Eight nations are preparing for the third European Youth Championships, to be held at the Makis stadium in Belgrade from 5-11 August. Each are not just planning for victory but that the U19 tournament will leave a legacy at that age group.
Wales U19s was formed in 2002 and played for five seasons before restructuring as U18s, at which age level they won the previous European Championship, in Prague in 2008. Since the turn of the century, nearly 30 players have graduated through the junior ranks and gone on to win full caps, including UK Super League players: Ben Evans, Ben Flower, Dalton Grant, Elliot Kear, Gil Dudson, Joe Burke, Lee Williams, Lloyd White, Michael Channing, Regan Grace, Rhodri Lloyd, Rhys Evans and Rhys Williams.
Scotland RL is currently concentrating on primary school programmes in large cities where rugby union is not established, building programmes in local secondary schools, and supporting clubs that as well as a senior team have a youth section. The programme is concentrated on Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the long term goal to have rugby league played from U8’s through to senior level, with the early signs positive.
At international level, Scotland run two youth programmes, at U16 and U19 level. Both are very much about an introduction to rugby league for those who have not played the game before and the development of the player on and off the pitch. The U16 programme was reintroduced in 2017, and they are set to face Wales for the first time later this month. The U19’s play a number of matches each summer as well as participating in the bi-annual European Championships.
Two “Provinces of Origin” matches took place in April in Carcassonne, in order to test the potential of the young French players involved in their domestic leagues and the Catalans Dragons system, from which a group of 23 has been established for the U19 European Cup.
According to Florian Chautard, Conseiller technique Rugby à XIII: “The goal is to win the 2018 European Cup, we want to instil in them the culture of winning. It is really a good way to evaluate our young generations and the work that is performed upstream. We have worked hard with the players and given the staff every opportunity to best prepare them.”
Serbian Rugby League is ready both as a host and to showcase its commitment and growth of the sport. “We are very proud to have a chance to host such a big tournament,” said SRL secretary general Slobodan Manak. “It is further proof that the international community believe in our good work, but is also a chance for us to show that we can handle stepping up.”
Their squad will be led by talented captain Vladimir Milutinovic. “We have a 15 year record of continuously developing players since our junior tour of France in 2003. For the last seven years we have staged competitive junior championships, followed by Cup and Shield tournaments,” added Manak. “The main goal for this squad is to be the backbone for the SRL national team in qualification for the 2025 World Cup.”
Opening fixtures – Sunday 5th August
Ukraine v Wales (kick off 15.30)
Ireland v Scotland
Serbia v England
France v Italy