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Preview: 10 things to look out for in Round 3 of the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series

Tornike Kakhoidze 30/6/2022

It’s all to play in Round 3, and both pools could have an entirely different look come Thursday evening.

Starting with Pool A, and the final two games at the Payanini Centre in Verona, table-toppers South Africa could even drop to third with a defeat against France.

Then it’s off to Treviso on Wednesday, as the group-stage action concludes with hosts Italy locking horns with Wales.

Ahead of another enthralling set of fixtures, here are 10 things you should look out for in Round 3 of the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series.

Battle of the boots

If France versus South Africa was the cross-pool final, the anticipation would be ten-fold.

The circumstances of this game arguably make it even more intriguing, with France knowing they must score four tries to stand any chance of claiming top spot.

Both sides like to make use of their stable of quality kickers, especially South Africa, and they may be minded to adopt a more conservative and structured approach as they look to protect their place as group leaders.

Goal kicking could be a deciding factor late on, so keep an eye on Max Auriac and Sacha Mngomezulu who have both shown a willingness to go for three-pointers from halfway.

Two peerless packs collide

Something has got to give in the first game of the round but neither pack will want to take a backwards step.

France have won 100% of their own scrums so far in this competition, with South Africa ranked second with a 95% success rate.

Both sets of forwards know how to find the try line too. France hooker Victor Montgalliard is tied for top try-scorer in the tournament, while all five of South Africa’s scorers against Ireland were forwards.

Who gets the upper-hand in set-pieces early on could go a long way to determining the outcome of this contest.

France setting the record straight

Not since 2017 have Les Bleuets lost back-to-back games. It’s a fantastic record and one they’ll be determined to preserve.

Having worked so hard to get their tournament up and running against Ireland, expect an almighty push against South Africa. They will be desperate not to slip down to third.

But South Africa have positioned themselves as the team to beat in this tournament. They’ve won seven of their last eight matches at this level. But who was that last defeat against? Wednesday’s opponents France, in the semi-final of the 2019 Under-20 World Championship.

We need to talk about George

Yellow card against France aside, it’s been quite the tournament from Northampton’s George Hendy.

It’s easy to see why Saints handed Hendy his first senior start at the age of just 20 last season. He repaid their faith immediately, with a try on debut against London Irish before three more scores including a stunning brace against Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup in March.

He has beaten more defenders and gained more metres than any other player in the tournament so far and has made seven catches from opposition kicks without dropping any, also a Championship high.

Ireland with their tails up

England won’t have liked the look of Ireland’s second half against South Africa.

They were rampant in the closing stages and nearly even snatched a losing bonus-point, despite trailing by 23 points at the interval.

They’ll be looking to carry that strong finish into Wednesday and improve upon their previous starts – they’ve conceded the opening two tries in both their Championship games so far.

Captains contest

One of the subplots to England against Ireland is the battle of the captains.

England’s Emeka Ilione and Ireland’s Reuben Crothers are two of their side’s most consistent performers and both are try-scorers in this tournament too.

Expect the two flankers to go head-to-head at a few breakdowns on Tuesday evening. Their individual battle could have a big impact on the outcome of the game.

Modebadze’s magic

The mercurial Mathis Modebadze has shown glimpses of his potential up to now.

He was unlucky to be carded in the first half against Wales, and his generally impressive work was overshadowed by the sheer excellence of Georgia’s lineout drive.

The fly-half may fancy his chances against Scotland who have been struggling for form, and he’ll be keen to put on a show and remind everyone why he is so highly rated.

Watch out as the colossal Ioane Metreveli looks to punch holes in Scotland’s midfield before Modebadze exploits the space with his high-intensity running game.

Scotland with the bit between their teeth

Nobody wants to finish last in their pool but least of all Scotland.

Kenny Murray’s side are on a run of 12 straight defeats and now feels like as good a time as any to break that unwelcome streak.

There is cause for optimism however, centre Andrew Stirrat capped a threatening display against Italy with a try, and full-back Gabe Jones has made more line breaks than any other player in the Summer Series.

Their set-piece sure is sharp too, with no side having won more of their own lineouts than Scotland.

That Welsh centre pairing

Whisper it quietly but there are shades of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies about Byron Hayward’s centre pairing.

Currently playing his club rugby at Roberts’ former club Cardiff Blues, Mason Grady is of the same ilk as the Wales midfield legend, always looking for contact and backing himself to break the gain line.

Meanwhile, Joe Hawkins is a supremely talented defender with a cracking boot too, and there are echoes of Davies’ game in that of Hawkins’.

When in possession, avoid Alex Mattioli

It’s a coach-killer to see a forward stripped of the ball deep in opposition territory. To see it happen twice in the space of five minutes is beyond infuriating.

That was the role Alex Mattioli played in denying Scotland two scores on the stroke of halftime last week. It was the second row’s first start of the tournament and he made a real impression for the aggression with which he defended.

Wales’ forwards should be mindful of the Colorno lock and standing at 6ft 5 with curly hair he’s not hard to miss.

Playing the situation

We’ve reached the point in the competition when game management and playing the situation become key.

For example, South Africa know that a losing bonus-point will be enough to see them through as group winners in Pool A, so that may come into their thinking if trailing against France.

Meanwhile in Pool B, draws for Italy and Georgia would be enough to see them retain their current positions in first and third.

For many of these young stars, this could be their first time navigating games with much to consider besides what is happening on the field. How they manage those moments will be a fascinating watch.