we have had good preparation physically, the boys have worked tremendously hard in the gym and on fitness testing and the group we have are in a totally different place from where we were at the end of January.”
And after a regular-season campaign that saw the senior team lose at home to Italy in the Six Nations, the regions fail to qualify for the knockout stages in the United Rugby Championship and the U20s also struggle, Hayward is under no illusions about the need for his players to play to potential this summer.
“If I had to use a word to say how important it is, I’d say it’s critical for us to perform out there and get some results, because [as a nation this season] we haven’t covered ourselves in glory from a rugby point of view.
“We’ve all been struggling — the regions, the national team, ourselves — but I’m confident with the group of players we have and the preparation we’ve had, we will be competitive.”
Hayward also feels conditions in Italy should be to the liking of some of the Welsh backs, such as full-back Cameron Winnett, adding: “It will suit him down to the ground out there: fast grounds, fast track and the way we are looking to play. It will suit Cam and the likes of Harri Houston, who’s been going well for Swansea. We have Mason at 13 and Joe Hawkins. These are boys who can tear anyone apart.”