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World Rugby U20 Championship: Pool A team by team guide

By Liam Heagney
New Zealand skipper Vernon Bason and Wales captain Ryan Woodman (Photo by World Rugby)

Pool A at the 2024 World Rugby U20 Championship has a familiar look to it as it contains three of the same four teams that contested last year’s Pool A. France, who went on to ultimately win the title, topped the group with three wins, New Zealand were second with two while Wales finished third with a single victory.

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It meant that Japan, coached at the time by the Crusaders-bound Rob Penney, were placed fourth with three losses, a pattern that continued into the play-offs where they finished 12 and last, resulting in their relegation and this year’s inclusion of Spain, the World Rugby U20 Trophy winners.

The Spanish have the honour of opening the pool at DHL Stadium this Saturday, taking on a French team that didn’t fire on all cylinders in a Six Nations campaign that only merited third place.

In contrast, New Zealand, who play Wales in Athlone later in the day, arrive into the tournament as champions of the new age-grade Rugby Championship that was held in Australia. Here is the RugbyPass team by team guide to the World Rugby U20 Championship Pool A:

FRANCE (Seeded 1)
COACH: Sebastien Calvet;
CAPTAIN: Hugo Reus;
LAST YEAR: Champions, belatedly clinching a hat-trick of titles after three cancelled tournaments;
THIS YEAR: Third in the Six Nations following home defeats to Ireland, Italy and title winners England;
FIXTURES: June 29 vs Spain (Cape Town, 2pm local), July 4 vs New Zealand (Stellenbosch, 4:30pm), July 9 vs Wales (Athlone, 4:30pm);
ONE TO WATCH: Mathis Ferte.

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

THEY SAY: “It was difficult to put 30 names on the sheet. We have a thought for those who will remain in France, in particular as reserves. They have contributed to the group’s rise to strength and will be safe bets if they have to replace someone injured during the competition” – Coach Calvet.

WE SAY: It will be fascinating to see how France’s four-peat attempt pans out after an underwhelming Six Nations featuring home losses to Ireland and England. Their key match is game two versus New Zealand, whom they beat in game two last year in the Paarl mud to fire up their successful title bid.

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TRIVIA: France arrived in Cape Town with just 29 players as Mathis Castro-Ferreira is preparing with Toulouse for the Top 14 final.

ROUND ONE TEAM: 1. Lino Julien, 2. Barnabe Massa, 3. Zinedine Aouad, 4. Antonin Corso, 5. Charles Kante Samba, 6. Joe Quere Karaba, 7. Geoffrey Malaterre, 8. Brent Liufau; 9. Leo Carbonneau, 10. Hugo Reus (capt); 11. Hoani Bosmorin, 12. Mathys Belaubre, 13. Fabien Brau-Boirie, 14. Mathis Ferte; 15. Axel Desperes-Rigou. Reps: 16. Thomas Lacombre, 17. Lorencio Boyer-Gallardo, 18. Thomas Duchene, 19. Sialevailea Tolofua, 20. Alexis Caumel, 21. Thomas Souverbie, 22. Nathan Bollengier, 23. Xan Mousques.

WALES (6)
COACH: Richard Whiffin;
CAPTAIN: Ryan Woodman;
LAST YEAR: Sixth. Rebounded from winning just one pool match to catch Georgia in a play-off semi-final before losing to Australia;
THIS YEAR: Fifth in the Six Nations sounds poor but it disguises how they won two of their matches, beating Scotland and Italy at home;
FIXTURES: June 29 vs New Zealand (Athlone, 7pm), July 4 vs Spain (Athlone, 2pm), July 9 vs France (Athlone, 4:30pm);
ONE TO WATCH: Morgan Morse.

THEY SAY: “We have got power throughout the team with genuine athletes in all areas of the field. The way we want to play is to move the ball and express ourselves in the wider channels. Hopefully, we have a team who can be competitive in what is an extremely competitive pool” – Coach Whiffin.

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WE SAY: A repeat one win from three pool games outcome is likely given that they have drawn New Zealand and France again.

TRIVIA: New coach Whiffin could be a round one trump card as he spent 2023 working in New Zealand as attack coach at the Highlanders.

