Only days after the pools, match schedule and venues for IRB Junior World Championship 2013 in France were announced, a whole host of players who have graced this stage were in action in the first weekend of November internationals in Europe and South America.
More than 180 players have graduated from the Junior World Championship to the Test arena since Alatasi Tupou became the first in September 2008, including 75 alone in 2012 after another nine players made their debut last weekend.
These nine were Samoa’s Ropeti Lafo, Tommaso Iannone of Italy, England forwards Mako Vunipola and Joe Launchbury, Fijian Manasa Saulo, Iain Henderson of Ireland, France’s Sebastien Vahaamahina, Henry Pyrgos of Scotland and New Zealand’s Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Sixty-three players who have already trodden this path from JWC to Test rugby also took to the field last weekend with four others – along with another potential new graduate – unused replacements in a packed schedule of international rugby.
All 17 countries to have played on the JWC stage fielded graduates with Australia fielding the most – eight – in their 33-6 loss to France, even with the three most capped JWC graduates injured in David Pocock, Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
Better return than Lomu
Among their graduates in action at the Stade de France was flanker Liam Gill, who made his debut in The Rugby Championship only two months after captaining Australia’s Under 20s at JWC 2012 in South Africa.
However, Gill is no longer the only player from the 2012 edition to join the graduate ranks with Henderson and Lafo, Samoa’s captain, having followed in his footsteps with their debuts against South Africa and Canada respectively.
Wales fielded the next highest number of graduates with seven, including captain Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny, the latter scoring all his side’s points in their 26-12 loss to Argentina to need just six points to reach 200 in Test rugby.
Halfpenny is also the leading try-scorer among JWC graduates with 11 in his 36 Tests, but he might not hold onto that for long given Julian Savea’s impressive record of eight tries in his six Tests for the All Blacks.
Savea, the IRB Junior Player of the Year in 2010 after scoring eight tries as the Baby Blacks won a third successive JWC title, crossed twice in New Zealand’s win over Scotland and now boasts more tries after his first six Tests than Jonah Lomu and Doug Howlett.
Charlie Sharples also grabbed a brace of tries in England’s win over Fiji at Twickenham, while Canada’s Connor Braid, Nikola Matawalu of Fiji and Uruguay pair Gaston Mieres and Rodrigo Martinez also crossed the try-line last weekend.
They were left in the shade, though, by another player Samoan wing Robert Lilomaiava who marked his Test debut with four tries in a 42-12 rout of Canada in the IRB International Rugby Series in Colwyn Bay.
While classed as a Junior World Rugby Trophy graduate having scored nine tries in Samoa’s title-winning campaign in 2011, Sevens star Lilomaiava played at JWC 2012 in South Africa and scored three tries as the Samoans finished 10th on their return.
Lilomaiava was one of seven new JWRT graduates last weekend with Zach Fenoglio of the USA, Romania’s Petru Tamba, Johan Tromp of Namibia, Zimbabwe duo Biselele Tshamala and Danny Robertson and Uruguay’s Rodrigo Silva all making their Test debuts.
Tromp was also a try scorer – in Namibia’s 37-33 win over Zimbabwe – as was Madalin Lemnaru in Romania’s loss to Japan, the latter being one of 18 existing JWRT graduates in Test action last weekend.
Big boots to fill
Uruguay comfortably fielded the most JWRT graduates with 10 – including debutant Silva – with Russia, Canada, USA, Romania, Namibia and Zimbabwe also having at least one among their players to take to the pitch.
This weekend there are 40 existing JWC graduates and a new one in Canada’s Harry Jones named in starting line-ups with another 22 existing and three potential new ones named on the bench.
New Zealand boast the most with six graduates in their much-changed starting XV to face Italy with Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden given the daunting tasks of filling the shirts of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, while coach Steve Hansen has selected another two on the bench.
With some squads still to announce the number of JWRT graduates in starting line-ups currently stands at five with another four named as replacements along with two potential new graduates for Russia in Yuri Vengerov and Ramil Gaysin.
Only time will tell which graduates will steal the limelight this weekend, but visit our Junior World Rugby Facebook page to make your predictions.