JWC graduates provide a source of inspiration

(IRB.COM) Wednesday 3 February 2010
 JWC graduates provide a source of inspiration
Banjamin Fall is one of two players from France's Junior World Championship squad in 2009 to have made the step up to test rugby

Leigh Halfpenny, Benjamin Fall and Mathieu Bastareaud - just three names on a growing list of players to have made the step up to test rugby since playing in the IRB Junior World Championship or IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy.

Nearly 70 players, covering 19 countries from New Zealand to Papua New Guinea, have made that transition in the two years of the Under 20 tournaments and some of them will take to the field in the RBS Six Nations this weekend.

Bastareaud made his test debut for France in last year's Six Nations against Wales, while Fall - who played in both the 2008 and 2009 Junior World Championships - started on the wing against Samoa last November.

Both will run out at Murrayfield on Sunday when Les Bleus tackle Scotland, as part of a backline which features another player to have graced the Junior World Championship stage in scrum half Morgan Parra.

Parra had actually made his French test debut a couple of months before appearing in the 2008 Championship, but the Clermont Auvergne player has gone onto become not only a regular in Marc Lièvremont's side, but his preferred goal kicker.

Latest crop of graduates?

This French trio have, though, not enjoyed the meteoric rise that Welsh wing cum full back Leigh Halfpenny did in the 12 months since playing on home soil in the first IRB Junior World Championship in June 2008.

Five months later he had been thrust into the international spotlight, having the unenviable task of marking IRB Player of the Year Bryan Habana on his debut and by the end of the season was a British & Irish Lion and still only 20.

Ireland and Scotland are the only two Six Nations countries not to have capped a Junior World Championship graduate, although that could change this weekend with Richie Gray on the bench for the latter's match against France.

Courtney Lawes played for England against Australia in November - although is not in Martin Johnson's squad for this weekend's opening matches - while Italy have already capped Andrea Bacchetti, Roberto Quartaroli and Simone Favaro.

Riccardo Bocchino could become the fourth player from Italy's 2008 Junior World Championship squad to play for the senior side, the fly half having been named by Nick Mallett in a 24-man squad ahead of their match with Ireland in Dublin.

A source of inspiration

For those running out in this weekend's RBS Under 20 Six Nations matches in Athlone, Gloucester and Inverness, these graduates should provide a source of inspiration and proof of the pathway from age grade to senior rugby.

One member of the Wales squad certainly inspired by Halfpenny is Kristian Phillips, the 19-year-old wing who was called up by Warren Gatland to train with the senior squad in the build up to the Six Nations.

"To see what Leigh has done and to see the emergence of Dan Biggar, Sam Warburton and Jon Davies is really good," It's what I've looked at coming through the Under 20s," explained Phillips.

"To see them playing for their country is amazing. They've done really well and hopefully I can follow in their footsteps."

Phillips is one of 11 players in the Welsh starting line up to have played in last year's Six Nations, including prop Dan Watchurst who has been handed the captaincy by coach Phil Davies for a campaign that starts against England at Kingsholm.

"England is a tough challenge for the opening weekend of games, they are a tremendous side full of Guinness Premiership talent, but it's a challenge I believe our players will be ready for and I'm looking forward to seeing them perform as a unit," said Davies.

Difficult test for England

England, runners up to New Zealand again at the Junior World Championship in Japan, also have a new captain in flanker Jacob Rowan and welcome back a number of players with Guinness Premiership experience, including James Gaskell who has caught the eye with Sale Sharks again this season.

"We're excited about the potential of this group and we've got a nice blend of young players coming into the side together with those who were involved with us last year," said coach Mark Mapletoft.

"We're under no illusions that Wales will be a really difficult test for us, though, and they continue to produce lots of talented youngsters. Both sides will want to play and move the ball, so it should make for a great contest at Kingsholm."

France are the defending Six Nations champions and they have a handful of players who helped their country to fifth place in last year's Junior World Championship in Japan.

Their first opponents Scotland will be led by Stuart McInally at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in Inverness, one of six players with the experience of a Junior World Championship under their belts to drawn upon this year.

Coach Eamon John has also selected two players with older brothers already capped by Scotland in Alex Blair (scrum half Mike) and Oliver Grove, the latter's sibling Alex having been named on the bench for the Murrayfield test on Sunday.

Different challenge on horizon

"The key is to take advantage of playing at home and start our campaign well. We must be ultra-competitive and take every chance we get to win this game," said John.

