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Trophy win allows Japan Under-20s rejoin the world's elite in 2020 age-grade championship

By Alex Shaw
Kai Yamamoto leaped into action for Japan in the 2018 World Rugby Under-20 Championship match against New Zealand in Narbonne (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The World Rugby Under-20 Trophy, the second tier of global age-grade rugby, has proven to be a good breeding ground for talent in recent years, despite the competing sides not boasting the player pools or the resources of their counterparts in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.

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The tournament, plus targeted funding from World Rugby, has allowed Georgia to establish themselves within the Championship after years of coming close in the Trophy. Last year’s promoted side, Fiji, were also able to avoid relegation in June, as Scotland were condemned to at least a year in the Trophy in their place.

Scotland will now join the hosts, which RugbyPass understands could be Spain, in next year’s Trophy, as well as the regional qualifiers from each continent. Teams such as Uruguay, Hong Kong, Portugal and Canada are regular participants, while the Oceania Rugby qualifier will be a shootout between Tonga and Samoa.

One team Scotland will not be joining in the Trophy, however, is Japan. The Asian side secured qualification back to the Championship on Sunday, beating Portugal in a nail-biting 35-34 win at the Estadio Martins Pereira, just outside São Paulo.

This will be the fourth time that Japan have competed in the Championship, with the Baby Blossoms having only ever spent one-year stints in the competition as they have been immediately relegated back to the Trophy.

Japan will be hoping to buck that trend in Italy, hosts for the 2020 tournament, as they also seek to use the legacy of the 2019 Rugby World Cup to help catapult Japanese rugby to a level where they can consistently compete with tier one nations.

Two of the stars of this Japanese side, Shota Fukui and Halatoa Vailea, will graduate from under-20 rugby this year and head coach Yoshitake Mizuma will need to find new difference-makers to lean upon next season. In fact, a total of 20 players from this year’s squad will no longer be eligible in 2020, giving Mizuma plenty of work to do over the next ten months.

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As celebrations went on in Japan, there was frustration in Portugal as the European side came within inches of qualifying for the Championship. Had they been able to, they would have been the only non-tier one European side, apart from Georgia, to qualify for the Championship in its 12-year history.

With a number of their key players returning for next year, Portugal will be among the favourites to qualify again for the Trophy, where they would join Scotland and, if they are granted rights to host the tournament, Spain, in a competition that looks like it will have a very European flavour.

WATCH: The latest RugbyPass documentary, Foden – Stateside, looks at how ex-England international Ben Foden is settling into Major League Rugby in New York

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mitch 1 hours ago
The Wallabies team Joe Schmidt must pick to win back Bledisloe Cup

Rodda will be a walk up starter at lock. Frost if you analyse his dominance has little impact and he’s a long way from being physical enough, especially when you compare to Rodda and the work he does. He was quite poor at the World Cup in his lack of physicality. Between Rodda and Skelton we would have locks who can dominate the breakdown and in contact. Frost is maybe next but Schmidt might go for a more physical lock who does their core work better like Ryan or LSL. Swain is no chance unless there’s a load of injuries. Pollard hasn’t got the scrum ability yet to be considered. Nasser dominated him when they went toe to toe and really showed him up. Picking Skelton effects who can play 6 and 8. Ideally Valetini would play 6 as that’s his best position and Wilson at 8 but that’s not ideal for lineout success. Cale isn’t physical enough yet in contact and defence but is the best backrow lineout jumper followed by Wright, Hanigan and Swinton so unfortunately Valetini probably will start at 8 with Wright or Hanigan at 6. Wilson on the bench, he’s got too much quality not to be in the squad. Paisami is leading the way at 12 but Hamish Stewart is playing extremely well also and his ball carrying has improved significantly. Beale is also another option based on the weekend. Beale is class but he’s also the best communicator of any Australian backline player and that can’t be underestimated, he’ll be in the mix.

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