Cardiff academy forward Mackenzie Martin has received his first call-up into the Wales under-20 squad ahead of the Summer Series in Italy.
The physical back five forward was influential in Cardiff and Vale College's title win earlier this season and also represented the Rags in their Premiership-winning campaign.
Martin is joined in the squad by six of his Blue and Blacks team-mates, with Mason Grady making a long-awaited return at this level. The utility back, who has six senior Cardiff appearances under his belt, has missed out on international age grade rugby in recent years due to a knee injury but did represent Wales under-20 in the 2020 Six Nations Championship - before the pandemic struck.
Cameron Winnett, Efan Daniel, Nathan Evans, Ethan Fackrell and Rhys Barratt all retain their spots in the squad following the most recent Six Nations campaign. Prop Evans and back row Fackrell are set to depart the Arms Park later in the summer.
With Alex Mann ruled out with injury, Ospreys' Joe Hawkins will take over the captaincy duties but head coach Byron Hayward is boosted by the return of lock duo Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins.
A number of former Cardiff pathway players are involved, including Benji Williams, Josh Phillips, Morgan Veness and full international Tshiunza.
“Alex is a massive loss for us,” admitted Hayward. “Alex is definitely a leader on the field and off the field. Players have so much respect for him as do the management – it’s just one of those things that happens in rugby, and we’ve just got to put it behind us and move on and move forward.
“But bad news for one player is good news for someone else and now it’s all about looking forward. We’ve got depth in the back row now so it’s a good opportunity for someone else.”
With games set to take place in Verona and Treviso, Wales will face Scotland, Georgia and Italy in Pool B before a play-off match to determine their final placing, but Hayward said the squad’s sole focus is the first game against the Scots at Stadio Di Monigo on Saturday 25 June.
“If you get a good win under your belts then you are then up and running,” explained Hayward. “It will be imperative for us to get that first win and that is all we are focussing on at the moment. We’ve got two games after that, but we won’t even think about them until the Scotland game.
“They play an open attractive brand of rugby so it will be a challenge for us defensively which is a big area we have to pick up from the Six Nations and we’ve highlighted that.
“So I think if we can get our house in order there when and we do have the ball we could cause some damage. Saying that, we have full respect for Scotland as we were 10-0 down in the second half against them in the Six Nations before coming away with a victory.”
Wales U20 squad for Summer Series in Italy
Forwards: Rhys Barratt (Cardiff Rugby), Cameron Jones (Ospreys), Efan Daniel (Cardiff Rugby), Oli Burrow (Exeter Chiefs), Morgan Veness (Ealing Trailfinders), Adam Williams (Dragons), Nathan Evans (Cardiff Rugby), Ellis Fackrell (Ospreys), Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs), Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs), Caleb Salmon (Scarlets), Ryan Woodman (Dragons), Ben Williams (Aberavon), Ethan Fackrell (Cardiff Rugby), Morgan Morse (Ospreys), Benji Williams (Ospreys), Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby)
Backs: Morgan Lloyd (Dragons), Che Hope (Dragons), Rhodri Lewis (Ospreys), Dan Edwards (Ospreys), Josh Phillips (Scarlets), Joe Hawkins (Ospreys - Capt), Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby), Bryn Bradley (Harlequins), Joe Westwood (Dragons), Oli Andrews (Dragons), Harri Houston (Ospreys), Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby), Iestyn Hopkins (Ospreys)
Six Nations U20 Summer Series
Sat 25 June – Scotland v Wales - Stadio Di Monigo 5pm
Thu 30 June – Wales v Georgia - Stadio Di Monigo – 5pm
Wed 6 July – Wales v Italy - Stadio Di Monigo – 8pm
Tue 12 July – Play-off - opposition/KO TBC