When Rhys Ruddock made his Ireland debut against Australia last weekend, it not only capped a remarkable few weeks for the 19-year-old but also heralded a significant milestone in the graduation of players to the test arena from the IRB Junior World Championship.
Ruddock, the son of former Wales coach Mike, had begun June leading Ireland's Under 20s challenge at the IRB Junior World Championship 2010 in Argentina, but Jamie Heaslip's suspension and injury to John Muldoon saw him spirited away to New Zealand to join the national side.
He started against the New Zealand Maori in the 31-28 defeat and his appearance as a 69th minute replacement for Chris Henry against the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane made him Ireland's first graduate to the test arena since the Junior World Championship began in 2008.
This means that all 17 nations who have played in the Championship, the pinnacle of the International Rugby Board's Age Grade structure, have now seen players graduate from their Under 20 outfit to the senior national side.
Ruddock is not the most recent graduate though, that falls to Juan Figallo - a veteran of the inaugural Junior World Championship in Wales in 2008 - after the prop came off the bench in Argentina's 41-13 defeat of France in Buenos Aires that same day.
First and last graduate
Figallo became the 10th player to make his debut for the Pumas after playing for Los Pumitas on the Junior World Championship stage, all of them remarkably within the last five weeks in either the South American Championship or tests against Scotland and France.
This is the most by any country and provided a source of inspiration for the Pumitas playing in the Junior World Championship on home soil last month, the path from the Under 20s to the Pumas clearly visible after national coach Santiago Phelan labelled them as the future of Argentine rugby.
Australia and Samoa boast the next best record with seven graduates apiece, the honour of being the first player to tread this path resting on the shoulders of Alatasi Tupou, the Samoan full back making his test debut in a 101-14 loss to New Zealand on 3 September 2008.
Two of Tupou's teammates in the inaugural Junior World Championship less than three months earlier also won their first caps that day off the bench in Roysiu Tolufale and Maselino Paulino, while Australia's David Pocock and Nathan Hirayama of Canada followed suit on 1 November 2008.
Pocock captained Australia's Under 20s on the JWC stage and two years on he and two of his teammates in Wales - Quade Cooper and Will Genia - are vital cogs in Robbie Deans' plans for the Wallabies as Rugby World Cup 2011 approaches.
Busy month for graduates
Robert Horne, Ben Daley and James Slipper became the latest to make the step up to the Wallabies fold from the Under 20 ranks last month, which saw no fewer than 15 players to have graced the Junior World Championship stage make their debuts on the test arena.
Two of these actually played for Australia in the inaugural Junior World Championship, but made their debuts for Fiji and Tonga in Nemani Nadolo - known previously as Ratu Nasiganyavi, the top try scorer at JWC 2008 with seven - and Steve Mafi respectively.
Other notable graduates over the last month include Aaron Cruden, the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2009 who made his All Blacks debut less than a year after guiding New Zealand's Under 20s to the Junior World Championship title in Japan.
Sam Whitelock made his All Blacks debut the same day as Cruden, scoring two tries on a day to remember and now has younger brother Luke as a fellow JWC winner in the family after he helped the Baby Blacks overwhelm Australia 62-17 in the 2010 final.
It is Leigh Halfpenny, though, who has arguably made the steepest rise of all the 60 plus graduates as within a year of playing on home soil in 2008 he had become Wales' youngest British & Irish Lion since 1968, even if injury did cut short his tour to South Africa.
Thirty and counting in 2010
Pocock, Cooper, Halfpenny, Hirayama and the trio of Samoans were among a group of 11 players involved in the inaugural Junior World Championship who made their test debuts that year, the others being Dan Biggar (Wales), Shawn Pittman (USA), Michael Leitch (Japan) and Nick Evans (Canada).
This meant that six of the 16 teams involved in that first Junior World Championship had seen players go on to graduate to their test side, although it could be given as seven as Morgan Parra did play for France that autumn but had made his test debut before JWC 2009.
By the end of 2009 the number of teams to cap Junior World Championship graduates had swelled to 14 with England, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga and IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2008 winners Uruguay.
A total of 26 players made their debuts during the calendar year, seven of them after playing at JWC 2009, including that tournament's leading try scorer Zac Guildford of New Zealand, France captain Alexandre Lapandry and England second row Courtney Lawes.
Argentina, Fiji and Ireland have followed suit in 2010 to complete the set of graduates with this year having already seen 30 players make the step to the test arena in either the Six Nations, the June internationals, the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup or the South American Championship.
How many more will follow in their footsteps before the year is out?
PICK YOUR JWC GRADUATE XV FROM THE LIST BELOW >>
JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP GRADUATES BY COUNTRY:
Argentina: Guillermo Roan, Martín Landajo, Belisario Agulla, Luciano Proto, Tomas Cubelli, Nicolás Sanchez, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Rodrigo Baez, Santiago Guzmán, Juan Figallo.
Australia: David Pocock, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Kurtley Beale, Robert Horne, Ben Daley, James Slipper.
Canada: Nathan Hirayama, Matt Evans, Andrew Tiedemann, Sean White, Mike Scholz.
England: Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs.
Fiji: Nikola Matawalu, Nemani Nadolo, William Saukuru.
France: Mathieu Bastareaud, Alexandre Lapandry, Benjamin Fall, Wencelas Lauret.
Ireland: Rhys Ruddock
Italy: Andrea Bacchetti, Roberto Quartaroli, Simone Favaro, Riccardo Bocchino.
Japan: Michael Leitch, Ryohei Yamanaka.
New Zealand: Zac Guildford, Aaron Cruden, Sam Whitelock.
Samoa: Alatasi Tupou, Roysiu Tolufale, Maselino Paulino, Misioka Timoteo, Afa Aiono, Semiperive Semeane, Falemiga Selesele.
Scotland: Richie Gray.
South Africa: Francois Hougaard.
Tonga: Mateo Malupo, Mahe Fangupo, Sione Vaiomounga, Paula Kata, Steve Mafi.
Uruguay: Juan de Freitas, Juan Pablo Ruffalini, Santiago Gortari, Gaston Mieres, Martin Sciarra.
USA: Shawn Pittman, Scott Lavalla.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar, Jonathan
Davies, Daniel Evans, Sam Warburton.
A handful of players had made their international debuts before JWC 2008 and have been capped since, including Morgan Parra and Yann David of France and USA's Thretton Palamo.
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