12:01am Wednesday 15th January 2014
WALES Under-20s have admitted that they will struggle to go under the radar as they aim to eclipse a superb 2013, writes Chris Kirwan.
The young guns had a magnificent season despite suffering double heartbreak at the hands of their English counterparts.
A 28-15 defeat in Colwyn Bay saw the visitors from over the border claim the Six Nations title as well as denying them a Grand Slam.
And then a second-half English fightback meant that Wales had to be content with being runners-up in the Junior World Championship.
A series of impressive results means that they will have to get used to coping with the tag of favourites rather than underdogs.
"The perception of us has changed because of our results over the last couple of years and teams will be targetting us now and seeing us as a scalp," said Newport Gwent Dragons hooker Elliot Dee.
"The Six Nations and Junior World Championship went well last year and hopefully we can do even better this time.
"I've never beaten England at any level so it'd be great to change that. It's good to have a nice run of games leading into that one so that we can develop as a team."
Bryon Hayward, who has taken over as head coach from Danny Wilson, echoes Dee's sentiments and doubts that they will catch their rivals cold.
"Nobody will underestimate us any more," he said. "Three years ago the Under-20s had a pretty disastrous Junior World Championship when they lost 92-0 to New Zealand.
"Teams can disregard you when they see scores like that but that won't happen now. We finished second in 2013 and third in 2012 and have beaten New Zealand and South Africa."
Wales will be skippered by Scarlets centre Steffan Hughes but Dee was among those considered for the role.
The 19-year-old from Newbridge made eight Dragons appearances this season and is relishing being a senior figure in the camp.
"Last year was a great experience and really equips you for regional rugby," said Dee. "Training sessions with the (senior) Wales team is an eye-opener but it also makes you realise that you are not that far away, that the gap isn't as big as you imagined.
"I gained so much from last year and I feel like one of the senior players in the squad but I also know that I have a big battle for a start with Ethan Lewis and Scott Otten, who are both really good players."
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