Four Dragons youngsters in Wales under-20s team

WALES under-20s head coach Byron Hayward has made five changes for his side's trip to Athlone to take on Ireland under-20s on Friday (kick-off 7.35pm) with four Newport Gwent Dragons youngsters picked to start, writes Andrew Penman.

Dragons rising stars Ashton Hewitt, Ethan Davies, Scott Andrews and James Benjamin all make the starting XV, while Luke Garrett, Ollie Griffiths and Tyler Morgan are all among the replacements.

Wales got their Under 20 Six Nations campaign off to a good start with a 26-9 win over Italy at Eirias last weekend – but Hayward insists his side will have to step up a gear to beat the Irish.

In the backline Hewitt and Garyn Smith come in for Dafydd Howells and Harri Evans – with captain Steffan Hughes switching from inside to outside centre.

Up front Nicky Smith and Ethan Lewis come into the front row for Callum Lewis and Dragons man Elliot Dee; Scott Andrews comes into the second row while Ben Roach returns to his usual back row positon, taking up the No 8 berth with Benjamin moving to the openside flank.

Hayward said: "Harri Evans, Elliot Dee and Scott Matthews have been ruled out of this game through injury, however, we said we would give players exposure at this level in order to prepare for the Junior World Championship in June and we will continue to do that.

"We will need to step up a gear defensively against Ireland as they will pose a different challenge to Italy, plus they scored 30 points against Scotland. I'm confident we can rise to that challenge as we've worked hard on that area of our game under Richard Hodges.

"Along with a solid defence, our discipline needs to be good and we need to attack in the right areas and at the right times.

"I've told the players that Friday will be a totally different challenge playing away from home – the environment and the crowd will be something new for most of the players – but a challenge that will stand us in good stead as we prepare for the Junior World Championship in New Zealand."

Hayward is looking forward to locking horns with fellow Blaina man and former Wales Grand Slam-winning coach Mike Ruddock.

"I grew up looking up to Mike who was on course to be an international player at the time," he said. "He coached me for Wales A and I'm still friendly with him – but not for 80 minutes on Friday!”

Wales Under 20 team v Ireland (Friday 7 February, 7.35pm, Dubarry Park, Athlone):

Afon Bagshaw (RGC); Ashton Hewitt (Dragons), Steffan Hughes (capt, Scarlets), Garyn Smith (Blues), Joshua Adams (Scarlets); Ethan Davies (Dragons), Tom Williams (Blues); Nicky Smith (Ospreys),Ethan Lewis (Blues), Nicky Thomas (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Dragons), James Sheekey (Blues), Will Boyde (Carmarthen), James Benjamin (Dragons) Ben Roach (Blues)

Replacements: Scott Otten (Ospreys), Luke Garrett (Dragons), Callum Lewis (Blues), Rory Thornton (Ospreys), Ollie Griffiths (Dragons), Connor Lloyd (Scarlets), Luke Price (Ospreys), Tyler Morgan (Dragons)

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