"We'll be looking to start well, aggressively, and on the front foot and take our game to them on Friday night. You can expect everything from the French - physicality and flair - but we also know Scottish teams can beat France, especially on home soil, and that's what we'll be looking to do."

Italy are the only Six Nations side who will not be taking part in this year's Junior World Championship following its reduction to 12 teams, having finished 13th in Japan. Instead they will be one of the favourites at its sister event, the Junior World Rugby Trophy, which takes place in Moscow in May.

Tommaso Benvenuti was one of Italy's star players at last year's Junior World Championship and, like new captain and scrum half Edoardo Gori, has already made the step up to the senior A side with appearances against Romania and Georgia in November.

They will come up against an Ireland side eager to repeat their Grand Slam success of 2007, having missed out on the title on point differential - albeit a large one - to France last year, and have the experience of Dominic Ryan, Nevin Spencer and captain Rhys Ruddock to call upon.

Week One Squads

SCOTLAND: 1. Craig Owensen 2. Alun Walker 3. Colin Phillips 4. Robert Harley 5. Grant Gilchrist 6. Michael Maltman 7. David Denton 8. Stuart McInally (Captain) 9. Alex Black 10. Alex Blair 11. Dougie Fife 12. Alex Dunbar 13. Jonny Kennedy 14. Oliver Grove 15. Tom Brown.

Replacements: 16. Lindsey Gibson 17. George Hunter 18. Matthew Reid 19. Callum Stidston-Nott 20. Kris Hamilton 21. Matthew Scott 22. James Johnstone.

FRANCE: Alexi Bales, Romain Barthelemy, Eddy Ben Arous, Mickaël Blandin, Gilles Bosch, Brice Dulin, Antonie Erbani, Julien Fritz, Benjamin Geledan, Mathieu Giudicelli, Kevin Gourdon, Jocelyn Grange, Alexandre Hubert, Mickael Ivaldi, Guillaume Lafforgue, Clément Lagain, Gwedal Lamache, Rémy Lamerat, Tanguy Molcard, Jérémy Sinzelle, Jean Sousa, Georges Souvent.

ENGLAND: 1. Joe Marler 2. Jamie George 3. Shaun Knight 4. Calum Green 5. James Gaskell 6. Will Welch 7. Jacob Rowan (Captain) 8. Alex Gray 9. Sam Harrison 10. Freddie Burns 11. Sam Smith 12. Rory Clegg 13. Tom Homer 14. Will Hurrell 15. Tom Catterick.

Replacements: 16. Arthur Ellis 17. Lee Imiolek 18. Charlie Matthews 19. Jackson Wray 20. Sam Stuart 21. Jonathan Joseph 22. Jonny May.

WALES: 1. Dan Watchurst (Captain) 2. Rhys Williams 3. Simon Gardiner 4. Macauley Cook 5. James King 6. James Thomas 7. Josh Navidi 8. Morgan Allen 9. Rhys Downes 10. Matthew Jarvis 11. Kristian Phillips 12. Scott Williams 13. Owen Williams 14. James Loxton 15. Dan Fish.

Replacements: 16. Trystan Davies 17. Ieuan Davies 18. Lloyd Peers 19. Toby Faletau 20. Gareth Davies 21. Lee Rees 22. Matthew Pewtner.

IRELAND: 1. Bryan Cagney 2. Niall Annett 3. Jack O'Connell 4. David O'Callaghan 5. Ben Marshall 6. Rhys Ruddock (Captain) 7. Dominic Ryan 8. Patrick Butler 9. John Cooney 10. James McKinney 11. Simon Zebo 12. Nevin Spence 13. Brendan Macken 14. Darren Hudson 15. Andrew Conway.

Replacements: 16. David Doyle 17. Stewart Maguire 18. Brian Hayes 19. Robin O'Sullivan 20. Michael Heaney 21. Brian Kingston 22. Eoin Griffin.

1. Carlo Fazzari 2. Nicola Corbanese 3. Francesco Pepoli 4. Enrico Targa 5. Lorenzo Santelli 6. Nicola Belardo 7. Filippo Ferrarini 8. Gabriele Cicchinelli 9. Edoardo Gori (Captain) 10. Tommaso Iannone 11. Giovanni Alberghini 12. Sebastian Rodwell 13. Tommaso Benvenuti 14. Giovanbattista Venditti 15. Ruggero Trevisan.

Replacements: 16. Andrea Manici 17. Antonio Denti 18. Filippo Cazzola 19. Edoardo Lubian 20. Alberto Chillon 21. Francesco Menon 22. Michele Mortali.