Preview Six Nations U20 – Italy U20 vs England U20

 

Italy will hope to channel memories of two years ago when they host England on the opening night on Friday at 21:15 (SA Times) of the 2024 U20 Six Nations.

Two penalties from Nicolo Teneggi sealed a famous 6-0 victory for the Azzurrini in February 2022, their first over England in the competition, and the current crop now goes in search of repeating the feat as they bid to start on a high.

Italy finished third last year, a place above England, who lifted the most recent of their nine titles in 2021 and will be led out on Friday night by Leicester Tigers’ Finn Carnduff.

Italy’s skipper is also a back-rower in the form of Petrarca No.8 Jacopo Botturi, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Monday and will hope to inspire an improvement from last summer’s World Rugby Under-20 Championship when his side finished bottom of their pool.

England reached the semi-finals in South Africa before going down to France, who they will face in Round 5.

Italy’s team contains two sons of former internationals. Piero Gritti, who captained his country at the 2023 Under-18 Six Nations Festival, grew up watching dad Andrea play in the second row, while fly-half Martino Pucciarello is the son of ex-Munster star Federico, who won eight caps as a prop.

The current front row of Federico Pisani, Nicholas Gasperini and Marcos Gallorini are familiar faces, having featured in this competition last year, while head coach Massimo Brunello has gone for a five-three split on the bench.

Massimo Brunello, Italy U20 head coach: “The boys are ready and we have good feelings ahead of the match.

“We know it will be very tough, we have our usual objective, to be competitive from the first to the last minute, always stay in the game, and obviously try to make it our own if the opportunity arises.

“We will have to be ready to handle the individual battle, to win it physically, managing to keep England's ability to move the ball into space under control.”

Captain Carnduff is one of six England players in the starting XV to have been capped at this level before, with three more returning youngsters among the replacements.

Exciting Sale Sharks prop Asher Opoku-Fordjour and Northampton Saints scrum-half Archie McParland have both impressed on domestic duty for their clubs this season and will hope to take that valuable experience onto the international stage.

Mark Mapletoft, England U20 head coach: “It’s great to be back in a game week with the boys, the team are incredibly excited for Friday’s test against a very challenging Italian side.

“I’d like to congratulate Finn on his captaincy, it’s imperative we have players that can lead by their actions on the pitch and we’re lucky to have such a tight-knit group of players to represent us.

“The coaches and I have welcomed the intensity that the boys have channelled their rugby through in Bisham recently and that excites us ahead of a tournament we want to start strongly in this week.”

Teams

Italy U20: 15 Mirko Belloni, 14 Marco Scalabrin, 13 Federico Zanandrea, 12 Nicola Bozzo, 11 Lorenzo Elettri, 10 Martino Pucciarello, 9 Lorenzo Casilio; 1 Federico Pisani, 2 Nicholas Gasperini, 3 Marcos Gallorini, 4 Tommaso Redondi, 5 Giacomo Milan, 6 Piero Gritti, 7 Luca Bellucci, 8 Jacopo Botturi. Replacements: 16 Valerio Siciliano, 17 Sergio Pellicciolli, 18 Davide Ascari, 19 Samuele Mirenzi, 20 Cesare Zucconi, 21 Mattia Jimenez, 22 Francesco Imberti, 23 Patrick de Villiers

England U20: 15 Ben Redshaw, 14 Toby Cousins, 13 Ben Waghorn, 12 Sean Kerr, 11 Alex Wills, 10 Rory Taylor, 9 Archie McParland; 1 Asher Opoku-Fordjour, 2 Craig Wright, 3 Billy Sela, 4 Olamide Sodeke, 5 Junior Kpoku, 6 Finn Carnduff (c), 7 Henry Pollock, 8 Zach Carr. Replacements: 16 Jacob Oliver, 17 Scott Kirk,18 James Halliwell, 19 Joe Bailey, 20 Nathan Michelow, 21 Ben Douglas, 22 Josh Bellamy, 23 Ollie Spencer