2009: Baby Blacks retain title
Led by their inspirational captain Aaron Cruden, New Zealand Under 20s ensured the distinctive trophy would remain in their clutches for another year with victory over England in the final of the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 in Tokyo in June.
The Baby Blacks had swept all before them to claim the inaugural title in Wales 12 months earlier, but with only wing Zac Guildford returning from that successful side they were not regarded as favourites to retain the crown with Australia arguably holding that mantle given their host of players with Super 14 experience.
The pool stages across four venues in Japan did little to dispel that belief with Australia steamrollering their way past Canada, Tonga and Wales in Saga to top Pool D, scoring an impressive 164 points and conceding only 11 with their try-line breached only once - by Wales' Rhys Downes.
Canada, in particular, felt the full force of the Australians, conceding 14 tries in an 86-0 defeat with Richard Kingi and Kurtley Beale equalling the Championship record of four tries in a single match. Kingi also set a new benchmark with 26 points in the match, although this would later be bettered by French fly half Pierre Bernard.
Battle of the "cousins"
By contrast New Zealand had yet to produce an 80-minute performance, having overwhelmed tournament debutants Uruguay - the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2008 winners - but then found life hard-going against Ireland and trailed Argentina at half-time before cutting loose to ultimately win 48-9.
The rivals came face to face in the first semi final at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo with many pundits expecting Australia to hand New Zealand their first loss in the new Under 20 format, which had replaced the IRB Under 19 and Under 21 World Championships in 2008.
However, when it mattered most, New Zealand's players produced the performance they had been striving for with Cruden pulling the strings at fly half to torment the Australian defence, and Guildford and full back Robbie Robinson a constant threat with ball in hand.
Australian captain Damien Fitzpatrick did become the first player to cross the New Zealand try-line, but the Baby Blacks were deserved 31-17 winners in a physical match Guildford later admitted neither side wanted to take a step backwards in against their "cousins from across the ditch".
France were unstoppable against South Africa ... until Pierre Bernard's yellow card
England and South Africa met in the other semi final for the second year running, both sides having topped their pools, albeit in different fashion. England beat both Japan and Scotland to set up a Pool B decider with Samoa in round three. It was expected to be a real tussle, but England ran riot to triumph 52-7.
The Baby Boks had been made to work hard by Fiji in their opening match in Osaka, but inevitably it came down to the battle with France to determine top spot in Pool C. What followed at the Hanazono Stadium was a thrilling rollercoaster ride with France in sublime form and simply unstoppable for the first 30 minutes after which they led 20-0.
However the match turned with the sin-binning of Bernard, the architect of France's sublime play. South Africa scored 18 points while he was off the pitch amid a run of 43 unanswered points to ultimately triumph 43-27, having well and truly played their get out of jail card to keep their title hopes alive.
The second semi final was dominated by the boot in the first half, before England scored four tries after the break through Ben Youngs, James Gaskell, Courtney Lawes and Henry Trinder to seal a 40-21 victory over South Africa and set up a repeat of the 2008 final.
A veteran of that painful 38-3 mauling by the Baby Blacks 12 months earlier, England captain Calum Clark admitted afterwards that they were "not proud of what happened last year, but hopefully would get to right the wrongs and give it more of a go this time."
Cruden inspires Baby Blacks
Finals day dawned in Tokyo to heavy rain, which fell non-stop until shortly before the start of the title decider and had left South Africa and Australia to battle for third place in very wet conditions, the Baby Boks coping the better to match their 2008 finish with a 32-5 victory.
The conditions were still very slippery under foot in the final, not that it seemed to upset the New Zealanders and their all-round play against an England side that made them work hard and never gave up fighting as the Baby Blacks clicked into gear midway through the first half.
England certainly had their chances early on and it took a great tackle from Robinson to strip the ball from Youngs as he slid over the try-line to deny them the first try. The New Zealand full back then rubbed salt in those wounds minutes later to touch down, although it was quickly cancelled out by Gaskell to make it 11-5.
An inch perfect kick from Winston Stanley meant Guildford didn't have to break stride for New Zealand's second try and after Cruden gave his side the lead for the first time with a penalty, the inspirational fly half scored two tries in the space of five minutes - both following some great exchanges between forwards and backs - to put 14 points between the sides.
England never truly recovered from this blitz, the Baby Blacks adding second half tries from Shaun Treeby, Guildford and Brayden Mitchell to triumph 44-28 and claim the mantle of champions in their own right, the tag never having rested easily on their shoulders with only one member of the 2008 winners still around.
For Guildford it was his third Age Grade title in a row, having been part of New Zealand's victory in the last IRB Under 19 World Championship in 2007. The talented wing had again been one of the stars of the tournament, ending it as the leading try scorer in 2009 and all-time.
