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FEATURE The next-gen players who will set the World Rugby U20 Championship alight

The next-gen players who will set the World Rugby U20 Championship alight
1 year ago

After a four-year sojourn enforced by Covid-19 and the logistical challenges of pulling together a global competition, the World Rugby U20 Championship is set to return with a bang later this month.

Hosted in Cape Town, it is the first of back-to-back tournaments in South Africa and will bring together the world’s best age-grade sides in perhaps the greatest hotbed of junior rugby on the planet.

The tournament, based between Paarl and Stellenbosch for the most part, will include reigning champions France looking to win their third-straight title, with Les Bleus joined by Wales, New Zealand and Japan in their pool.

France Junior World Championship 2019
France celebrate their 2019 title, the last time the competition could be staged. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Former age-grade powerhouse England will have their work cut out in pool B, where they will face strong Australian and Irish sides, the latter of whom are Grand Slam winners from the U20 Six Nations, as well as a Fiji squad more than capable of pushing some of the more established nations.

Finally, hosts South Africa will be strong favourites in pool C, although Argentina and Italy will both fancy their chances of causing an upset based on the strengths of their squads, as could Georgia, who recently recorded their first ever win over England.

Results aside, perhaps the most exciting part of the tournament is the opportunity to see the next Maro Itoje, Pieter-Steph du Toit or Beauden Barrett in action, as the competition has proven time and again to be an invaluable window into the future of the game.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a shortlist of players worth keeping an eye on over the next month as they battle for supremacy.

Teddy Wilson, Australia

The talented scrum-half is very highly thought of in the Waratahs pathway and has been showcasing his skills for Eastern Suburbs in the Shute Shield, as well as earning playing time with the Waratahs A squad.

Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson gained Super Rugby exposure this season with the Waratahs senior team. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

With a strong skillset and robust physical frame, Wilson is set to be the benchmark for the position over the next month. His partnership with Tom Lynagh (son of Michael, and brother of Louis) will also be well worth watching, as the Junior Wallabies arguably boast the most pro-ready half-back partnership in the competition.

Zachary Porthen, South Africa

A product of Wynberg Boys’ HS, Porthen is the latest in a long line of supremely gifted athletes and rugby players to emerge from the Western Cape. As with any prop at this age, there is still a lot of work to do from a set-piece perspective, but Porthen is more than capable of helping the Junior Boks dominate up front on home turf.

As has been the growing trend in the game, the requirement for tighthead props to be athletic and provide real impetus in the loose, in addition to their core requirements at the set-piece, Porthen is ready to deliver the all-court style coaches crave.

Peter Lakai, New Zealand

A notable mention for Noah Hotham, who will give Wilson a run for his money as one of the premier scrum-halves at the tournament, but we’ve just leant towards dynamic back-row Lakai. After starring for Wellington, Lakai has already made his debut for the Hurricanes and will be hoping to form a formidable trio alongside Ardie Savea and Du’Plessis Kirifi in the years to come.

With immense power, leg drive and subtle footwork prior to contact, Lakai is a prodigiously talented ball-carrier and will be one of the primary sources of front-foot ball for the Kiwis over the next few weeks.

Chandler Cunningham-South, England

From one star loose forward to another, Cunningham-South has enjoyed a breakout season at the senior level with London Irish and there were even whispers of a senior England call-up ahead of the Rugby World Cup. With the demise of Irish, there is no shortage of suitors for the powerful specimen.

London Irish v <a href=
Northampton Saints – Gallagher Premiership Rugby” width=”1200″ height=”974″ /> Chandler Cunningham-South was an impressive regular in the London Irish back-row last season. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

England have struggled in recent years at age-grade levels and if they are to reverse that trend in South Africa, Cunningham-South will be pivotal. Bossing the gain line is one of the key indicators of a winning performance, and in Cunningham-South, England have one of the most dominant offensive and defensive operators in the tournament.

Marcos Gallorini, Italy

Still in just his first year of U20 eligibility, Gallorini was a force to be reckoned with in the U20 Six Nations and covetous eyes will have been cast in his direction from all across Europe. As with Porthen, he will need to continue to refine his technical scrummaging over the coming years, but his physicality and core strength should mean he spearheads a dangerous Italian scrum.

As a new and competitive young core forms at the heart of the Azzurri, Gallorini will be earmarking himself as another significant contributor to the group in the years to come.

Marko Gazzotti, France

The senior French back-row hardly lacks talent, but the rich are about to get even richer with the emergence of Gazzotti. Playing his rugby for Grenoble, Gazzotti is another like Gallorini in just his first year of eligibility but already making a name for himself.

Uncompromisingly physical but with the athleticism and work rate to make himself a force for 80 minutes, he looked at his best playing No 8 for France during the U20 Six Nations, but it could well be that blind-side is the position he makes his own at senior level.

Sam Prendergast, Ireland

Few people in the northern hemisphere will need an introduction to Prendergast, who not only helped engineer an U20 Six Nations Grand Slam for Ireland, but also got a taste of senior rugby with Leinster. Given the squad depth and competition at the province, that is no mean feat for a 20-year-old.

Lions <a href=
Leinster match report” width=”1200″ height=”674″ /> Sam Prendergast delivered several statement performances for Leinster. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Inevitably, Prendergast has been touted as the long-term heir to Johnny Sexton, but he must focus on being his own player. He already boasts enviable decision-making under pressure and the U20 Championship should give him a further platform to develop.

Louie Hennessey, Wales

It’s largely been a year to forget for Welsh rugby at all grades, though in Hennessey they have a player who could be a difference-maker at the next level. The centre will need to take his opportunities at Bath when they come – Ollie Lawrence and Max Ojomoh aren’t going anywhere – if he is to kick on and reach his undoubted potential.

A graceful runner with a great turn of pace and agile step, Hennessey is a threat with ball in hand both as a finisher and a facilitator. As he continues to adapt to senior rugby and fill out physically, look for him to grow into the complete centre.

Aitor Bildosola, Argentina

Relentlessly aggressive and powerful, Bildosola is yet another in the growing archetype of modern Argentinean back-rowers. He is capable of dominating the defensive line as a tackler and has the work rate and intent to get back to his feet quickly, either to contest the ball or reset in the line.

His ball-carrying deserves praise as well, with good footwork prior to contact and an ability to get his nose through the gap. There are definite shades of Pablo Matera to the young flanker and he is certainly worth watching over the course of the tournament.

Comments

2 Comments
I
Ian 357 days ago

The U20s is an exciting tournament. Astounding quality of play for such young men.

D
Dennis 370 days ago

good info on all players

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