Wales head coach Byron Hayward has selected six Dragons in his squad for the U20 Six Nations Summer Series being staged in Treviso and Verona between 24 June and 12 July.
Forwards Adam Williams & Ryan Woodman plus Morgan Lloyd, Che Hope, Joe Westwood and Oli Andrew have all been selected to take part in the compeittion in Italy.
The squad has been boosted with the return of Cardiff centre Mason Grady and Exeter Chiefs locks Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza after the trio missed the 2022 Six Nations.
The squad consists of 17 forwards and 13 backs and contains five uncapped players – Scarlets second/back row Caleb Salmon, Cardiff Rugby back row Mackenzie Martin and Aberavon flanker Ben Williams join Ospreys scrum half Rhodri Lewis and Dragons scrum half Hope as newcomers.
Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins takes over the captaincy from Alex Mann who is unavailable due to injury.
Hayward said the strong running Hawkins was an automatic choice to replace Mann as captain. Hawkins made his Ospreys debut against Zebra in November 2020 and has gone on to play 17 times for the Welsh region, impressing in the heart of midfield for Toby Booth’s side.
“Joe had led the side in the Six Nations when Alex was unavailable due to suspension,” said Hayward. “He’s been here from day one. Him and Alex are very close and are very similar in terms of people on how they drive standards on and off the field.
“I would put Joe in exactly the same category as Alex – a leader, he is going to be a top professional and a future captain for one of the regions.”
“Alex is a massive loss for us,” admitted Hayward. “Alex is definitely a leader on the field and off the field. Players have so much respect for him as do the management – it’s just one of those things that happens in rugby, and we’ve just got to put it behind us and move on and move forward.
“But bad news for one player is good news for someone else and now it’s all about looking forward. We’ve got depth in the back row now so it’s a good opportunity for someone else.”
Wales will face Scotland, Georgia and Italy in Pool B before a play-off match to determine their final placing, but Hayward said the squad’s sole focus is the first game against Scotland at Stadio Di Monigo on Saturday 25 June.
“If you get a good win under your belts then you are then up and running,” explained Hayward. “It will be imperative for us to get that first win and that is all we are focussing on at the moment. We’ve got two games after that, but we won’t even think about them until the Scotland game.
“They play an open attractive brand of rugby so it will be a challenge for us defensively which is a big area we have to pick up from the Six Nations and we’ve highlighted that.
“So I think if we can get our house in order there when and we do have the ball we could cause some damage. Saying that, we have full respect for Scotland as we were 10-0 down in the second half against them in the Six Nations before coming away with a victory.”
Wales U20 squad for Summer Series in Italy
Rhys Barratt (Cardiff Rugby)
Cameron Jones (Ospreys)
Efan Daniel (Cardiff Rugby)
Oli Burrow (Exeter Chiefs)
Morgan Veness (Ealing Trailfinders)
Adam Williams (Dragons)
Nathan Evans (Cardiff Rugby)
Ellis Fackrell (Ospreys)
Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs)
Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs)
Caleb Salmon (Scarlets)
Ryan Woodman (Dragons)
Ben Williams (Aberavon)
Ethan Fackrell (Cardiff Rugby)
Morgan Morse (Ospreys)
Benji Williams (Ospreys)
Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby)
Morgan Lloyd (Dragons)
Che Hope (Dragons)
Rhodri Lewis (Ospreys)
Dan Edwards (Ospreys)
Josh Phillips (Scarlets)
Joe Hawkins (Ospreys - Capt)
Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby)
Bryn Bradley (Harlequins)
Joe Westwood (Dragons)
Oli Andrews (Dragons)
Harri Houston (Ospreys)
Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby)
Iestyn Hopkins (Ospreys)
Six Nations U20 Summer Series
Sat 25 June – Scotland v Wales - Stadio Di Monigo 5pm
Thu 30 June – Wales v Georgia - Stadio Di Monigo – 5pm
Wed 6 July – Wales v Italy - Stadio Di Monigo – 8pm
Tue 12 July Play-off - opposition/KO TBC