The Guinness Six Nations is back this weekend, and while it might not quite be like normal, it looks likely to be a blessed bubble of normality for fans watching on TV.
Of course some things will be different, not least the empty stadiums, but one thing that won’t be changing is our excitement at some of the young talent emerging through for each of the six countries.
With that in mind, and taking a bit of inspiration for our Top U23 Players in the World videos, we have picked an U23 twenty-three from the squad lists for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations championship.
In total there are 29 under-23s named across the six squads (it would be 30 but sadly Caelan Doris, a certain starter, has dropped out due to injury), so picking a 23 was tight and some positions were a little thin, however the quality across the board is staggering.
The only rules were, players had to be born on or after the 1st January 1998, had to be named in their country’s Six Nations squad, and had to be picked in a position they might reasonably be expected to be asked to play in for their country.
Some positions were harder than others, for instance at fly half there were three outstanding options in the French pair of Matthieu Jalibert and Louis Carbonel alongside Italy’s Paolo Garbisi. Though in the end Garbisi’s occasional forays in the 15 shirt became an escape route for us there.
That it was Frenchmen and Italians at the centre of that debate is no surprise, Italy have 9 U23s in their squad, France have 8, the home nations between them only have 12, with England and Scotland each having 3, Ireland 4, and Wales 2. (Though it should be noted that Scotland have a number of youngsters training with the squad, England have a very young shadow squad, Ireland have plenty of youth available, and Wales have opted not to select capped youngsters such as Ioan Lloyd.)
The centres were one of the most tricky positions to select from as there are three outstanding candidates for two positions, in the established Frenchman Arthur Vincent, rising Englishman Ollie Lawrence, and the new Scotsman, Cameron Redpath. A good performance on Saturday in direct opposition to Lawrence could see Redpath jump into this starting side.
Elsewhere there was heavy competition at loosehead, Jean-Baptiste Gros and Rhys Carre look like mainstays for years to come. The second row, meanwhile was a more inexperienced crop, while the back row options show just how much young quality there is there, with Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Cameron Woki, Matt Fagerson, and Michele Lamaro all eligible, as would have been Doris.
Indeed while working through this the exceptional ability of Curry is highlighted. Of the 29 U23 players in the six squads, only two have ten or more caps, Rhys Carre and Tom Curry. Carre has 12. Curry has a, frankly astonishing, 28.
Curry, like Louis Rees-Zammit, was one of the sure things for a starting berth, but elsewhere there were some real challenges so have a read through and let us know what you think!
Guinness Six Nations U23 XV:
15 Paolo Garbisi (Age 20, Italy, 5 caps)
14 Jacopo Trulla (20, Italy, 3 caps)
13 Ollie Lawrence (21, England, 2 caps)
12 Arthur Vincent (21, France, 7 caps)
11 Louis Rees-Zammit (20, Wales, 4 caps)
10 Matthieu Jalibert (22, France, 8 caps)
9 Stephen Varney (19, Italy, 3 caps)
1 Jean-Baptiste Gros (21, France, 5 caps)
2 Ronan Kelleher (23, Ireland, 6 caps)
3 Tom O’Toole (22, Ireland, uncapped)
4 Killian Geraci (21, France, 2 caps)
5 Ryan Baird (21, Ireland, uncapped)
6 Tom Curry (22, England, 28 caps)
7 Ben Earl (23, England, 8 caps)
8 Cameron Woki (22, France 4 caps)
16 Ewan Ashman (21, Scotland, uncapped)
17 Rhys Carre (22, Wales, 12 caps)
18 Georges-Henri Colombe Reazel (22, France, uncapped)
19 Niccolo Cannone (22, Italy, 8 caps)
20 Matt Fagerson (22, Scotland, 9 caps)
21 Craig Casey (21, Ireland, uncapped)
22 Louis Carbonel (21, France, 3 caps)
23 Cameron Redpath (21, Scotland, uncapped)
Just missing out: Gianmarco Lucchesi (20, Italy, 2 caps, hooker), Danilo Fischetti (23, Italy, 8 caps, loosehead), Nicolae Cristian Stoian (21, Italy, uncapped, lock), Riccardo Favretto (19, Italy, uncapped, lock), Michele Lamaro (22, Italy, 2 caps, flanker), Pierre-Louis Barassi (22, France, 2 caps, centre).