Starmers: Junior Worlds one to savour

(IRB.COM) Wednesday 30 June 2010
 Starmers: Junior Worlds one to savour
Over 100,000 fans attended matches in Argentina - Photo: Martin Seras Lima/IRB

Nigel Starmer-Smith casts his eye over the key men who made New Zealand tick at the IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina, including one giant wing he's already compared with Jonah Lomu…

It's easy to draw parallels between Tyler Bleyendaal and last year's winning captain Aaron Cruden, who became an All Black earlier this month. Tyler is off the same assembly line, I thought he was absolutely outstanding. Ok, you look at his points scoring and he got 28 points in the final, but it was his composure throughout.

He's certainly in the same class and clearly they have Dan Carter and they now have Aaron Cruden and I think this guy is going to be knocking on the door soon. Inevitably, it's the backs you expect to become young All Blacks, you can't expect the forwards to make that final step until they are a bit more mature.

Who else caught my eye? Julian Savea, the new IRB Junior Player of the Year, was absolutely outstanding and he is the one I guess who is nearest to stepping into an All Black side before a year or two is out.

But the captain Bleyendaal, applauded by the crowd as he came off before the end entirely appropriately, has wonderful vision, beautiful hands and tactically varied his game wonderfully and was very much the orchestrator of the remarkable New Zealand performance against Australia in the final.


New Zealand, though, were strong all round, and sometimes a No.10 needs to thank his scrum half because I thought Tawera Kerr-Barlow also looked a class act as well and interestingly, and I think very sensibly in this tournament, Dave Rennie put them together from the start, so by the time they came to the semi and then the final they had played every time together and I think that paid huge dividends given they were probably the best two in the competition as a pair.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Julian Savea is that he doesn't bother to run round players or duck inside them, he goes through them. I mean he is 16 stone 5, he is wonderfully built, he has this great athleticism and power to go with the speed and a total self confidence.

What I was pleased to see in the final was for once he created a try which was probably in a way the best little bit of individual skills in this tournament, when he went outside a wing three quarters, cut back inside and then had the presence, control and skill to offload one handed with his right hand a perfectly weighted pass to his fly half Bleyendaal inside.

I thought that showed the guy isn't just a flying bulldozer, he also has these subtle skills as well as the other things that go with that - outstanding talent, 6ft 3 and knocking on 16 and a half stone. This is a player who would I guess in my book will be the next most likely All Black to come.

People, including myself, have referred to him as a "smaller Jonah Lomu" and you can see why. I suppose ever since Jonah Lomu came on the scene we've been looking for the next one, but there hasn't really been anyone quite like him and maybe there never will be.

I remember Gordon Tietjens, who first introduced him to representative rugby in the NZ Sevens team, said Nigel, there's a player here, just keep an eye on this man. He is a great spotter of talent. He could see he was out of the ordinary and so its proved and he could well be a name in world rugby that we will remember from the occasions when we first saw him here in Rosario.

Argentina: The perfect hosts

However, it wasn't only the champions from New Zealand who impressed me at the third edition of the Junior World Championship, played in the Litoral region of Argentina. I think what has pleased me most is the reception of the host country and the host unions, the local unions, to making the most of this opportunity.

They've certainly been delightful people to work alongside and talking to some of the players even at the reception after the final it was lovely to hear some boys from Fiji, a couple of others from South Africa and a couple of the English lads I spoke to who said it's been great, we've been very well looked after.

Obviously their focus has been on the training and the matches, and they all seem to say we have enjoyed it, and for these young players of 19 and 20 what a wonderful life experience and clearly they have benefited from that so it's not just the rugby that's important but the way it is run.

The presentation of the tournament itself, the quality of the grounds, the training paddocks and so on for the players along with the enthusiasm - which is always a key word isn't it - of the local people to make it happen and make it work in a country which is pretty much an improvised one in terms of financial resources, but they make up for that with their effort to make things happen.

From the very moment when 16,000 turned up on the first day for the opening pool game between Argentina and England I thought that was a reflection of how Argentina is determined to grab the nettle with rugby.

They obviously have the incentive of joining in with Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the 2012 Four Nations championship, but I think too at the lower level this would have done them a power of good because it would have introduced a lot of people - in an outpost of rugby really in Rosario - to a game for men and women, and let's not forget that the future of rugby is for both sexes.

I think this has helped enormously for the development of rugby in Argentina and it certainly has been a huge benefit and an experience never to be forgotten for the 12 teams taking part.