Wales interim head coach Rob Howley believes the relationship between the national squad and the Welsh Under 20s has had a big impact on both sides during their respective RBS 6 Nations campaigns.
After three rounds, Howley’s side sit second behind unbeaten England after wins over France and Italy finally ended their losing run since lifting the Grand Slam at eight Tests, while Danny Wilson’s men top the Under 20 table after three wins out of three.
With preparation crucial in the build-up to Test fixtures, both sides have been working together on the training pitch and, according to Howley, have been reaping the rewards of competing against each other in attack and defence and being able to fine tune their plays in a competitive environment.
“Our Under 20 side have played an integral part of our preparation,” admitted Howley, who fielded eight players to have graduated from the IRB Junior World Championship to the Test arena in his squad that beat Italy in Rome last weekend.
“We have full contact and unit sessions with them every Tuesday which really puts the pressure on the players and helps both teams.
Building on JWC 2012 form
“Preparation in international rugby is so important, especially when you don’t have a lot of time.
“Having the opportunity to train with and against Danny’s side mean the sessions are closer to game intensity. It is hard to replicate that level in training but by having two full squads against each other helps us take that step up.
“We are benefiting from it and so are the Under 20s and it’s great to see them doing so well. They have continued from where they left off in the Junior World Championship last year, winning all their games so far in the Six Nations, and playing some really good rugby too.”
Wales Under 20s created a piece of JWC history in 2012 after becoming the first side to beat four-time champions New Zealand in the tournament, the Baby Blacks having won 21 consecutive matches before falling 9-6 to the Welsh in South Africa.
A side captained by Sam Warburton and featuring the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar had reached the inaugural Junior World Championship semi finals en route to finishing fourth in 2008, but the class of 2012 bettered that by claiming the bronze medal.
Ellis Jenkins, the current Welsh U20 captain, added: “Training in live situations with the national team has definitely given us a boost. The senior players bring an added intensity and competitive edge to training and set high standards which we’ve taken onto the pitch in our games.”