Europe’s most exciting young rugby stars will get the chance to show what they can do on the international stage when the Under-20s Six Nations returns.
Back in its familiar slot, following the same weekends as the Senior Men’s Championship, the drama will unfold across five rounds between February 4 and March 20.
Played in a separate window last year, the 2021 edition saw England storm to the title with a clean sweep to clinch their ninth Championship and fourth Grand Slam.
But defending the crown has proven to be a tough task in the history of the Under-20s Six Nations, with England the only team to do so with their three successive titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
So the stage is set for another pulsating five weeks of action and with the countdown on ahead of the opening round, here’s everything you need to know about the 2022 Championship.
What is the competition format?
The 2022 Under-20s Six Nations returns in its traditional guise this year.
After the 2020 edition was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Championship returned in a new window with a number of tweaks last year to avoid any more disruption.
Every match was held at the same venue in 2021, rather than the normal cross-continental affair, as Cardiff Arms Park played host to all six nations to reduce the risk around travel.
That is not the case this year, though, as the Championship returns in its usual February-March window on the same weekends as the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
Teams will also return to having home and away contests as was the tradition pre-pandemic, with the rest of the format remaining reassuringly familiar for the six competition nations.
Four points are awarded for a win, two for a draw and a bonus point is awarded to sides that score four or more tries in a match or lose a match by seven points or fewer.
Additionally, if a team completes the Grand Slam they are awarded three bonus match points. The team that tops the table after every nation has played each other will be crowned champions.
Who are the defending champions?
England claimed the 2021 title with a perfect record from their five games at Cardiff Arms Park, winning the Under-20s Six Nations for the first time since 2017.
Alan Dickens’ side started their campaign with a stunning second-half comeback against France to win 38-22 after recovering from Nelson Epee’s blistering 20-minute hat-trick.
They followed that up with a 31-12 victory over Scotland in Round 2 before overpowering defending champions Ireland a week later to keep their Grand Slam ambitions alive.
An impressive 45-3 victory over Wales in Round 4 maintained their winning streak before they completed the clean sweep with a hard-fought 27-17 triumph over Italy.
England finished with five try bonus-points as well to sit clear at the top of the standings, with France their nearest rivals after bouncing back from their opening defeat with four wins.
2019 champions Ireland finished in third place, with three wins from their five games while Wales finished fourth, Italy came in fifth and winless Scotland were sixth.
Who to look out for?
It’s hard to look past England as favourites to lift the title once again.
They are the most successful side in Under-20s Six Nations history and the manner of their victory last year would suggest they still remain the team to beat in 2022.
Ten players in their Elite Player Squad have been capped previously at this level, including the likes of Fin Smith and Ewan Richards who already have Premiership experience.
But three-time winners France pushed England all the way in 2021 and also have a remarkably deep pool of talent to choose from as they continue to go from strength to strength.
Their squad features the likes of back-rower Théo Ntamack, younger brother of Romain, and Hugo Auradou, whose father David was a mainstay in the French teams of the 1990s.
Ntamack is one of a number of players who will return from last year’s squad, along with the likes of Montpellier fly-half Louis Foursans-Bourdette and highly-rated Agen centre Emilien Gailleton.
Elsewhere, Ireland are also more than capable of lifting the title and will be determined to wrestle back the Championship from England as they look to repeat their 2019 Grand Slam.
And Wales, Italy and Scotland are all more than capable of causing an upset on their day.
What’s the fixture schedule for the 2022 Championship?
The Championship begins on Friday 4th February with a triple header of games at 8pm.
Ireland face Wales at Musgrave Park, England start their defence against Scotland at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh and France host Italy at the Stade Guy Boniface.
Round 2 will take place on 11th February with Wales welcoming Scotland, while France will host Ireland and England will travel to the Stadio Comunale di Monigo to take on Italy.
Following a rest week, the Under-20s Six Nations returns on Friday 25th February as France, Wales and Italy travel to Scotland, England and Ireland respectively.
In Round 4, Wales will host France on Thursday 10th March at 8pm while Italy will host Scotland on Friday 11th and England host Ireland on Saturday 12th.
The 2022 edition will come to an exciting conclusion on 20th March with a ‘Super Sunday’ of matches with Wales v Italy, Ireland v Scotland and France v England.
Where can I watch the Under-20s Six Nations?
The 2022 Under-20s Championship promises to be bigger than ever, with matches broadcast in Six Nations territories either on terrestrial TV or via broadcaster streaming platforms.
All matches will be available in the UK on BBC iPlayer and Ireland on RTÉ and Virgin Media, while Sky Italia will broadcast the matches of Italy Under-20s.
It is the first time that broadcasters in Ireland will show the Championship in its entirety while the Under-20s Six Nations will be broadcast exclusively in France by the L’Équipe group.
Every France Under-20s match will be broadcast live and in prime time on L’Équipe channel, while the rest of the competition will be shown on L’Équipe’s platform (website and app).