Welsh Grand Slam winning captain Tom Phillips admits he is preparing for a southern hemisphere onslaught at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester.
Phillips guided Wales Under-20 to a first ever Six Nations clean sweep in March but is adamant Jason Strange’s side are training like underdogs as they prepare to tackle rugby’s southern hemisphere giants.
Kicking off on June 7, the tournament will conclude with the final on June 25 and Strange’s men face familiar foes Ireland Under-20s – who they beat 35-24 during the Under-20 Six Nations – on opening night at Manchester City Academy Stadium.
The Welshmen face newcomers Georgia Under-20 at the same venue on June 11 before tackling reigning champions the Baby Blacks on June 15 at Sale Sharks’ AJ Bell Stadium and Phillips is bracing himself for three big battles.
“Confidence is high coming off the Six Nations win, but putting that aside, we can’t go in taking anything for granted, we know this tournament is going to move things up ten or 20%,” the 20-year-old Scarlets back-rower said.
“We have come to Manchester to represent Wales and it is a great place to be, but we are here to play rugby, we are not taking it as a holiday, we are training hard and working hard, we have a tough couple of games coming up.
“Teams like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and even looking at the teams we played in the Six Nations, they may have players coming back, they have had longer to prepare. We know the intensity is going to rise.
“New Zealand are a great team – the giants of World Rugby – but we have said from the beginning that our first game is Ireland, after that it’s Georgia. When it comes to New Zealand we will look at them.”
The World Rugby U20 Championship has produced more than 370 players who have gone onto senior international level, including New Zealand’s 2015 Rugby World Cup winners Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Julian Savea and Aaron Smith.
And though Phillips acknowledged his men were stepping onto a gilded passage, with Wales captain Sam Warburton a former Under-20 star and Sky Sports to broadcast over half of the matches, he said it was business as usual.
Anyone who plays rugby doesn’t go out to play better in one game than another, I think we are just going out and doing what we have done for many years, but having that exposure does really help push it forward,” he explained.
“PRO12 experience definitely brings a confidence to the team, playing alongside players like Jarrod Evans, Dan Jones, Dillon Lewis, who have had quite a lot of regional exposure, it does lift the camp.
“We have been working hard and hopefully we can deliver a performance.”
See the Future Stars of Rugby at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June. For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit http://www.englandrugby.com/u20championships/ #WorldRugbyU20s