JWC Graduates: Ten to Watch

(IRB.COM) Thursday 18 November 2010
 JWC Graduates: Ten to Watch
Patrick Lambie, Quade Cooper and Ben Youngs have all made the step from the JWC to the Test arena

Following a weekend which saw two more players graduate from the IRB Junior World Championship to the Test arena to swell the number to 78 in its three-year history, we select 10 of them to watch over the remainder of the November internationals.

Not many flankers can warrant mention in the same sentence as Richie McCaw or Schalk Burger, but Pocock’s performances in the Wallaby jersey have ensured his place among such company. A menace at the breakdown, winning countless turnover ball for Australia, the 22-year-old has long since seen off the challenge of Phil Waugh and George Smith for the No.7 jersey.

The Zimbabwe-born player’s meteoric rise on the Test arena was confirmed by his landslide selection as the John Eales Medal winner by his fellow Wallabies and by the fans as Australia’s Choice Wallaby of the Year last month. An Under 19 world champion in 2006, Pocock led Australia’s Under 20s at the inaugural Junior World Championship in 2008 and won the first of his 28 caps before the year was out.

The son of a former England scrum half, Youngs stole the show at Twickenham last weekend to be named man of the match despite playing only 53 minutes of the 35-18 defeat of Australia, promoting one newspaper to describe him as “the catalyst, the heatbeat, the brains, the executioner” of the performance with “the speed of vision to see space and the speed to exploit it”. His composure and confidence in the No.9 jersey make it easy to forget he only made his belated England debut earlier this year, while his decision making and game intelligence belie his tender age of 21. A JWC finalist in 2008 and 2009, the Leicester Tigers scrum half is not afraid to back himself, even near his own try-line as he showed against the Wallabies.

Another player maturing at a fast rate in the Wallaby backline, Beale has grabbed the headlines for the right reasons in 2010, not least for his long-range penalty on the stroke of full-time in Bloemfontein to end Australia’s 47-year wait for a win on South Africa’s  high veldt. A dangerous and elusive runner from full back, Beale has already touched down three tries in their European tour, including a brace against England last weekend. The 21-year-old has already scored seven tries in his 12 Tests since his debut just under a year ago and has made the No.15 jersey his own with performances that saw him named Rookie of the Year at the John Eales Medal dinner last month. His try-scoring exploits were evident at JWC 2009, including a record-equalling four in a single match against Canada.

Long earmarked as an Italian international in the making, the 19-year-old became the Azzurri's fifth JWC graduate with his debut on the wing in the 22-16 loss to Argentina last weekend. A charismatic and talented centre or wing, Benvenuti has shone for Benetton Treviso in this season's Magners League and Heineken Cup, scoring two tries against both Leicester Tigers and Perpignan. Labelled a "very, very good player" by Italy captain Sergio Parisse, Benvenuti caught the eye in the IRB Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan and then led Italy to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy title earlier this year, scoring twice in the final against Japan in Russia.

Labelled an “utter, utter genius” and “a juggler, clown and tightrope walker all rolled into one” by Will Greenwood recently, Cooper has put the X-Factor into rugby this year with his little box of tricks. He may be seen as a weak link in defence for his at times questionable tackling, but the positives he brings outweigh the negatives with his reverse flick passes, quick feet, darting runs and flat passes resulting in many a try for the Wallabies or Queensland Reds, not to mention keeping fans on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what he magics up next. With a cap to match every one of his 22 years, a maturing Cooper is at his happiest out on the pitch, bringing tricks normally associated with a game in the backyard to the world stage.

One of the standout performers at this year’s Junior World Championship, Lambie left Argentina with 75 points to his name and much praise for his positional and organisational play from full back. A dangerous runner who is happy at fly half, centre or full back, the 20-year-old always seemed to have so much time on the ball. Regarded as the brightest young prospect in South Africa, a man of the match performance and 25-point haul for the Sharks in the Currie Cup final earned him the inevitable call-up to the Springbok squad for the end of year tour, with his debut coming off the bench against Ireland a fortnight ago.

Critics had been pleading with England manager Martin Johnson to give Lawes a chance to show he could transfer his impressive form for Northampton Saints to the international stage long before his first start in June. The 6ft 7in second row will start his fourth successive Test match on Saturday against Samoa, just reward for his dynamic breaks, tough tackling or towering takes in the lineout. A latecomer to rugby – only getting the rugby bug after changing schools at 13 – Lawes was a JWC finalist in 2008 and 2009, playing as a flanker in the latter. His former England Under 20 coach Mark Mapletoft nicknamed him Mr Tickle, the long armed cartoon character.

Over the years Wales have produced a production line of fly halves and Biggar will be looking to prove he is the next incumbent of the No.10 jersey with a strong display against Fiji on Friday evening. The 21-year-old has won seven caps since playing in the inaugural Junior World Championship on home soil in 2008, but has been used off the bench more than given the starting nod. Highly regarded by his region the Ospreys, Wales coach Warren Gatland has praised his work ethic, describing him as Jonny Wilkinsonesque in terms of the hours he puts in.

Trying to dislodge the likes of Imanol Harinordoquy, Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Sébastien Chabal from the French  back row is no easy task, but Lapandry has started two of the five Tests he has played since making his debut last year, including the defeat of Fiji seven days ago. One of a number of JWC graduates to have been given their chance by coach Marc Lièvremont, the 21-year-old led France’s Under 20s by example to fifth place at last year’s Junior World Championship in Japan and is one of three players to have graduated to Les Bleus’ since that tournament.

Another graduate of the inaugural Junior World Championship, Aiono made his Samoan debut in their Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifier with Papua New Guinea last July and marked the occasion with a try in the 73-12 rout. The flanker has appeared twice on Samoa’s end of year tour, against Japan and Ireland, after turning his focus to fifteens after a successful spell with on the Sevens circuit, helping the islanders claim a first ever IRB Sevens World Series crown. The 22-year-old, who also played in the Commonwealth Games last month, developed into a key player in Samoa’s title success, edging out more experienced players by the end of the Series, and will hope to transfer this form to the Test arena.

The number of JWC graduates will rise again this weekend as Italy coach Nick Mallett has sprung a surprise by naming Edoardo Gori at scrum half to face Australia, while Toby Faletau, the son of a former Tongan international, is on the Wales bench against Fiji.