Dragons ace Dixon leads charge for Wales young guns

20.05.14 - Wales U20 Squad Photo - 
 
© Huw Evans Picture Agency (6535253)

20.05.14 - Wales U20 Squad Photo - © Huw Evans Picture Agency (6535253)

First published in Wales rugby and football

The Wales Under 20 squad and management arrived in New Zealand with a semi-final place the primary target.

The young squad completed their preparations for the Junior World Championship last week following a 31-19 win over Scotland Under 20 in a warm-up match ten days ago.

The tournament, which will see each team play five international games in 19 days – will take place in Auckland and the surrounding area with Fiji Wales' first opposition next Monday (June 2).

Wales reached the final of the tournament in France last season – and the semi-finals the previous year – so expectations are high and head coach Byron Hayward is calling on his old heads to help steer the side to the last four.

"Quite a few of the boys played in the final last year”, said Hayward, "and that experience will be crucial. Those players have been in high pressure situations and will know how to deliver when they're under pressure this time around.

"There are a lot of leaders throughout the squad, including the likes of the captain Steffan Hughes, along with Jack Dixon, James Benjamin and the front row. They will be instrumental in us getting to the latter stages of the competition.”

"Externally, people may expect a lot from us, but our target is to get out of our group and as we showed last year in beating South Africa, that, once you get to the semi-finals, anything can happen.

"There is no bigger shop window for these boys to show what they can do, and as we've seen with the Under 20 programme in the last few years, many have gone on to be professional players and even play for Wales and the Lions so the incentive and motivation is there for them to do well.”

Dragons centre Dixon is the most experienced squad player having already played a key role in Wales' successful campaigns in both South Africa and France.

"This is my third Junior World Championship so I know what to expect and I'm really looking forward to it,” he said.

"I'm trying to push myself to be more of a leader on and off the field, as are others who were involved last year too.

"We've been working hard in the gym and on the training pitch to ensure we are ready for Fiji first up.

"We know we can be dangerous with the ball and have a good defence so we are confident we can reach the final again, and why not go all the way.

"There will be no easy games – Fiji will be very physical and keen to throw the ball around and Ireland and France are good teams too. It's tough playing three Pool games in nine days but we know what to expect. You've got to be mentally strong and physically tough.”

Junior World Championship squad 2014

Wales Under 20 Pool fixtures:

Monday 2 June: Wales v Fiji ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe, 15.35 local time

Friday 6 June: Wales v Ireland, ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe, 17.35 local time

Tuesday 10 June: Wales v France, QBE Stadium, Auckland, 15.35 local time

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