World Rugby Under 20 Championship: Round 1 Preview

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We take a look at the opening set of fixtures for the 2017 World Rugby Under 20 Championship. 

The first round of the World Rugby Under 20 Championship takes place tomorrow with the opening fixture seeing defending champions England take on a recently promoted Samoa. The tournament runs over 18 days with three rounds of pool games and then two days of play-off fixtures. While most of the big match-ups will take place in a weeks time, there are some tasty opening round affairs, including a clash between the Baby Boks and France.

England v Samoa | Wednesday 31 May | Avchala Stadium | 11:00

To Win (80 Mins)
England 1/100 | Draw 30/1 | Samoa 14/1
Handicap
England (-36.5) 9/10 | Samoa (+36.5) 9/10

The first game should be a walk in the park for the defending champions who come into this tournament off the back of a Grand Slam Six Nations campaign. The English juniors may have lost some of last year’s all-conquering squad – the Curry twins have been called up to the senior side while Harry Mallinder and Joe Marchant are both ineligible due to age – but they still have a plethora of quality to call upon including eighth man, Zach Mercer.

Samoa didn’t fare as well during their build-up to the tournament as they suffered heavy defeats to both Australia (43-20) and New Zealand (80-23) at the recently concluded Oceania Rugby Junior Championship. The 'Baby Manu' are likely to have a go on the attack here but I doubt they’ll get much joy as the English defensive set up looks pretty solid – they only shipped 53 points during the Under 20 Six Nations at an average of just over 10 points per game.

Verdict: England (-36.5) 9/10This is one of the few Round 1 games that I will be backing the plus on. England are absolute quality and I can see them putting a huge score over Samoa in the day's opener.  

New Zealand v Scotland | Wednesday 31 May | Kutaisi Stadium | 11:00

To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 1/100 | Draw 30/1 | Scotland 14/1
Handicaps
New Zealand (-43.5) 9/10 | Scotland (+43.5) 9/10

The Baby Blacks will be looking to hit the ground running when they take on the 'Scots in the day’s second fixtures. The Junior All Blacks had their worst showing at an Under 20 Championship last year with defeat to Ireland in the group stage and a tight win over Wales in which they failed to claim a bonus point, seeing them have to settle for a fifth place finish.

Scotland actually made a decent fist of it during last year’s Pool phase claiming wins over both Australia and Italy. These victories were not enough to see them qualify for the semi-finals, however, and the Junior Thistles ended up losing their seventh/eight play-off fixture to Wales.

Verdict: Scotland (+43.5) 9/10
The Scots endured a nightmare Six Nations campaign that saw them concede 171 points in their five matches at an average of 34.2 points per game. So you’re obviously expecting me to tip the minus here, but I’m not going to. Yes, the Scots are porous defensively, but they are more than capable of running in a try or two. Also, the bookies tend to go really high with the ‘caps for the first two rounds which generally makes the plus markets the better option. 43.5 is way too high a handicap for my liking so I will be having a go on the plus.  

South Africa v France | Wednesday 31 May | Avchala Stadium | 13:30

To Win (80 Mins)
South Africa 2/9 | Draw 22/1 | France 33/10
Handicap
South Africa (-12.5) 9/10 | France (+12.5) 9/10

Next up we have the 'Baby Boks' taking on the French. South African/French ties are actually going to be severely tested in the coming weeks with the senior Springboks and the South African A side taking on the French national team and the Barbarians. So, the whole of South Africa will be hoping Junior Boks can set the tone for the coming weeks with a victory here.

The French come into this year’s tournament off the back of a decent Six Nations campaign that saw them finish as runners-up. They were impressive on attack during the aforementioned tournament, scoring 17 tries at an average of just over three tries per game.

Verdict: France (+12.5) 9/10
I was rather impressed with the Junior Boks build-up to this year’s Under 20 Championship. They hammered a solid Varsity Cup Dream Team, with their set piece looking the real deal. The handicap is once again too big for me though. And whilst I fully expect the South Africans to win, I don’t think it will be by more than the 12.5 being quoted.  

Ireland v Italy | Wednesday 31 May | Kutaisi Stadium | 13:30

To Win (80 Mins)
Ireland 1/14 | Draw 35/1 | Italy 13/2
Handicap
Ireland (-19.5) 9/10 | Italy (+19.5) 9/10

Next up we have an injury-hit Ireland taking on the tournament’s perennial whipping boys, Italy. The two sides met earlier in the year, with the Irish running out one point victors in Rome. The men from ‘The Emerald Isle’ had a mixed bag of a Six Nations campaign which saw them suffer a 14 point defeat to the Welsh and narrowly go down to Champions England. The Italians were a lot more consistent, losing all five of their fixtures. The Baby Azzurri will take heart from that campaign, however, as they ran both the Irish and French close.

Verdict: Italy (+19.5) 9/10
I don’t think the Irish will be too troubled by the Italians but the 16.5 handicap is a bit too big. I can see the Irish taking this one by between 10 and 12 points. 

Argentina v Georgia | Wednesday 31 May | Avchala Stadium | 16:00

To Win (80 Mins)
Argentina 1/11 | Draw 33/1 | Georgia 6/1 
Handicap
Argentina (-18.5) 9/10 | Georgia (+18.5) 9/10

This one is going to be an absolute classic with the hosts sure to be fired up in their own backyard. Both of these sides have brilliant forward packs and we could be in for some trench warfare out at the Avchala in the day’s penultimate fixture.

Argentina were extremely impressive at last year’s Under 20 Championship, where they managed to claim their highest ever finish at a junior tournament. That third place finish was made even more impressive by the fact that the Argentines beat the Junior Boks twice in Manchester.

Georgia also impressed at last year’s tournament claiming a 10th place finish. And while they didn’t win any of their Pool fixtures, they did manage a memorable victory over Italy in the play-off rounds. They also ran the French close in the ninth-place play-off final going down 27-24.

Verdict: Georgia (+18.5) 9/10
This game is likely to be a rather low scorer as the Georgians will try their best to turn it into an absolute dogfight. The Argentines should win it but not by much. 

Australia v Wales | Wednesday 31 May | Avchala Stadium | 18:30

To Win (80 Mins)
Australia 4/10 | Draw 20/1 | Wales 21/10
Handicap
Australia (-6.5) 9/10 | Wales (+6.5) 9/10

We close out the day’s play with probably the best value you’ll find all year. I cannot understand why the Australians have been priced up as favourites here. They were diabolical at last year’s tournament and I can’t see them having improved in the space of a year. The Welsh, on the other hand, have been making steady progress and are certainly a dark horse for this year’s title.

The Aussies were alright against the lesser sides in the Oceania Rugby Under 20 Championship beating both Samoa (43-20) and Fiji (32-24). They caught an absolute hiding from New Zealand however, going down 43-6. The Welsh enjoyed a much more fruitful Under 20's Six Nations campaign, managing a third place finish while bagging big wins over Ireland and Scotland.

Verdict: Wales (+6.5) 9/10
My advice here is to have your biggest strike of the day on the Welsh plus and then halve that stake and place it on the Welsh win.
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Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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