Teams hungry for success at JWRT 2014

(IRB.COM) Thursday 3 April 2014
 
 Teams hungry for success at JWRT 2014
USA won the Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2012, beating Japan in the final

USA, Canada and Japan will be gunning for glory when the future stars of world Rugby take to the pitch next week in Hong Kong for the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2014. 

The tournament, which runs from 7-19 April, will be staged in Asia for the first time when it kicks off at the Hong Kong Football Club on Monday with Canada, Georgia, Japan, Namibia, Tonga, United States, Hong Kong and Uruguay competing in the seventh playing of the event. 

The winners will be promoted to the IRB Junior World Championship 2015 in Italy.

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North American rivals USA and Canada are the top seeds in the Under 20 tournament and top Pool A and B respectively. The USA will be favourites to repeat their 2012 title, the reward for which was promotion to the Junior World Championship 2013 in France.

They were relegated back to the Trophy after losing the relegation play-off to Fiji, but this means they’ll go into this competition as number one seeds and strongly fancied to make an immediate return to the top tier.

Young team for USA

“We hope to win our pool matches and qualify for the final. We have a young team with 50 per cent of the squad eligible to return next year,” USA coach Billy Millard said. 

“There are no official Under 20 age level leagues or competitions in the USA. So most USA Under 20 eligible players are first year university students with a sprinkling of second year university students and high school players. Most of the USA Under 20 squad has come through the USA age-grade system (Under 17, Under 18).”

Canada reached the final for the first time in 2013, losing the title decider to Italy in Chile, and will have 10 players returning from that team as they look to go one better in Hong Kong.

Justin Douglas on the wing is a regular starter for the Canada Sevens team, while Djustice Sears-Duru is a prop who has already been capped for Canada at senior level, and Matt Mullins is a powerful running number 8.

“We are obviously hoping to win, but to do that we are aware we must win every game against quality opposition,” Canada head coach Mike Shelley said.

Fourth time lucky for Japan?

“Under 20 rugby has improved over the last couple of years, coinciding with the development of our Centre of Excellence in Victoria, British Columbia. This is our national training base and has allowed serious players the opportunity to relocate in order to spend more time training together.”

Asia’s best hopes of victory lie with Japan. They are the tournament third seeds and one of the most accomplished teams in JWRT history, having reached the final three times (2010-2012). Japan qualified for their fifth JWRT after an emphatic win at the Asian Under 19 Championship in Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei, the team scoring an impressive 216 points and conceding just 14.

“Last year we finished third in the tournament but we want to win it this time,” insisted Japan coach Keisuke Sawaki. “There will be a few players taking part from last year’s team, not many. But they all have the potential to play at a higher national level or in our professional league.” 

JWRT 2008 winners Uruguay will represent South America in Hong Kong after beating Chile 25-7 in the regional (CONSUR) Junior A Championship last September. While Georgia were the final regional qualifiers after beating Belgium 32-6 in the European Under 19 Championship final last November.

Although less-fancied, Namibia and hosts Hong Kong are determined to put in a good account of themselves and maybe even pull off a shock or two. 

Hosts not bothered by underdog tag

Namibia qualified after beating Kenya 51-8 in the final of the CAR Championship in South Africa last September, and while coach Jan Dames has to overcome the absence of a domestic league for this age group and difficulties bringing players together for training, he remains positive.

“Many of our Under 18 players go to South African universities for study. The players who stay in Namibia fall in with the national squad for practice and development,” he explained. 

“From our present Under 20 squad, flanker Janko Venter, fly half Chris Arries and prop Louis van der Westhuizen all represented the Namibia national team last year. We’ll also have 11 players from last year’s team playing.”

The home side, playing in the Trophy for the first time, will be looking to the likes of back row Chris Maize and flanker Raef Morrison for inspiration. The talented duo were involved with Hong Kong’s senior squad at the recent Zimbabwe Sevens, with Morrison making an impressive debut at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens last weekend. 

“We’ll be going in as underdogs for every game but we’ll be looking to be very competitive, if not get the win. I’ve a lot of confidence in the personnel that we have,” Hong Kong coach Pale Tauti said.