Wales Under 20 head coach Patrick Horgan today announced his 26-man squad, including nine Blues players for the forthcoming Junior World Championship, to be staged in Wales next month (June 6-22).
Wales are No 4 seeds for the tournament after reaching the semi-finals of last season's Under 19 World Championship and will face France, Italy and Japan in the Swansea-based Pool D when the tournament kicks-off in one month's time. The new-look Under 20 tournament replaces both the IRB Under 19 and Under 21 World Championships.
Blues Academy and Glamorgan Wanderers back row forward Sam Warburton will captain the side after returning from a hamstring injury which kept him out of the Wales side for the duration of the recent Under 20 Six Nations tournament. He has proved his fitness with impressive recent form for the Cardiff-based Wanderers in the Principality Premiership and Konica Minolta Cup.
Fellow Blues academy members, flanker Dan Franks and centre Luke Ford, both key members of last season's Under 19 squad, also return to boost Wales' campaign after recovering from a shoulder injury and a broken finger respectively.
Seven members of the group have played senior rugby this season, while Leigh Halfpenny will make his regional debut when he starts on the wing for the Blues against Ulster on Friday night.
Centres Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) and Gareth Owen (Ospreys) have 25 regional appearances between them, while full backs Daniel Evans (Scarlets) and Jason Tovey (Dragons) and Ospreys half backs Dan Biggar and scrum half Rhys Webb have also gained senior regional experience. Hooker Ryan Prosser has featured for Bristol Rugby in the Guinness Premiership.
Horgan said: "We are all absolutely excited at the prospect of competing in this tournament, especially as host nation.
"In the end, we were able to select from a position of relative strength with the returns to fitness and form of some of last season's top performers.
"Sam is a talismanic leader both on and off the field and did a fantastic job as Wales Under 19 captain last season.
"He has been in exceptional form for the Wanderers and, although it is disappointing to lose Nic Cudd through injury, the returns of Sam and Dan Franks will boost our back row efforts."
Wales will play their Pool matches at the Liberty Stadium, starting with Italy on June 6, followed by Japan on June 10 and France on June 14 in a bid to reach the last four. Horgan is confident of the ability of his side, but fully aware of the task ahead.
"We beat both Italy and France in the recent Under 20 Six Nations, but we are fully aware that this tournament will provide new challenges from both sides," added Horgan.
"Italy are no mugs and proved a handful for every team in the Six Nations, while France have some class players. Hopefully, we will play France on June 14 for a winner-takes-all place in the semi-finals.
"There will be a lot of pressure on the players and management during this 'home' tournament but it's a good pressure. We didn't lose a home game during the Six Nations so hopefully we will build on that record at the Liberty Stadium next month in order to progress to the championship semis and beyond."
Wales Under 20 squad for IRB Junior World Championship - Wales 2008
Backs: Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Gareth Williams (Ospreys), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Gareth Owen (Ospreys), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Rhys Williams (Scarlets), Luke Ford (Blues), Jimmy Norris (Dragons), Nathan Rees (Blues), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Daniel Evans (Scarlets), Jason Tovey (Dragons)
Forwards: Sam Hobbs (Blues), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Blues), Patrick Palmer (Blues), Ryan Prosser (Bristol), Rhys Lawrence (Ospreys), Jevon Groves (Blues), Haydn Pugh (Scarlets), Ashley Sweet (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lloyd Phillips (Scarlets), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Sam Warburton (capt, Blues), Dan Franks (Blues)