Since 2019, the COVID pandemic denied the players the chance to pit their wits against each other, but all that is about to change in South Africa this summer. Wales kick-off with a game against New Zealand and the ‘Class of 23’ can’t wait to get stuck into the challenge.
The last competition was in Argentina, where Dewi Lake’s Welsh side beat New Zealand 8-7 in a game played in such a torrential downpour the two teams had to head to the dressing rooms for safety while the storm passed.
A try by Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler and a penalty from Cai Evans eventually did the trick to earn Wales a place in the 5-8th place final against England. They were beaten 45-26 in that contest, but nine players from that squad are currently in Warren Gatland’s extended World Cup training squad.
Ready to meet the Baby Blacks head on is Treorchy-born tight head prop Ellis Fackrell, who is one of nine Ospreys players in the matchday 23, who intends to make the most of his opportunity.
“We are as ready as we could ever be after five weeks of massive training. We’ve crammed in a lot of work into a short period of time, we all know our detail and we’re ready to go,” said Fackrell.
“We’re all excited about staring against New Zealand and it will be a great experience to just stand in front of them when they do the Haka. We know our scrum creaked a bit towards the end of the Six Nations, so we’ve worked a lot with Marc Breeze on that area.
“We’ll be looking to get some front-foot ball to allow our backs to rip it up out wide. What is exciting us all is playing at such a big tournament as this junior World Cup.
“Not a lot of people get the chance to do it and we’re treating it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Playing with the boys you’ve grown up with through the age grade system makes it unbelievably special.”
Fackrell had Adam Jones as his prop idol when he was growing up, but these days he hangs on every word of advice passed on to him by Ospreys Academy coach Paul James.
“I always looked up to Adam Jones when I was growing up, but Paul James has become very important to me since I’ve been at the Ospreys. He is now an even bigger role model to me because I work with him on a one-to-one basis most days and he has really helped me to progress,” added Fackrell.
“As a tight head prop my main priority is the set-piece, but I like to get the ball in my hands and make yards.”
Another Osprey waiting to lock horns with the New Zealanders is one of the babies of the squad, in age at least, Morgan Morse. He has already made giant strides in his career and is in his second year in the Wales U20 set-up – with two more years still to go.
“When I first came into the squad, I kept myself to myself, but since last year I’ve come out of my shell and I’m enjoying it even more. I finished my exams last week and it has been a tough time learning new systems with the squad and content in school,” said Morse.
“My target next season is to break into the regional side after getting some good experience of playing with Swansea in the Indigo Premiership this season. There is great competition for a place in the Ospreys back row and they are all players I can learn from.
“I played a year young in the Dewar Shield and then I found myself playing for the Ospreys U18s one week and then Wales U20 against Swansea in a warm-up fixture the next. I guess it has always been that way for me in being the youngest in the group.
“I’ve learned from the older boys around me, and they’ve helped me to become more professional on and off the pitch. I like to get my hands on the ball as much as I can and make an impact to get the team on the front foot.
“I never take anything for granted because it means so much to be playing with my friends at this level. That’s why I try to ensure I always give everything I’ve got in every game.”
Wales U20 (v New Zealand U20, Paarl Gymnasium, Saturday 24 June, KO 3pm on S4C)
Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby); Llien Morgan (Ospreys), Louie Hennessey (Bath Rugby), Bryn Bradley (Harlequins), Harri Houston (Ospreys); Dan Edwards (Ospreys), Archie Hughes (Scarlets); Dylan Kelleher-Griffiths (Dragons), Lewis Lloyd (Ospreys), Ellis Fackrell (Ospreys), Liam Edwards (Ospreys), Jonny Green (Harlequins), Ryan Woodman (Dragons, captain), Lucas De La Rua (Cardiff Rugby), Morgan Morse (Ospreys)
Replacements: Sam Scarfe (Dragons), Josh Morse (Scarlets), Louis Fletcher (Ospreys), Evan Hill (Ospreys), Seb Driscoll (Harlequins), Tom Florence (Ospreys), Harri Wilde (Cardiff Rugby), Harri Williams (Ampthill)