Where are they now? – France 2019 Junior World Championship
It’s hard to fathom that it was 2019 when the last full-on Junior World Championship was held, but that is about to change later this month when the best of the current U20s players from around the globe assemble in South Africa for matches in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Cape Town from June 24.
Ireland will travel as the recently crowned Six Nations champions, but it is France who will arrive as the reigning World Championship champions given that the cup is still theirs following their nerve-shredding June 2019 win over Australia in the final.
The lead changed hands no fewer than seven times in Rosario before France out-half Louis Carbonel eventually kicked what proved to be the winning penalty with 15 minutes to go at the Racecourse Stadium.
That 24-23 triumph allowed the French to become the third country to win back-to-back U20s titles, following in the footsteps of New Zealand, who went four in a row from 2008 to 2011, and England, who topped the charts in 2013 and again in 2014.
Carbonel had been the star for France in their 2018 final win over England and his 14 points off the kicking tee in the Argentinian decider were crucial in getting the better of an Australian side that scored the second-fastest try in U20 Championship final history, Mark Nawaqanitawase diving over after only 49 seconds.
The lockdown restrictions caused by the pandemic prevented the Junior World Championship from being staged in 2020, 2021 and 2022, but it will now thankfully return and it is pleasing to note the progress of the title-winning French squad in the meantime.
Six of the XV that started the 2019 final and one sub have progressed to Test-level rugby, a half-dozen with France and another with Portugal, and all 27 squad members listed for the decider are playing professionally four years later – mostly in the Top 14. Here is their story:
15. Matthis Lebel
Had already made seven Top 14 appearances for Toulouse by the time of this age-grade tournament and has since gone on to make the No11 jersey his own at the club, playing an integral part in their 2021 league and Heineken Champions Cup double. Hasn’t progressed as smoothly with France. Just five Test caps, his most recent start coming in November 2021.
14. Vincent Pinto
Another who was already making his way in the Top 14 prior to this tournament, Pau giving him his debut, but his progress has been limited. This past season, for instance, there were just two starts in the league. In the meantime, he has since declared for Portugal and is looking to gain selection in their Rugby World Cup squad having appeared off the bench in their play-off win over the USA last November in Dubai.
13. Arthur Vincent
Another who was already playing first-team rugby when he skippered these U20s to World Championship glory. Still at Montpellier but ruptured knee ligaments at the start of the 2021/22 season have hampered him massively, particularly as he aggravated that issue on his comeback. Prior to those setbacks, he had become a Fabien Galthie favourite, starting in 10 of his 14 Test appearances. Hasn’t been forgotten as he was named in this week’s 26-man France squad for the two-day camp at Marcoussis.
12. Julien Delbouis
Was a Stade Francais regular leading into the age-grade tournament and is still at the capital club, starting in 13 of his 20 Top 14 appearances in the campaign that ended last weekend. Uncapped at Test level but was named in the training squad to prepare for the 2023 Guinness Six Nations. That was a good morale booster as he has had his share of serious injuries, starting with a bicep problem in December 2019 and then cruciate knee ligament setbacks in February and August 2021.
11. Donovan Taofifanua
Had little impact at Clermont on his return from Argentina but his 2020 switch to Racing was the making of him at Top 14 level. Has become a regular on their right wing, starting as recently as the derby win over Stade Francais last Saturday to set up this Friday’s semi-final against Toulouse. Uncapped by France despite making a training squad breakthrough in 2022/21.
10. Louis Carbonel
Had already established himself as a Toulon regular before guiding France to age-grade glory. Is now orchestrating operations at Montpellier following his summer 2022 switch, taking over the position left vacant when Handre Pollard exited for Leicester. Made five Test appearances during 2020/21 but hasn’t played for Galthie since then.
Back to back champions!
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 22, 2019
9. Leo Coly
Mont-de-Marsan in the Pro D2 was his pathway into the pro ranks at club level. Continued to feature in the second tier until last summer’s switch to Montpellier where he was reunited with U20s partner Carbonel.
