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Where are they now? The 2023 France U20 Championship-winning team

By Liam Heagney
French players celebrate their 2023 victory in Cape Town (Photo by World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

It was July last year in Cape Town when France belatedly completed their hat-trick of World Rugby U20 Championship titles following a long wait. Les Bleus had won the 2018 and 2019 tournament finals in Beziers and Rosario but the pandemic forced the cancellation of the next three tournaments before it returned in 2023.

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The French signalled their trophy retention intent when walloping New Zealand 35-14 in Paarl in their second pool match either side of 63- and 24-point wins over Japan and Wales. They then saw off England 52-31 in the semi-final before getting the better of 2023 Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland 50-14 in the final in Athlone.

Eleven months on from that triumph, RugbyPass now investigates what has happened to the hat-trick-completing match day 23 since that win:

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15. Mathis Ferte: The age-grade full-back came into last year’s tournament having enjoyed a breakthrough 2022/23 season at Brive in the Top 14. Stayed with the club despite their relegation, making 29 appearances – mostly at right wing but also at scrum-half, outside centre, left wing and full-back – in a Pro D2 campaign that produced a sixth-place finish and elimination in the quarter-finals at Beziers. Is in the French U20s squad for the upcoming tournament.

14. Leo Drouet: Another who was also capably making his way in first team rugby, arriving in Cape Town last June off the back of a dozen Pro D2 appearances for Provence. Has since played 21 times, mostly on the left wing, for the club in this season’s campaign where they finished in first place but blew their promotion hopes with a home semi-final loss to Grenoble.

Fixture
World Rugby U20 Championship
France U20
49 - 12
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Spain U20
All Stats and Data

13. Nicolas Depoortere: Had already signposted his rich potential with a dozen Top 14 appearances for Bordeaux before starring in France’s age-grade success. Has enjoyed a stellar 2023/24, starting twice in the Guinness Six Nations for Fabien Galthie’s French first team and also helping his club reach next weekend’s Top 14 final, leaving them just 80 minutes from a first title since 1991.

12. Paul Costes: Another midfielder who arrived in South Africa as one to watch after making five appearances off the Toulouse bench. Is now chasing a double with his club, having started in last month’s Investec Champions Cup final win over Leinster in the No13 shirt and featuring off the bench in Friday’s Top 14 semi-final win over La Rochelle.

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11. Theo Atissogbe: Two Challenge Cup runs for Pau during 2022/23 set him up for a fine U20s tournament and he has gone on to flourish, making 24 Top 14 starts for his club this season in all three back three positions.

10. Hugo Reus: Came into the age-grade tournament having fleetingly featured in the La Rochelle first team. Has enjoyed greater exposure this term, making nine starts in 15 Top 14 appearances and also getting four Champions Cup runs off the bench.

9. Baptiste Jauneau: The scrum-half went to Cape Town having made 26 league and cup appearances for Clermont, 13 as a starter. Continued that selection consistency this season, featuring 29 times overall, 16 in the No9 shirt.

1. Louis Penverne: A two-minute appearance off the La Rochelle bench was the experience the loosehead came into the tournament with but his title-winning effort has been followed by 16 first team outings this term, 10 as a starter. Wasn’t involved, though, in last Friday’s league semi-final defeat.

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2. Pierre Jouvin: The hooker had 22 minutes of game time last season across two sub appearances for Agen but his age-grade victory has led to greater involvement, with seven starts in 19 Pro D2 games for his 13th-place club.

3. Zaccharie Affane: It was only espoirs experience with Grenoble and Bordeaux that the tighthead had coming into the South African tournament. Managed three Top 14 appearances in February, one as a starter, but he is leaving Bordeaux after signing for Pro D2 Brive for 2024/25.

4. Hugo Auradou: Another Pau player who already had first team experience in 2022/23 before flying south with France. Has become a more frequent club selection this season with 20 Top 14 appearances, nine as a starter, and has now signed a deal keeping him at Pau until 2028. Spent the past week training with the France senior team ahead of their Argentine tour.

5. Posolo Tuilagi: The giant caught the imagination in Cape Town, building on a breakthrough season at Perpignan to become one of the most recognisable faces on the French age-grade team. Was a starter in 17 of his 22 Top 14 games this season, form that resulted in his Test debut in February. Is now looking to build on his three caps in Argentina even though he is still eligible for U20s selection.

6. Lenni Nouchi: The age-grade skipper had already broken through at Montpellier following his arrival from Beziers. He started 11 times in his 19 league appearances this term, culminating in a full 80-minute run at No8 in last weekend’s narrow relegation play-off win over Grenoble. Has since trained with Galthie’s French Test squad.

7. Oscar Jagou: Only had a single 30-minute run for La Rochelle before this age-grade win and he can consider himself a lucky boy that a failed doping test – he had taken cocaine when tested last August after a Top 14 game – didn’t result in a ban heavier than one month. Made his 16th league appearance of 2023/24 in Friday’s semi-final loss to Toulouse, his fifth successive start as his team’s No7.

8. Marko Gazotti: Was a Grenoble player when featuring at the age-grade tournament but he moved to Bordeaux where his impressive form – nine starts in 15 selections – resulted in a call-up to Galthie’s French squad as Six Nations cover. Still eligible for the U20s, he played in the title decider versus England in March but has since been injured.

Replacements:
16. Thomas Lacombre: The sub hooker has been involved with the Toulouse espoirs this season and is heading back to Cape Town as he is still eligible for age-grade selection.

17. Lino Julien: The ex-Nevers espoir made a Top 14 debut his season, playing 11 minutes off the Racing 92 bench. Is also in the squad for France’s 2024 age-grade title defence.

18. Thomas Duchene: The third front-rower who will be back in South Africa next week. Has been playing with Clermont’s espoirs since last year’s title win.

19. Brent Liufau: Came to the 2023 tournament having made four first team appearances for Pau. Had two more runs this term, but espoirs was his main activity ahead of his return to South Africa to defend the title.

20. Mathis Castro Ferreira: Hadn’t played any first team rugby before last year’s tournament but has since become a Toulouse regular, making 17 appearances for the 2023/24 double title chasers.

21. Leo Carbonneau: The scrum-half made the breakthrough at Brive before winning with the French U20s. Has consolidated that experience with 21 starts in 27 Pro D2 appearances this season and is now South Africa-bound again looking to star in his country’s title defence.

22. Arthur Mathiron: The Lyon espoir out-half has put his age-grade CV to good use, making 24 Pro D2 appearances this season for Nevers, scoring a dozen tries.

23. Clement Mondinat: Another Pau player who had first team experience going into last year’s competition. However, he hasn’t kicked on as quickly as he would have hoped as further outings have been scarce.

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Comments

2 Comments
J
Jon 26 days ago

Love that you get to see these guys play. One of the problems I feel with SR is that its too close to International level footy, there is no room for young guys (weve maybe seen a dozen performances from the whole u20 side.. oh wait, I’m only think of the ones I didn’t see enough of, Lakai and Hotham had about a dozen each too) to take over.

I also love the idea that they can just play, they don’t need to grind away at training, much better to have 20+ games of rugby a year to learn how to play imo.

J
Jon 26 days ago

Oh, I didn’t realise New Zealand had the best performance against France. That was a terribly wet and miserable game though.

Was there any other team better at the World Cup?

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finn 6 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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