Eight nations are preparing for the third European championships at youth level, this time reverting back to U19s, to be held at the Makis stadium in Belgrade from 5-11 August. Each is not just planning for victory but that the tournament will leave a legacy for the upcoming generation.
For late entrants Ukraine, who take the place of Russia, the reprieve is much welcomed. “After this event, the UFRL will build a new structure of domestic youth competitions where we will begin prepare our juniors for the next U19 European Championship,” said president Artur Martyrosyan. “That means new targets and strategies of junior development and youth competitions; we hope to see fairly quickly new names in our national team that have passed through this system.”
England are the best U19s from the community game, allowing more players to experience international duty and bridging the gap between professional and amateur opportunities. The squad is predominantly self-funded, but also supported by numerous volunteers, including the coaching staff, along with the backing of the Rugby Football League through their Lions programme.
U19 rugby league In Ireland goes back to 1997, with fixtures between Leinster and Ulster. In 2014, a schools blitz held by Rugby League Ireland saw 100 students took part in a competition which led to a commitment to youth development. The U19 system has grown to a point where now a quarter of Ireland's domestic clubs currently field youth sides.
“What an opportunity this is for these young lads to put their skills on show at an international event,” said head coach Wayne Kelly. “We have a fantastic group of players who have been working extremely hard for the last six months. I’m convinced we will turn heads with our performances.”
Italy’s governing body, FIRL, are committed to making this age band the future of the sport in the country, whilst also using matches at this level to spread the sport geographically. Recently they have played Serbia twice, in Gemona del Friuli (Udine) and Fogliano di Redipuglia; England in Este and France in Toulon.
“Investing in young people is fundamental, we must work to guarantee an increasingly important generational turnover for our national team,” commented Tiziano Franchini, vice president of the Italian Rugby League Federation. Our U19s are a nice group, I am sure that it they be able to take off a lot of satisfaction from the European Championship.”
Milano Buffalos’ Fabio Morosi added: “I'm very proud of being able to represent Italy at the European Championship. We know it will not be easy but the head is aimed at the first match against France. We want to try to play without fear against all the teams. I want to learn as much as possible, only by playing at these levels can I raise my performance and understanding.”
Opening fixtures – Sunday 5th August
Ukraine v Wales (kick off 15.30)
Ireland v Scotland
Serbia v England
France v Italy