ROUND ONE TEAM: 1. Josh Morse, 2. Isaac Young, 3. Sam Scott, 4. Jonny Green, 5. Osian Thomas, 6. Ryan Woodman (capt), 7. Lucas de la Rua, 8. Morgan Morse; 9. Ieuan Davies, 10. Harri Wilde; 11. Aidan Boshoff, 12. Macs Page, 13. Louie Hennessey, 14. Harry Rees-Weldon; 15. Huw Anderson. Reps: 16. Harry Thomas, 17. Jordan Morris, 18. Kian Hire, 19. Nick Thomas, 20. Harry Beddall, 21. Lucca Setaro, 22. Harri Ford, 23. Steffan Emanuel.

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NEW ZEALAND (7)
COACH: Jono Gibbes;
CAPTAIN: Vernon Bason;
LAST YEAR: Finished a record low seventh place having been swatted by France in their pool and then by Australia in the fifth-to-eighth play-off semi-final;
THIS YEAR: Have arrived in Cape Town as winners of the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship, winning twice and drawing once in their three games on the Gold Coast;
FIXTURES: June 29 vs Wales (Athlone, 7pm), July 4 vs France (Stellenbosch, 4:30pm), July 9 vs Spain (Stellenbosch, 7pm);
ONE TO WATCH: Stanley Solomon.

THEY SAY: “The TRC gave us the experience of playing with five-day turnarounds, so we got an understanding of where our pressure points are. The seven returning players from last year demonstrated leadership straight away as a group, they made a conscious effort to set things up for the new players to make sure they had a positive experience. Their input will be invaluable as we plan over the next few weeks” – Coach Gibbes.

WE SAY: All eyes are on Stellenbosch on July 4 to see if they match up to France, the hurdle where they badly fell last year in Paarl, but they need a confident start against the Welsh as they were behind at the break in 2023’s game one and that inconsistency lasted the whole tournament.

TRIVIA: Xavier Tito-Harris played on the HSBC Sevens circuit in 2023.

ROUND ONE TEAM: 1. Will Martin, 2. Vernon Bason (capt), 3. Joshua Smith, 4. Tom Allen, 5. Liam Jack, 6. Tai Cribb, 7. Matt Lowe, 8. Jonathan Lee; 9. Dylan Pledger, 10. Rico Simpson; 11. Stanley Solomon, 12. Xavi Taele, 13. Aki Tuivailala, 14. Frank Vaenuku, 15. Sam Coles. Reps: 16. A-One Lolofie, 17. Sika Uamaki, 18. Logan Watson-Wallace, 19. Cameron Christie, 20. Jeremiah Collins, 21. Riley Williams, 22. Cooper Grant, 23. Xavier Tito-Harris.

Fixture
World Rugby U20 Championship
Wales U20
34 - 41
Full-time
New Zealand U20
All Stats and Data

SPAIN (12)
COACH: Ricardo Martinen.
CAPTAIN: Manex Ariceta.
LAST YEAR: Won the Trophy tournament in Kenya to qualify for the Championship for the first time, beating Uruguay, the conquerors of Scotland, in the final.
THIS YEAR: Lost recent warm-up games versus Italy but they arrived in South Africa early and had a winning hit-out against a club team last Saturday.
POOL FIXTURES: June 29 vs France (Cape Town, 2pm), July 4 vs Wales (Athlone, 2pm), July 9 vs New Zealand (Stellenbosch, 7pm).
ONE TO WATCH: Victor Ofojetu.

THEY SAY: “The objective in this first year in the World Cup of this category is clear, to achieve permanence and make the dream of competing among the best in the world continue to be alive for the next categories of young Lions,” – Spain Rugby Federation website.

WE SAY: A climb much steeper than a hike up Table Mountain awaits Spain, but if they show some confidence-inspiring glimpses in their pool matches they will feel optimistic about the rankings play-offs where they will battle against relegation.

TRIVIA: Spain have multiple players attached to top clubs in France, and also have two other based in England and Ireland.

ROUND ONE TEAM: 1. Hugo Gonzalez, 2. Diego Gonzalez Blanco, 3. Guido Reyes Rendon, 4. Martin Serrano, 5. Manex Ariceta Maestro (capt), 6. Nicolas Moleti, 7. Pablo Guirao, 8. Jokin Zolezzi; 9. Nicolas Infer, 10. Gonzalo Otamendi; 11. Javier Guillermo, 12. Alberto Carmona, 13. Hugo Pichardie, 14. Julien Burguillos; 15. Luciano Richardis. Reps: 16. David Gallego, 17. Alberto Gomez, 18. Aniol Franch, 20. Valentino Rizzo, 21. Javier Lopez De Haro, 22. Unax Zuriarrain, 23. Gabriel Rocaries, 26. Adam Llinares.

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