We pick 20 players to watch when the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 kicks off in South Africa on Monday.
LIAM GILL (AUSTRALIA)
The Australian captain returns for his second shot at the Junior World Championship title, having become the youngest to ever play in the tournament in 2010 when Australia achieved their best finish of runners up to New Zealand. A Commonwealth Games silver medallist in Sevens later that year, he already has a Super Rugby title to his name with the Queensland Reds. A tireless worker at the breakdown and in defence, the flanker has been a Super Rugby regular this season and will keep David Pocock on his toes in the years to come.
TOM PRYDIE (WALES)
The wing has made a habit of setting firsts, becoming the youngest to ever play in the Heineken Cup as a 17-year-old in 2009, the youngest Test player in Welsh rugby history, the youngest to play in the Six Nations and the youngest Welsh Test try scorer, the latter against South Africa in June 2010. Prydie has four Test caps to his name, but only made his Wales Under 20 debut against their Japan counterparts in a warm-up match last month. His impact was impressive, though, with five tries in the 119-7 victory.
STEVEN KITSHOFF (SOUTH AFRICA)
A newcomer to the South African Under 20 squad, Kitshoff already has an impressive CV behind him, having been a regular for the Stormers in Super Rugby this season. The youngest member of their 2012 squad, the prop made his debut off the bench in 2011 and is regarded as a force to be reckoned with in the scrum, but is also dangerous on attack.
BRYN HALL (NEW ZEALAND)
The co-captain of a Baby Blacks squad who will be keen to extend New Zealand’s impressive Junior World Championship record. Named after the legendary Welsh and British & Irish Lions scrum half Brynmor Williams who his father admired, it is fitting that Hall himself is a number nine. He has a great work ethic and is said to be destined for All Black honours, having come through all the grades and been on the radar for a while.
ALLAN FAALAVAAU (AUSTRALIA)
In January he was working in a butchers when he got the call to join up with the Australian Sevens teams for the Las Vegas stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series and quickly established himself as the playmaker. A member of the Tokyo Sevens winning side, he has been labelled a “pocket rocket” by renowned commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith. Still only 18, he is strong, super fit, a great stepper and while he does not have the out and out pace, his rugby brain means watch out if he gets an opponent one on one.
MARLAND YARDE (ENGLAND)
In his second Junior World Championship, having picked up a runners-up medal with England in Italy last year, the wing was the top try scorer in the 2012 Under 20 Six Nations with five tries, including a hat-trick in the opening match against Scotland. Born in St Lucia, he had a spell with Queens Park Rangers Football Club, but now plays for London Irish and admits he “loves scoring tries and celebrates each one as though it could be his last.”
MICHAEL LITTLE (FIJI)
The fly half is certainly on rugby genes with his father Walter having played for the All Blacks, his uncle Lawrence and cousin Nicky both representing Fiji, the latter being their record point scorer and having played in four Rugby World Cups. He started playing rugby at the age of four and can also provide cover at centre and scrum half. New Zealand based, Little has played for North Harbour and could give the Fijians an inside knowledge of the Baby Blacks they will face in round three.
ROBERT LILOMAIAVA (SAMOA)
The speedster was unstoppable as Samoa won the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy title in Georgia last year to earn an immediate return to the Junior World Championship, scoring nine tries in four matches – the most scored by a player at a single JWC or JWRT. The big question is can he match this record against the likes of New Zealand, Fiji and Wales? Lilomaiava has been a regular for Samoa on the HSBC Sevens World Series since making his debut on the Gold Coast in November 2011 and was part of their Cup winning side in Las Vegas in February.
SEBASTIEN TAOFIFENUA (FRANCE)
The giant Perpignan prop is the heaviest player at JWC 2012, tipping the scales at an incredible 130kg. He played four matches in last year’s tournament in Italy, scoring two tries, including one in the semi final loss to England. His older brother Romain, a second row, played at JWC 2010 in Argentina and has just been named in the French senior squad for their tour of Argentina this month.
