To mark wing Rod Davies becoming the 100th player to graduate from the IRB Junior World Championship to the Test arena in Australia's shock 32-23 loss to Samoa in Sydney on Sunday, we select a Graduates XV.
The 22-year-old wing played in the IRB Junior World Championship in Japan in 2009, starting all five matches and scoring five tries in the pool stages as Australia’s Under 20s reached the semi finals for the first time before finishing fourth overall.
Davies, a Super Rugby title winner with the Queensland Reds, may not have had the international debut he hoped for opposite try scorer Alesana Tuilagi, but he brings up the century of graduates just under 1,050 days after the Islanders' Alatasi Tupou became the first in September 2008.
In this time all 17 nations to have graced the Junior World Championship stage have seen a player step up from this Under 20 tournament to be capped at Test level, Ireland the last to promote a graduate following Rhys Ruddock’s appearance against Australia last June.
Argentina have welcomed the most JWC graduates into the Pumas frame with 17, all of them in the last 14 months, with Australia and Wales the only others into double figures with 10, just ahead of Canada and Samoa with nine. Ireland, by contrast, have welcomed just one in Ruddock.
These 100 graduates have accumulated more than 500 caps between them with Australia, unsurprisingly given Wallabies coach Robbie Deans’ willingness to give young players a chance, accounting for nearly a quarter of these and the top three most capped JWC graduates.
All three – flanker David Pocock, fly half Quade Cooper and scrum half Will Genia – make the cut for our Graduates XV, which features six Australians in total along with three Welshman, two All Blacks, one Englishman, one Tongan, one Scot and one Frenchman.
Pocock was the natural choice as captain, being the most capped of all 100 graduates and having become – along with full back Kurtley Beale – the first to be nominated for the prestigious IRB Player of the Year accolade in 2010, ultimately losing out to All Black captain Richie McCaw.
The Wallaby is one of two standout openside flankers to have so far come through the JWC environment, necessitating a move across the scrum for Sam Warburton, who captained Wales in their loss to the Barbarians last month, to ensure both featured in the XV.
While many positions were an easy choice to make, particularly in the backline with an embarrassment of riches, the front row was a different story and proved a difficult one to select, being positions players often mature into later in their careers as opposed to their early 20s.
1. Alex Corbisiero (ENG)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 22 – Caps: 4 – Debut: v Italy 12/02/2011
2. Sione Vaiomounga (TGA)
– JWC 2009 – Age: 22 – Caps: 6 – Debut: v Portugal 28/11/2009
3. James Slipper (AUS)
– JWC 2009 – Age: 22 – Caps: 14 – Debut: v England 12/06/2010
4. Richie Gray (SCO)
– JWC 2008 / 2009 – Age: 22 – Caps: 10 – Debut: v France 07/02/2010
5. Sam Whitelock (NZL)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 22 – Caps: 13 – Debut: v Ireland 12/06/2010
6. Sam Warburton (WAL)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 22 – Caps: 15 – Debut: v USA 06/06/2009
7. David Pocock (AUS) – CAPTAIN
– JWC 2008 – Age: 23 – Caps: 30 – Debut: v New Zealand 01/11/2008
8. Ben McCalman (AUS)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 23 – Caps: 10 – Debut: v South Africa 24/07/2010
9. Will Genia (AUS)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 23 – Caps: 23 – Debut: v New Zealand 18/07/2009
10. Quade Cooper (AUS)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 23 – Caps: 24 – Debut: v Italy 08/11/2008
11. Zac Guildford (NZL)
– JWC 2008 / 2009 – Age: 22 – Caps: 4 – Debut: v Wales 07/11/2009
12. Jonathan Davies (WAL)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 23 – Caps: 12 – Debut: v Canada 30/05/2009
13. Mathieu Bastareaud (FRA)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 22 – Caps: 9 – Debut: v Wales 27/02/2009
14. Leigh Halfpenny (WAL)
– JWC 2008 – Age: 22 – Caps: 19 – Debut: v South Africa 08/11/2008
15. Kurtley Beale (AUS)
– JWC 2009 – Age: 22 – Caps: 15 – Debut: v Wales 28/11/2009
And, of course, any match involving the Graduates XV would have to be refereed by an official familiar with the tournament, so Romain Poite of France, a veteran of the 2008 edition in Wales who is on the RWC 2011 referee panel, gets the whistle with Chris Pollock and Jerome Garces his assistant referees.
“It is great to see so many players making the step up from the IRB Junior World Championship to represent their countries at full Test level," said IRB Head of Development and Performance Mark Egan.
"The 100 graduate landmark is a significant milestone and truly underlines not just the enormous prestige of the Championship, but the player development platform it delivers.”