By Frankie Deges
As we approach the final round of matches this Sunday, the sixth IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy has been another successful tournament and a wonderful advertisement for the state of Rugby around the world at this age level.
For those who travelled to southern Chile, this JWRT might well be remembered for the fact that the sun was seldom seen and the rain a constant feature. What players and management will also recall is the positive engagement of local support and the high standards of a tournament that surprised everybody in so many ways.
The road taken to reach this tournament in Temuco was full of challenges and hard work. The growth of the JWRT has been impressive and is based on the way teams prepare and perform. It is now a major stepping stone and a crucial element in the development of a young player.
“It has been a positive pathway for all involved: players, staff and officials,” says Philippe Bourdarias, IRB General Manager Fifteens. “We’ve come a long way since our first Trophy in Santiago, Chile, in 2008.”
Although the format of this tournament has not changed since those early days – eight teams divided in two pools of four – the standard has risen considerably.
JWRT is more competitive than ever
“Back then, the IRB Junior World Championship had 16 teams and the JWRT was, as still is, selected from the regions. Having reduced the JWC to 12 teams after 2009, the eight competing teams in the trophy are more competitive,” said Bourdarias.
As with other IRB tournaments, the pathway provided is effectively a step in the right direction. From the previous five JWRTs, we have seen more than 130 players go on to play in full internationals. Experience tells us that, sooner rather than later, many of this current crop in Temuco will be seen in the highest level.
Tournament Director and IRB Regional Development Manager for South America Santiago Ramallo acknowledges the strength of participating teams.
“Every team in Temuco has come with a solid build-up and preparation. The standard is certainly rising every year and in terms of organisation, the bar has been raised for other host cities to follow,” said Ramallo.
Standards of play continues to rise
The strength of the teams has been continuously growing with every tournament. Back in 2008, champions Uruguay beat Chile in a hard-fought final of a tournament that included Georgia, Romania, Namibia, Korea, the Cook Islands and Jamaica.
A year later, in Nairobi, Kenya, Romania jumped from fourth to first, beating the USA in the final, Chile dropped a place to third, with Kenya, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Korea and Cayman Islands completing the line-up of teams. In those first two seasons, Jamaica and Cayman Islands struggled with the opposition and conceded large scores.
With a reduced JWC, the strength of the teams grew and Italy was superior to the rest, beating Japan in the final played in Moscow. Russia finished third at home, followed by Romania, Uruguay, Canada, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea, who struggled with the standard of the tournament.
Nations reconvened a year later in Tbilisi, Georgia, where Samoa beat the previous year’s finalists Japan in what was an incredible finish. The Georgians beat Uruguay to third place, with Canada, Russia, USA and Zimbabwe completing the eight-team JWRT. Then last year in Salt Lake City, USA became the first to win on home soil, when they beat Japan, again narrowly, in the thrilling final to claim a spot in the JWC. Tonga, Georgia, Chile, Canada, Zimbabwe and Russia were the other participating nations.
Everything was set to travel to the north of Chile when issues outside the IRB’s control forced the tournament to change direction and move south instead. Within 20-days and thanks to the tireless efforts of the local municipality and the Chilean Federation under local tournament director Dalivor Franulic managed to put together a tournament that will be seen as a seminal time in the JWRT’s history.
Canada and Italy will contest the final
“I went to Chile’s three previous trophy performances in 2008, 2009 and last year and this year’s is right up there in terms of team services and the standard of Rugby on display,” said Franulic. “The feedback we’ve so far had from teams is all positive. And fans are loving what they are seeing, either experts or novices to the game.”
The JWRT is still four games away from completion. The final between Italy and Canada next Sunday at 17:00 local time, will be the 96th match in the tournament’s history.
With the home side scheduled to play the third/fourth-place playoff, organisers are expecting a minimum of 10,000 spectators who will then stay for the final.
“These figures are proof of the success of this sixth JWRT and will provide a tangible Rugby legacy that will stay with the city and the entire region,” concluded Ramallo.
By Frankie Deges