1. Jean-Baptiste Gros
Had made a name for himself at Toulon before this 2019 success and continues to progress there, featuring off their bench in last month’s European Challenge Cup final win in Dublin over Glasgow having returned at the start of May from the broken forearm suffered last October. That injury was quite a setback as he was touted to replace the injured Cyril Baille for France’s November matches. Has 21 Test caps, including appearances as a sub in all five games in the 2022 Grand Slam win.
2. Theo Lachand
Came through the espoirs at Toulon but switched to Aurillac in the summer of 2021 to try and prove himself at first-team level. A squad player, he has started in just 12 of his 31 Pro D2 appearances.
3. Alex Burin
The tighthead had featured on the Agen fringes before his age-grade glory but it took quite a while for him to make his presence felt afterwards. It was only this past season in Pro D2 when he became a regular in their No3 shirt, making 14 starts.
4. Killian Geraci
The lock had made a name for himself at Grenoble before this U20s success and he came back from Argentina to hook up with Lyon where he continues to play. Injuries have been a plague, including cruciate ligament damage, yet he did enough to win four Test caps with France in 2020/21. Hoped to play again last November but an injury in the warm-up cost him his spot on the bench versus Australia.
5. Florent Vanverberghe
Had made three appearances for Toulon before this age-grade tournament, but needed a summer 2020 move to Castres to rev up his career. Now a Top 14 regular, he travelled with France on their 2021 Australian tour but remains uncapped.
6. Mattias Haddad
It’s been a slow build for the La Rochelle youngster due to injury. For instance, his start in the 2022 Champions Cup final lasted just 29 minutes and this season has been limited to just four appearances due to a knee operation.
7. Thibault Hamonou
Unable to kick on at Toulouse and earn a debut post-tournament, he switched to Pau in the summer of 2021 where his development continues to take its time. Just the five starts in 2022/23.
8. Jordan Joseph
Was highly coveted at Racing but couldn’t nail down a consistent starting spot in the Top 14 until he exited on loan for Pau in 2021/22. The impending arrival of Stuart Lancaster at Racing has now tempted him back to Paris for the 2023/24 season.
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) June 22, 2019
16. Rayne Barka
Didn’t make it at Pau but some Pro D2 loan exposure at Agen last term encouraged him to try Soyaux-Angouleme with better luck.
17. Eli Eglaine
Came of age at Grenoble in 2021/22 but started fewer matches in the 2022/23 season that ended for the club in a play-off defeat to Perpignan last Saturday.
18. Georgi Beria
The tighthead with Georgian roots has been slowly building his career off the Clermont bench.
19. Paul Mallez
Another prop who has had to bide his time. His development pathway has been at Toulouse where there have been nine Top 14 appearances this term, seven off the bench.
20. Gauthier Maravat
Learned his trade at Agen but has been part of the Castres engine room since the summer of 2022.
21. Mathieu Hirigoyen
Came through the Pro D2 ranks at Biarritz before their one-season stay in the Top 14 resulted in a move to Stade Francais for 2022/23. Was a sub back-rower in their play-off last weekend to Racing.
22. Loic Hocquet
Tried to make the grade at Agen but the back row spent this last season with Valence d’Agen in Federale 1.
23. Quintin Delord
The scrum-half has done the rounds, initially switching post-tournament from Lyon to Brive. Had his best season at Montauban in 2021/22 but is now on the move again, hooking up with Rouen for 2023/24.
24. Mathieu Smaili
Has enjoyed fleeting exposure with Toulon on either side of a 2020/21 loan at Mont-de-Marsan. Six appearances this season, most recently last month as a midfielder starter against Racing the weekend before Toulon’s European title win.
25. Antoine Zeghoar
Switched from Toulon to Oyonnax post the age-grade finals, but it’s been at Castres since the summer of 2021 that the midfielder has made his mark.
26. Ethan Dumortier
The most notable of the 2019 French replacements, the winger honed his skills on the World Series 7s circuit before jumping to prominence at Lyon last season and going on to start all five Six Nations matches this year for his country. Is part of this week’s World Cup training camp.
27. Alexandre De Nardi
Mont-de-Marsan is where the back-three operator has earned his stripes, progress that has netted a move to Montpellier for next season.
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