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Where are they now? The 2016 five to follow U20 Championship players

By Liam Heagney
Scotland's Sione Tuipulotu played for Australia U20s in 2016 (Photo by Adam Pretty/World Rugby via Getty Images)

It’s eight years since the World Rugby U20 Championship was staged in England for the one and only time. A glossy 28-page programme was published for that edition of the tournament and the preview intro certainly hyped what was set to unfold in Manchester.

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“As historic locations go, the world’s best young players are in the right place,” began writer Simon Mills. “Manchester, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, was full of power and invention, of noise and passion.

“And so is this tournament. It is where talent and temperament ae woven into greatness. It is where World Cup winners are forged. Make no mistake, the young men in action over the next three weeks will be jet-propelled into the Test teams of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa England, Wales and the rest.”

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The prediction was spot on. For instance, the Baby Boks of 2016 under coach Dawie Theron included future RWC winners in Manie Libbok and S’bu Nkosi, while Edwill van der Merwe was the Qatar Cup player of the match last Saturday in London when he debuted for the Springboks.

Flick through the other team pages and more current Test stars are listed. A flavour? Argentina’s Marcos Kremer, England’s Harry Randall, France’s Antoine Dupont, Ireland’s James Ryan, New Zealand’s Jordie Barrett, Scotland’s Blair Kinghorn and Wales’ Adam Beard.

World Rugby U20 Championship 2016
How the programme looked for the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship

What also caught the eye was how the programme got out its crystal ball and suggested five players to follow at the Championship from the 336 who were taking part across the dozen 28-strong squads.

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Here is what was written about the five chosen could-be age-grade stars ahead of a competition where England beat Ireland in the final, and a follow-up on how their respective careers have since panned out:

Harrison Keddie (Wales)
Then: Powerful ball carrier who provokes favourable comparisons with Dragons teammate Taulupe Faletau. Very experienced at this level and a focal point for a Wales team chasing a first global title.

Now: Has forged a successful club career at Dragons but has been unable to make the step up into the Test arena and remains uncapped at that level for Wales.

Damian Penaud (France)
Then: Electric outside centre on verge of great things with priceless finishing ability. He has scored five tries in his last two outings against England. Another with a fine bloodline: father Alain won 32 caps as a fly-half.

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Now: Is preparing with Bordeaux for next weekend’s Top 14 final following a fantastic first season with the club after deciding to leave Clermont, whom he served with distinction. A prolific try-scorer, he has become a mainstay of the France national team under Fabian Galthie having previously debuted at Test level in 2016/17 following the U20s tournament.

Shaun Stevenson (New Zealand)
Then: Rangy, athletic and exciting attacker who stood out in the ITM Cup last year and stepped up to the Chiefs Super Rugby squad this year. “Very fast and can really play,” says New Zealand’s head coach Scott Robertson.

Now: A starter at full-back for the Chiefs in last Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific final defeat away to the Blues. Having represented the Maori All Blacks on numerous occasions, he made an All Blacks Test debut last August and was a try scorer versus the Aussies in Dunedin. Not selected as part of new coach Scott Robertson’s squad for the upcoming matches, but is touring with the Maori ABs.

Sione Tuipulotu (Australia)
Then: Skilful all-round centre who made his Super Rugby debut for the Rebels this year. Returns to the U20 Championship after being part of the squad in Italy in 2015.

Now: What joy seeing him at the heart of Glasgow’s fantastic title-winning URC final heist at the Bulls in Pretoria last Saturday. It was 2021, following a few seasons in Japan with Shizuoka Blue Revs, when he joined the Warriors. Is now touted as a potential British and Irish Lions Test starter on their 2025 tour due to his consistent midfield performances with Gregor Townsend’s Scotland and Franco Smith’s Glasgow.

Harry Mallinder (England)
Then: Arguably the young player of the season in the Aviva Premiership who has been athletic and physical in attack and classy on the ball. Father Jim Mallinder – in charge at Saints – was a similarly stylish full-back.

Now: Fell down the pecking order at Northampton after Chris Boyd took over from Mallinder. Decided a change was needed and spent the last few seasons in Japan with Black Rams in Tokyo. Has lately tried his luck in American football as a kicker/punter, being part of the same international player pathway programme that resulted in Louis Rees-Zammit being signed by Kansas City Chiefs.

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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