The future stars of rugby are in Italy and are ready to set the world alight.
With anticipation building in a Rugby World Cup year, captains jetted in to Milanon Friday to meet the media ahead of kick-off on Tuesday.
The World Rugby U20 Championship, which will see matches played in Parma, Viadana, Calvisano and Cremona, will be broadcast to more than 100 countries around the world. More than 160 million homes will be able to watch as England battle to retain their crown again after lifting the coveted trophy in New Zealand last year.
Matches get underway on Tuesday 2 June and the final will be played in Cremona on 20 June.
Speaking at the official launch in Milan, World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper said: “This competition is very exciting and is hugely important to the global game.
“Since 2008, almost 350 players coming from the U20 Championship have played test rugby for their country. It is the garden of development for a player to move to the top level. This is the first international experience for many players and I hope it is something that they will remember for the rest of their lives,” said Gosper.
England were crowned champions in 2013 and 2014 and will be hoping to make it a hat-trick of wins this year. Captain Charlie Ewels said: “England has won the trophy for last two years but with under-20 rugby it is a different squad each year.
“We know it will be a massive challenge. We’ve had a look at the opposition and there is not a bad side in this competition so it will be tough (to win a third title in a row). We will take each game as it comes,” said Ewels.
Since its inception in 2008, an impressive total of 343 players have made the step up from the U20 Championship (formerly the Junior World Championship) to win full international honours, with many of them expected to feature prominently at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Former Italy scrum-half Alessandro Troncon, now coach of the national under-20 side, is looking forward to the U20 Championship.
“It’s important for us to stay focused on our game and look at the tournament one match at a time,” he said. “It will be great for the guys to play in front of passionate home crowds. We improved during each match in this year’s Six Nations and we’re hoping to continue that trend in June.”