Tragically his - and the Baby Blacks' - celebrations were cut short after his father Robert suffered a heart attack in the stands and died, but the 20-year-old turned his devastation into motivation and on 7 November pulled on the All Black jersey for his international debut against Wales at the Millennium Stadium to realise his late father's dream.
Rugby World Cup 2011 beckons?
New Zealand coach Dave Rennie - who also masterminded the 2008 success - predicted that several of his charges could be involved come the World Cup in 2011 with captain Cruden in particular expected to follow in Guildford's footsteps. Cruden not only lifted the trophy in Japan, but was also named IRB Junior Player of the Year to complete a remarkable recovery after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in August 2008.
Tokyo was not the only venue to host thrilling encounters on the final day with the Level 5 Stadium in Fukuoka witnessing a tight battle for seventh place between Samoa and Ireland and a one-sided romp to fifth place for France, who ran in eight tries - including one for Bernard in his Championship record 33-point haul - to beat Wales 68-13.
Samoa were the best placed of the Pacific island nations, edging Ireland 9-3 to match their seventh place finish of 2008. Tonga and Fiji both improved their final standings at the inaugural tournament by finishing 10th and 12th respectively. Tonga had given both Australia and Wales a tough time in the pools stages and then beat Argentina 26-17 before narrowly losing 28-25 to Scotland in the ninth place play-off in Osaka.
While Tonga and Fiji could look positively back on the 2009 tournament after their improved performances, there was disappointment for Uruguay, Japan, Italy and Canada who finished bottom of their pools and as a result will not play in the 2010 edition in Argentina after the International Rugby Board restructured the Junior World Championship and reduced the number of teams from 16 to 12 in the current economic climate.
Their fate already sealed, it was Italy who finished the stronger, edging past Japan - who had impressed in the pool stages but were guilty of not taking their chances, particularly against Samoa when poor kicking cost them victory - and Canada to finish 13th. The Japanese once again finished 15th overall after beating Uruguay 54-17 to collect their first win of the tournament.
Zac Guildford made his All Blacks debut less than five months after the Junior World Championship, playing against Wales, England and the Barbarians in November
The Championship was a huge success with more than 100,000 fans attending matches across all five venues, including a record crowd of more than 15,000 to see Japan play Scotland in Tokyo, record broadcast coverage and a legacy programme which gave players a great insight into the Japanese culture and hundreds of schoolchildren the chance to meet the Game's future stars.
The class of 2010 will have a lot to live up to with Guildford far from the only player to have stepped up to the full test arena since. Juan de Freitas came on as a replacement in Uruguay's RWC 2011 qualifying defeat by USA on 21 November, the same day Alexandre Lapandry, France's Under 20 captain in Japan, and Benjamin Fall both made their debuts for Les Bleus against Samoa. Another player to graduate to senior honours was Courtney Lawes, the England second row coming off the bench against Australia a fortnight earlier.
05/06/2009 - Argentina 9-16 Ireland
05/06/2009 - New Zealand 75-0 Uruguay
09/06/2009 - Argentina 33-15 Uruguay
09/06/2009 - Ireland 0-17 New Zealand
13/06/2009 - Ireland 54-0 Uruguay
13/06/2009 - Argentina 9-48 New Zealand
05/06/2009 - Samoa 17-14 Samoa
05/06/2009 - England 43-0 Japan
09/06/2009 - England 30-7 Scotland
09/06/2009 - Japan 20-29 Samoa
13/06/2009 - England 52-7 Samoa
13/06/2009 - Japan 7-12 Scotland
05/06/2009 - France 43-13 Italy
05/06/2009 - Fiji 10-36 South Africa
09/06/2009 - Fiji 25-48 France
09/06/2009 - Italy 3-65 South Africa
13/06/2009 - Fiji 20-14 Italy
13/06/2009 - France 27-43 South Africa
05/06/2009 - Australia 86-0 Canada
05/06/2009 - Tonga 5-51 Wales
09/06/2009 - Australia 40-6 Tonga
09/06/2009 - Canada 15-51 Wales
13/06/2009 - Canada 20-36 Tonga
13/06/2009 - Australia 38-5 Wales
17/06/2009 - Uruguay 11-29 Canada
17/06/2009 - Japan 15-21 Italy
17/06/2009 - Argentina 17-26 Tonga
17/06/2009 - Scotland 39-26 Fiji
17/06/2009 - Ireland 17-19 Wales
17/06/2009 - Samoa 6-16 France
17/06/2009 - New Zealand 31-17 Australia
17/06/2009 - South Africa 21-40 England
21/06/2009 - Uruguay 17-54 Japan
21/06/2009 - Canada 22-32 Italy
21/06/2009 - Argentina 27-10 Fiji
21/06/2009 - Tonga 25-28 Scotland
21/06/2009 - Ireland 3-9 Samoa
21/06/2009 - Wales 13-68 France
21/06/2009 - Australia 5-32 South Africa
21/06/2009 - New Zealand 44-28 England