By Frankie Deges in Temuco
Everything is set in the Araucanía region of Chile for what promises to be an exciting IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy that kicks off at 11:00 (local time) on Tuesday.
Eight national teams from six regions are ready to pit their strength and skills all with the ultimate goal of being crowned champions and with that the prize of promotion to next year’s IRB Junior World Championship in New Zealand.
Four venues will be used in this year’s JWRT. The Germán Becker Stadium in Temuco, with a capacity for 18,500 spectators, will host six matches including the third and fourth-place playoff and final. The Universidad de la Frontera will host four more matches with the other two venues being in the towns of Freire and Pitrufquén.
Indeed, Estadio Municipal de Freire will host the opening match between Japan and Uruguay, the first of four matches to be played in that venue while Pitrufquén will stage two games, in the third round of the tournament. The Trophy has received wide publicity in the region and organisers have the stated goal of attracting 60,000 spectators for the 16 matches.
Pre-tournament talk in Temuco, a city 650km south of Chilean capital Santiago, was focused on the chances of each team, all of which firmly believe they have it in them to win.
Italy, who last year played in the Junior World Championship, finished strongly in this year’s Under 20 6 Nations, drawing 25-25 with Ireland. They are here with the clear intension of returning to the JWC.
Important step in players' devleopment
“FIR’s (Federazione Italiana de Rugby) youth project requires the Under 20 side to be involved in the JWC, which is an extremely important step in a young international player’s development,” explained coach Gianluca Guidi.
Italy will be joined in Pool A by hosts Chile, debutants Portugal and Namibia, all with their own aspirations to lift the trophy. While Portugal qualified from the FIRA-AER tournament last year, Namibia returns to the event after missing out in the last three tournaments and Chile, playing at home, will be a tough team to beat.
“Our initial goal is to better our fifth place from last year,” said Chile second row Mario Mayol, who will be playing in his second Trophy and will still be eligible for next year’s tournament. “For that, our first game against Portugal will be crucial.”
Pool B is as competitive, with three-time finalist Japan aiming to return to the JWC stage. Their last two final losses were heart-breaking and by small margins. If they can cope with what could be a soggy tournament – rain can play a role in Temuco – then they are a team to watch.
Uruguay played Argentina in warm-up
Uruguay were the inaugural winners of the Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2008 and a week ago played a warm-up game against Argentina Under 20, in their last game before travelling to France.
“We were delighted with how competitive we were, mostly in the first half when we kept the score very tight,” said manager Ricardo Martínez. Los Teritos will face Japan in the tournament’s opening match, with Tonga and Canada the other two teams in this pool.
In similar fashion, the Canadian side in Chile recorded two warm-up wins against last year’s winner USA.
Apart from the players, the JWRT is a very important tournament in the IRB referee development programme. Officials selected this year have gone through a regional development process and referees have participated IRB Talent Optimisation Programme which the IRB holds every July in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Each region is represented amongst the JWRT’s officials.
In similar fashion, the eight teams have already participated in outreach programmes where both Keep Rugby Clean and Keep Rugby Onside programmes were refreshed to the 208 young players, some of whom will one day grace the senior international scene.
By Frankie Deges in Temuco