MICHELE CAMPAGNARO (ITALY)
Called up as an injury replacement just before the start of JWC 2011, the then fly half quickly made an impression and was a permanent fixture for the Azzurrini for the last three matches on home soil. The second youngest player at JWC 2011, he has now moved to centre and stood out again in the Under 20 Six Nations and was part of the senior national training squad. With a turn of speed, he is a player very much in demand for next season.
MATTHEW MORGAN (WALES)
A diminutive fly half by modern standards, Morgan was a stand-out player for Wales in a difficult JWC 2011 campaign which saw them finish seventh and soundly beaten 92-0 by New Zealand in the pool stages. A little general, the 20-year-old Ospreys No.10 is a instinctive player with an eye for a gap and the pace to exploit it. He has previously played for Wales on the HSBC Sevens World Series.
KARL CHATEAU (FRANCE)
A powerfully built back row, Chateau has played for his country at every age level from Under 16 upwards and captained France through the Under 20 Six Nations earlier this year, scoring a try in the win over Scotland as they finished second on point differential to England. The Stade Toulousain man plays mainly at number 8 but can be utilised as a flanker.
TOMMY ALLAN (SCOTLAND)
Born in Italy, he plays his rugby for Western Province in South Africa so will feel at home during this Junior World Championship. Allan, who played centre and full back for Scotland in the Under 20 Six Nations, comes from a rugby lineage with his uncle having played for both Scotland and South Africa in the 1990s and his mother for the Italian women’s team.
JJ HANRAHAN (IRELAND)
Another player returning for a second Junior World Championship, Hanrahan will be a key player for Ireland, especially after the decision to leave captain Paddy Jackson and full back Shane Layden at home. He played at centre during the Under 20 Six Nations and was at the heart of everything Ireland did, setting up many of their tries as they finished third in the Championship, level on points with England and France. The Munster player’s penalty proved the difference when Ireland recorded an historic win over France – their first at Under 20 or Under 21 level – in the Six Nations.
TSHOTSHO MBOVANE (SOUTH AFRICA)
Certain to be one of the quickest players in the tournament, Mbovane is a contracted Springbok Sevens player and has been a regular on the HSBC Sevens World Series. The wing is blessed with out-right pace and has an eye for a gap. He will hope to repeat his try-scoring exploits at JWC 2011 when he grabbed a hat-trick against Ireland and another two tries in the fifth place play-off win over Fiji.
BILLY VUNIPOLA (ENGLAND)
A late addition to the England squad after injury ruled out the experienced Matt Kvesic, powerfully built Vunipola has not yet played for the Under 20s but has worn the Red Rose at Under 18 level. The son of former Tongan international Fe’ao, his older brother, prop Mako, played in the two previous Junior World Championship and picked up a runners-up medal in Italy in 2011.
MILFORD KERESOMA (NEW ZEALAND)
A powerfully built wing in the mould of former Baby Black Julian Savea, who was named the IRB Junior Player of the Year after scoring a record-equalling eight tries at JWC 2010 and made the All Blacks squad over the weekend. Big things are expected of Keresoma, the Auckland flyer who has not had too many opportunities to impress back home so will therefore be keen to show what he can do on the world stage as New Zealand seek a fifth successive JWC title.
CHRIS FEAUAI-SAUTIA (AUSTRALIA)
The joint most capped Australian Schoolboy in history with 11 appearances, surpassing the previous marks of former JWC stars and now Wallabies Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale. Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, the whippy wing made his Super Rugby debut for the Queensland Reds against the Lions last month, marking the occasion with a try with virtually his first touch of the ball.
FELIPE EZCURRA (ARGENTINA)
A player already familiar with South Africa having toured with the Pumitas in April for a three-match series against their Junior Boks counterparts. The scrum half plays for the Hindu club in Argentina and his partnership with captain Sebastián Poet will be a key factor in how Argentina perform in the Junior World Championship.
SEVANAI GALALA (FIJI)
The only professional player in the Fiji Under 20 squad for Junior World Championship 2012, Galala plays for CA Brive-Correze in France and has made two appearances in the Top 14 this season. His family were recently affected by the floods in Fiji and the centre cum wing will be eager to give Fijian fans something to cheer about as they seek to match last year’s best ever finish of sixth.
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