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Five all-time great U20 sides that were littered with future superstars

By Adam Julian
Jordan Joseph remporte son deuxième Championnat du Monde des Moins de 20 ans. (Photo par Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

The World Rugby Under 20 Championships will be held for the first time since 2019 in South Africa from June 23 until July 14.

The Premier world age group tournament is often a glimpse of the future. France are the defending champions from four years ago and their seniors are favourites to hoist the William Webb Ellis trophy in a few months’ time. The history of the tournament is littered with great sides. Here are five of the best.


2008: Blackout at Inaugural Championships

Previous incarnations of the World Junior Rugby championships comprised the Under 17, 19, and 21 age groups. In 2008 the tournament reverted to its present format.

The Baby Blacks conceded just one try in their five victories over Tonga (48-9), Ireland (65-10), Argentina (60-0), and Wales (31-6 in the semi-final) before the 38-3 final triumph over England at Liberty Stadium in Swansea.

The championship-winning side was guided by co-coaches Dave Rennie and Russell Hilton-Jones. Daniel Kirkpatrick was named player of the final. He went on to play Super Rugby for the Hurricanes and the Blues before a long stint in France. Ryan Crotty (who scored a try in the final), Zac Guildford, Sam Whitelock, and Aaron Smith became All Blacks. Luke Braid was named World young player of the Year.

2011: The Greatest Ever?

The New Zealand roster in 2011 was ridiculous. Codie Taylor, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Steven Luatua, Beauden Barrett, Brad Weber, Charles Piutau, Lima Sopoaga, Francis Saili, TJ Perenara, and Waisake Naholo all became All Blacks.

Whitelock was the captain of the side that beat England 33-22 in the final.

England, by way of comparison, had George Ford, Owen Farrell, and Elliot Daly in their backline as well as Mako Vunipola, Christian Wade, Marland Yarde, Joe Launchbury, Sam Kvesic, and Sam Jones in their roster.

Ironically Brad Shields, a New Zealand squad member, went on to play for England. Ben Tameifuna (Tonga) and Gareth Anscombe (Wales) were also internationals.

New Zealand’s biggest win of the tourney was 92-0 against Wales and they beat Australia 37-7 in the semis.

The margin of victory eclipsed the 62-17 hiding of Australia in the 2010 final. In that match Tyler Bleyendaal scored 28 points, and Telusa Veainu three tries.


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2012: South Africa Stops New Zealand Juggernaut

There were already signs New Zealand’s reign of dominance was potentially ending when Wales ended their 21match winning streak in pool play. However, hosts South Africa were also upset by Ireland in pool play and had to beat England to guarantee a place in the semis, which they duly did 28-15.

The Junior Springboks really found their stride in the semis crushing Argentina 35-7, but New Zealand was resurgent avenging their loss to Wales 30-6.

A crowd of 33,210 turned up at Newlands to watch a tense and spiteful encounter which saw future French international Paul Willemse and All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi sent off in the 58th minute after hair-tugging was met with a retaliatory punch.

South Africa was more composed and tries from halfback Vian van der Watt and center Jan Serfontein to go with the dozen points kicked Handre Pollard secured the title. Serfontein was the player of the tournament and went on to play 35 tests.

Dillyn Leyds, Raymond Rhule, Steven Kitshoff, and Pieter-Steph du Toit were later Springboks with Kitshoff and du Toit joining Pollard as senior World Cup winners in 2019.

2014: England Conquer Eden Park

England was unquestionably the best age group team in the world between 2013 and 2016 winning three World titles with a 17-3 record and capturing the Six Nations in 2013 and 2015.

England was largely unchallenged en route to the 2014 final in New Zealand defeating Italy (63-3), Australia (38-24), Argentina (17-16), and Ireland (42-15). In the Pumas match, England never trailed.

South Africa represented a formidable challenge in the final at Eden Park. With a beefy pack and Handre Pollard, they’d twice beaten New Zealand. England took charge of the game with 18 points in 15 minutes either side of the interval, but they were hanging on in the final quarter, fortunate that for the second time in the match, Pollard was less than a metre wide with a drop goal attempt.

England played an attractive brand of footy but could lean on their scrum, defense, and maul when required. England was led superbly by lock Maro Itoje, twice a British and Irish Lions selection. Centre Nick Tompkins and flanker Ross Moriarty later played for Wales, and Callum Braley played for Italy.

2018: France Set Up Bright Future

When Fabien Galthié named his squad for the 2020 Six Nations he included seven players from France’s World U20 Championship-winning sides of 2018 and 2019. By 2021 nine players from those teams had been capped at senior level – Demba Bamba, Pierre-Louis Barassi, Louis Carbonel, Kilian Geraci, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Romain Ntamack, Arthur Vincent, Cameron Woki and Hassane Kolingar.

The 2018 tournament was staged in France and the hosts topped their pool after a narrow 26-24 victory against Ireland with two tries by Maxime Marty (Carcassonne) the difference. France was ruthless against a rudderless New Zealand in the semis leading 16-0 before conceding a late converted try. The final against England was a penalty-stricken affair but 23 points from the boot of Carbonel and tries to Woki and Adrien Seguret (Castres) got the job done 33-25.


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Nickers 51 minutes ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

12 Go to comments
Thomas 1 hours ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

15 Go to comments
FEATURE Mick Cleary: 'There is now a clear sense of identity about this England team.' Mick Cleary: 'There is now a clear sense of identity about this England team.'