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U20 Championship: The six players tackling the Six Nations

By Adam Julian
Peter Lakai. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

The World Rugby Under 20 Championship runs in South Africa from June 24 to July 14. Teams from outside the Six Nations countries have seven victories against five. In 2023, who will help the Southern Hemisphere retain their advantage?

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Paul de Villiers (South Africa) – The Junior Springboks have won 10 matches in a row since the last World Championships in 2019 and that includes the 2022 Six Nations Summer Series where the Junior Springboks knocked over Wales (47-27), Ireland (33-24) and England (30-22).

De Villers is an uncompromising and busy loose forward, strong in the carry, who was influential in those outcomes and showed enough obvious leadership qualities to be appointed skipper.

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De Villers is a product of Oakdale School, a strong church and farming city in the Southwestern Districts of South Africa. They have produced Springboks Johan Muller, Pedrie Wannenburg, and Meyer Bosman.

South Africa won the title the last time they were hosts in 2012.

Massimo De Lutiis (Australia) – In 2022 Australia was embarrassed 69-12 by New Zealand. In 2023 they split a two-match series, but they should have won. Australia led all the way in a 34-26 win in the first encounter. In the second match, they dominated the second half in an 18-19 loss.

A big reason for the vast improvement of Australia was the muscle of their scrum which overwhelmed New Zealand. In the first match, Australia scored a penalty try from a scrum, and tighthead De Lutiis was at the fore. He was strong in his carries and cleans too and profited with a try in each match.

He’s from Southport School on the Gold Coast. Southport has won three of the last six GPS titles. De Lutiis attended the same school as his coach, former Wallaby Nathan Grey. Fellow Wallabies Mat Rogers and James Horwill are also alumni.

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De Lutiis was signed by the Brumbies and presently resides in Canberra.

The sons of two Wallaby legends will likely partner with each other in the halves. Tom Lynagh (son of Michael Lynagh) helped the Reds to the Super Rugby playoffs. Halfback and captain Teddy Wilson is the son of 1999 World Cup-winning flanker David Wilson.

Other standouts from the Kiwi series included props Jack Barrett and centre Henry O’Donnell and wing Ronan Leahy who scored three tries in the first test. 3 tries 34-26 win.

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Peter Lakai (Co-Captain) – The No.8 out of St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, exploded onto the New Zealand first-class scene in 2022 helping Wellington win the NPC Premiership for the first time since 2000. He made more carries (147) than any player in the competition and was third in the tackle count with 139.

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Following an embarrassing loss to Northland in round three Lakai scored a hat-trick in a 31-25 victory over Taranaki in the fourth round. Wellington won their next ten games in a row.

Lakai played seven matches (269 minutes) for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby this year. He played the entire 80 minutes against Moana Pasifkia (59-12) and the Blues (19-25).

Last year he played for the New Zealand Under 20s who cleaned up the Oceania Championships against Fiji (74-5), Argentina (32-9), and Australia (69-12).

Tim Mannix is the director of rugby at Silverstream. He played prop for Wellington and the Hurricanes. His brother Simon was an All Black and Tim has helped Silverstream win four Wellington Premiership titles since 2017. Mannix said of Lakai in 2020:

“A highly regarded teammate who always displayed a positive mindset and was respectful of others. As co-captain, he made a significant impact through his actions and words.

“Played consistently well throughout the season on both attack and defence with his work ethic, decision making, and all-around skill set. A settling influence in forward play, always leading by example.”

Yoshitaka Yazaki (Japan) – The captain of Japan is a classic fleet-footed, fast, and skilful Japanese fullback. He is a product of Teikyo University which won the All-Japan University Championship for the 10th time. The University’s completion features 16 teams nationwide and stretches back to 1964.

Japan has had a thorough preparation for the World Championships. They faced Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa A in the 2023 Pacific Challenge in Apia, managing to beat Tonga. Additionally, Japan beat New Zealand Universities 52-46 in a wild match in Tokyo. Yazaki scored a try in the win. Japan is coached by 2024 Crusaders head Japan U20 Coach Rob Penney.

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Isaiah Ravula (Fiji) – A product of St Andrew’s College, Christchurch, Ravula was a key player in helping STAC win the Crusaders First XV championship for the first time in 2020. In the final STAC rallied from 20-0 behind to topple perennial winners Christchurch Boys’ High School.

The silky first five with quick feet is the nephew of fellow STAC old boy and All Black Richie Mo’unga. Ravula has been involved with the Manawatu and Hurricanes Academies.

There are eight overseas-based players who feature in the Fijian squad.  Crusaders Under-20 Loosehead prop, Mosese McGoon, and Perth’s Sitiveni Tamani will likely guide a powerful front row.

Agustín Moyano (Argentina) – The halfback from the Córdoba Athletic Club was the starting nine for the Dogos XV who were runners-up to powerhouse Peñarol in Super Rugby South America.

His intuitive, slick, and skilful approach has been acknowledged by the Pumas 7s, Moyano was selected for the 2022 Hong Kong Sevens. Argentina was second in the 2022/23 World Series, winning three tournaments, their best-ever result.

Moyano will likely partner Juan Baronio from Jockey Club de Rosario in the halves. Juan will be the third of his brothers after Ramiro (2011) and Patricio (2016) to represent Argentina at the World Championships.

Argentina beat the USA 33-12 and 26-0 in preparation matches in April. The Pumas’ best finish at the World Championships is third in 2016.

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