JWRT too close to call as standards improve

(IRB.COM) Saturday 16 June 2012
 JWRT too close to call as standards improve
Tournament Director Tom Jones speaks at the launch of the JWRT in Salt Lake City, Utah

THE USA will shortly attempt to do what no other host nation has done before and win the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy on home soil.

Since the tournament was first introduced in 2008, Chile, Kenya, Russia and Georgia have failed to make home advantage count. Inaugural hosts Chile came closest by losing in the final to Uruguay in front of an expectant crowd of nearly 7,000 fans in Santiago.

USA’s task is not an easy one, as Pool A contains pre-tournament favourites Tonga, who until this year had played only in the premier age-grace tournament, the Junior World Rugby Championships, as well as Chile and Russia. But the USA head into the tournament in good spirits with their pre-tournament preparation including back-to-back wins over Canada Under 20s.

Chile arrive in Salt Lake City buoyed by a 33-14 win over Argentina Under 19, the country’s first at any level against an Argentinean national side.

The Russians look towards German

For their part, Russia will draw inspiration from the precociously talented German Godluyk. The 19-year-old scrum half played in last year’s tournament ‘a year young’ and has already been capped at senior level in this year’s European Nations Cup by coach Kingsley Jones.

“German is a really talented kid. We gave him 20 minutes against Ukraine in the ENC at just 19, that’s how highly we rate him,” Jones said.

“James Wade (former Sale and Wasps coach) has worked with a lot of kids in his time around the academies in England and he is really excited by him. Physically he has a lot of work to do because he is only 78kgs but he has got great potential.”

Being just a three-hour flight away, the Canadians enjoy an obvious geographical advantage over their Pool B rivals, Japan, Georgia and Zimbabwe. The glamorously named, Taylor Paris, the youngest player at last year’s Rugby World Cup, is tipped as the man to watch for Canada at centre. Indeed, his talents have already been spotted in Europe as he has just signed a one-year contract with Glasgow Warriors in Scotland.

Japan want to go a step further

Japan will travel half way around the world for the second time in as many months, their appearance at JWRT 2012 comes on the back of a four-game tour to Wales and England, which produced just one win and three losses. Japan, though, have an excellent recent JWRT pedigree after finishing runners-up for the past two years.

African qualifiers Zimbabwe arrive in the States determined to do well. A 10-day training camp in France formed part of their build-up, while Wallaby Rugby World Cup legend, David Campese, has also lent his support to the Young Sables.

In terms of playing standards, CEO and President of Operations of USA Rugby Nigel Melville believes JWRT 2012 promises to be the best yet.

“Teams competing are playing at a higher level now and the gap between the Junior World Rugby Trophy and the Junior World Championship, which used to be quite wide, has definitely closed,” he said.

Hosting an IRB event is a step forward for USA Rugby

“I think Tonga will be favourites and they will certainly enjoy a lot of local support with a large Polynesian community in the area. But emerging nations such as ourselves, Russia and Canada are vying hard now.”

“There are some good players out there regardless of the fact that it is a second tier tournament. It’ll be good to showcase that talent in America and demonstrate to the kids over here that there is a lot of exciting things happening in international rugby.”

“Youth, high school, Under 20s and collegiate rugby are all very important to us in the US, so I think this tournament is a very good fit for what we are trying to achieve and how we are trying to grow the game. Hosting an IRB event is another step forward for us.”

Melville says that as competitive as the action will be on the pitch, the emphasis away from the Murray Rugby Park will be on friendship and camaraderie.

Spirit of friendship will be to the fore

“We are trying to make this tournament all about the players. They will be staying together on campus at the University of Utah so they will be able to engage and spend time with each other which is sometimes missing at international rugby tournaments. There should be a good feel about it instead of players being scattered all about town in hotels and playing at different times and in different venues.”

“All four matches in each round will be played at Murray Rugby Park, a community-based facility that has been upgraded for this tournament. It is not a huge stadium and, at US$5 a ticket, it won’t be expensive for people to come and watch. We want to create an atmosphere where everybody is engaged and develop a real camaraderie which is what rugby is all about.”

Reflecting the strong three-way collaboration between USA Rugby, the IRB and Rugby World Cup 2011 rights-holding broadcaster NBC Sports, the tournament will enjoy full coverage via www.usarugby.org with all 16 matches being streamed live.

The format will see the teams that top the two pools face each other in the final on Saturday, June 30. The winners of that game will secure the title and with it promotion to the IRB Junior World Championship 2013 in France.