Following a year without an XV Youth competition (there was a 7s official tournament for U18 that you can remember here) the future stars of European rugby will be able to show their best by facing each other in the U18 Championships 2021 to be held in Kaliningrad between the 3rd and 9th of October.
Georgia, the current champions who lifted the trophy in 2019, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium, Romania, and Czechia are the teams that join the competition, which gets going on Sunday (3 October), with every national team playing three matches in a knockout system.
If the tournament format doesn't bring anything new, the curious or most interesting detail is the generation gap that every side suffered due to the pandemic, as it forced to stop on all Youth competitions for one year, deeming all coaches to launch players that (in the majority of cases) that have never played an international match, with this small detail to make everything different.
There are a few exemptions like some of the Georgian call-ups, as they played for the U20 squad in the U20 International Series that was held in South Africa in July, while one or two members of the Spanish and Romanian squad to have already played for the U20’s or 7’s national teams respectively.
So, even for those few who will be covering the U18 Championship 2021, there will be doubts on who are the best players in this mix of generations from 2003 and 2004, making it a refreshing new way to follow more closely this year’s competition. But, even in this fog of doubts, let us try to give you some hints about some of the players, with 14 picks to watch for.
In the 8 heavy men pack we have:
- Irakli Aptsiauri, a prime scrummager this Georgian prop;
- Dmitry Dronov, a tackler prone to quickly snatch the ball for Russia;
- Rati Zazadze, one more future suitor for the Georgian 7 jersey due to his physical and mental capabilities;
- Roberto Burnett, the Spanish "Next Big Thing” as his size and power are unsettling;
- Manuel Navalhinhas, one of those back rows made for the "invisible" work that Portugal loves;
- Ivan Beskov, a true wrecking ball prop made by the best Russian raw material;
- Ștefan Marko Buruiană, a hooker for the modern times, combining speed, good handling skills, and intense physicality;
As for the backs, there are some cream of the crop units to follow:
- Alberto Carmona, that played for the Spanish set up at the Vancouver Series for the World 7's series this year, thanks to his speed, feet, and maneuverability;
- Daniel Catanzaro, an impactful centre from Spain;
- Vazha Mikadze, dangerous Georgian fullback owner of a powerful kick;
- Shalva Aptsiauri, a Georgian magician and speedster;
- Boris Hadinegoro, an energetic Dutch scrum-half with quick hands;
- Lucas Michiel, a bit of razzle-dazzle from the Belgian centre;
- Manuel Meneres (a Portuguese first five-eight that can change the tempo of the game in a second).
A small list of the 213 U18 athletes that will fight for a spotlight on this international stage by helping their country achieve a high ranking, in a grueling but enriching atmosphere that we missed.
The tournament starts on Sunday 3rd of October, with Spain and Romania opening the Championship at 1.30 pm (local time / GMT less one hour) followed by Russia-Belgium (3 pm local time), Portugal-Netherlands (5 pm local time) and Georgia-Czechia (6.30 pm) for this first elimination round, while the 2nd and 3rd (final's day) will be played on the 6th and 9th of the same month, with the match-paring already have been decided (GEO/CZH vs RUS/BEL and POR/NED vs ESP/ROU).
All matches will be streamed and you can watch right here in Rugby Europe.
By Francisco Isaac