Aaron Cruden, Zac Guildford and Sam Whitelock were not even born the first time New Zealand lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, but the trio all played their parts in the All Blacks’ success on home soil in Rugby World Cup 2011.
When New Zealand’s hopes died in the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2007 the trio were still in their teens, harbouring a dream that one day they would wear the famous jersey on the sport’s greatest stage of all and lift the coveted trophy.
Never in their wildest dreams, though, did they think it would come so quickly after tasting success for their country at Under 20 level in the IRB Junior World Championship, Whitelock in 2008, Cruden as captain in 2009 and Guildford the first to earn two winners’ medals in 2008 and 2009.
Particularly Cruden, who did not make the original All Blacks squad and was only called up after New Zealand lost their talisman Dan Carter to a groin tear, the fly half then stepping into the limelight after Colin Slade was also ruled out to earn the plaudits of a nation desperate for World Cup success.
They may have been the first Junior World Championship graduates to get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup, but they were not alone in gracing the Rugby World Cup stage after playing in the Under 20 tournament with a total of 47 graduates named in the original RWC squads.
Forty-five of these took to the pitch at RWC 2011, while two others made their Test debuts on the biggest stage of all in scrum halves Jeremy Sua and Joe Simpson, off the bench on the same day in Samoa’s defeat to Wales and England’s win over Georgia.
First JWC 2011 graduate
Cruden, named the IRB Junior Player of the Year after leading New Zealand to the JWC 2009 title, then appeared off the bench against Argentina in the quarter-finals to add to his six Test appearances, having only days earlier been planning a trip to Disneyland.
That left half-back Jean-Marc Doussain, an injury-replacement for David Skrela earlier in the tournament, to become the first player to make his Test debut in a RWC Final, just four months after captaining France’s Under 20s to fourth place at the Junior World Championship in Italy.
Doussain was not alone in making such a rapid rise from Under 20 level to the Test arena as Russia’s Denis Simplikevich marked his Test debut in their Pool C defeat by Ireland with a try only months after playing in the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Georgia in late May-early June.
Simplikevich, who also stole a Quade Cooper pass to score against the Wallabies, took the number of Junior World Rugby Trophy – the sister tournament of the Championship – graduates to nine and also meant that every team at RWC 2011 had played either a JWC or JWRT graduate.
Australia had the most graduates in their squad with eight, one more than Wales played although they were captained by Sam Warburton, a veteran of JWC 2008 who became the youngest player ever to skipper a side in RWC history, only turning 23 during the tournament.
We highlight some of the milestones for JWC and JWRT graduates at RWC 2011:
First JWC graduate to play in a RWC match: Viliame Iongi (Tonga) v New Zealand
First JWRT graduate to play in a RWC match: Madalin Lemnaru (Romania) v Scotland
First JWC graduate to score a RWC try: Ben Youngs (England) v Argentina
First JWRT graduate to score a RWC try: Chrysander Botha (Namibia) v Fiji
First graduate to score more than one try in a RWC match: Tommaso Benvenuti (Italy) v Russia. Five other JWC graduates scored two or more tries in a single RWC match before the end of RWC 2011.
First JWC graduate to score a RWC hat-trick: Scott Williams (Wales) v Namibia.
Most tries in a RWC match by a JWC graduate: 4 – Zac Guildford (New Zealand) v Canada
Number of tries scored by JWC graduates: 35
Number of tries scored by JWRT graduates: 5
Top try scorer among JWC graduates: 4 - Zac Guildford (New Zealand), Scott Williams (Wales)
Top try scorer among JWRT graduates: 2 – Denis Simplikevich (Russia)
First JWC graduate to captain his country at a RWC: Sam Warburton (Wales) v South Africa, aged 22 years and 341 days, becoming the youngest captain in RWC history. The other JWC graduate to captain his country at a RWC: Will Genia (Australia) v USA
First JWC graduate to be named MasterCard Man of the Match: Michael Leitch (Japan) v Tonga. Three others were also named Man of the Match: Ruaridh Jackson (Scotland, v Argentina), Sam Warburton (Wales, v South Africa) and David Pocock (Australia, v South Africa).
First player to become a JWC or JWRT graduate at a RWC: Jeremy Sua (Samoa – played for Australia at JWC 2008) v Wales.
First player to make his Test debut in a RWC Final: Jean-Marc Doussain of France. At 20 years and 253 days, he was the third youngest to play a RWC Final.
First player to graduate from JWC 2011 to the Test arena: Jean-Marc Doussain of France
Most JWC or JWRT graduates to play in a match: 14 in the Bronze Final between Australia (8) and Wales (6)
Team fielding the most graduates in a match: Australia with eight in the Bronze Final v Wales – six in starting line-up (James Slipper, David Pocock, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale) and two on the bench (Rob Simmons, Rob Horne).
First JWC graduate to be cited and suspended at a RWC: Courtney Lawes (England) v Argentina
First JWC graduate to be red carded at a RWC: Sam Warburton (Wales) v France
First match official to graduate from JWC to referee a RWC match: Romain Poite (France), Samoa v Namibia
First match official to graduate from JWC to be assistant referee for a RWC match: Tim Hayes (Wales), Scotland v Romania