Captains eager to do their country proud

(IRB.COM) Friday 4 April 2014
 
 Captains eager to do their country proud
The captains pose with the trophy at the Che Kung Temple in Hong Kong ahead of JWRT - Photo: 2014 Power Sport Images

With only days to go until the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2014 kicks off in Hong Kong, the captains of the eight participating teams came together on Friday for the official photo and were united in their desire to do their country proud.

The tournament is being held in Asia for the first time and hosts Hong Kong are eager to make their mark in their first appearance in the Under 20 tournament, the winner of which will be promoted to the IRB Junior World Championship 2015 in Italy.

“We are very excited as it is a huge opportunity for Hong Kong to show our rugby to the world and for us to see where we stand on the world stage,” admitted captain Mike Parfitt, who side will begin their campaign against 2012 champions USA on Monday.

 “It’s the first time that we have really been in this competition at this level and we are quite keen to make our mark. We enter this tournament as hosts with nothing to lose really, but everything to gain. We know that we don’t have the same pressure as other teams and also I think one of our big advantages is knowing the local conditions.”

While Hong Kong may be newcomers, the same cannot be said of the other Asian side in the 2014 edition with Japan having three times fallen at the final hurdle in their bid to return to the Junior World Championship stage they last graced in 2009.

Japan finished runners-up three years in a row – to Italy (2010), Samoa (2011) and USA (2012) – and captain and fly half Rikiya Matsuda is very clear on the style his team want to play when they face 2008 Trophy winners Uruguay in their first Pool B match.

“Our build-up was quite intense, we went to the Gold Coast in Australia for a month where we played the Fiji Academy, Western Force Academy and Queensland Reds Academy teams which was a great experience for us entering the JWRT,” he explained.

“I think we have a very skilful side top to bottom and we want to play a game that reflects Japanese characteristics of our rugby, a good attacking mindset and very quick nimble players.”

Desire to better 2013 result

Uruguay, though, are equally determined to perform well at the Hong Kong Football Club and improve on their seventh place finish in Chile last year with captain Manuel Castro confident that the players are already benefitting from the country’s new high performance centre.

“We are much looking forward to this JWRT. I don’t think we performed to our own expectations last year in Chile. We played acceptably well, but we know that we can do more and hopefully we will show that in Hong Kong,” said Castro.

Japan and Uruguay are joined in Pool B by Canada, runners-up last year to Italy, and Namibia. The Canadians have prepared for the tournament with a three-match tour of England which captain Connor Hamilton admits was “a very good experience” despite losing two of the three matches.

“We have a lot of older guys on the team with about 10 or 11 players returning from last year so we are confident and focusing on taking it one match at a time,” the second row explained.

Namibia captain Awie Thompson has already played Test rugby for his country, but is relishing the opportunity to play at the Junior World Rugby Trophy and insists his team will never give up as they bid to better their eighth place finish of 2013.

“We are excited to be here. I haven’t played in a JWRT so it is a great chance to see some very skilful and professional rugby at our age grade. I think it is a big opportunity for Namibia to show our strength on the world stage,” said Thompson, who played for Namibia in their RWC 2015 qualifiers against Senegal and Tunisia last year.

“We call ourselves the Biltong Boertjies, which reflects our attitude as a team to never give up, never say die. We are all very committed to performing well this week in Hong Kong.”

Evenly matched competition

The USA are top seeds for the tournament, having been relegated back to the Trophy after finishing bottom of the IRB Junior World Championship in France last year, and captain Ollie Drew knows the challenge awaiting them in Hong Kong as they look to claim a second title in three years.

“It was a great experience for the USA to be in the Junior World Championship last year and we are definitely targeting a return next season, but we know that there will be a lot of work for us to get through before we can think about that.”

The other match on the opening day sees Georgia take on Tonga. Georgia return to the Trophy after missing out on qualification for the 2013 event to Portugal, and captain Saba Shubitidze knows the competition can only benefit their development.

“It is a very strong competition and quiet evenly matched. I think most teams have a 50/50 chance of winning their games on any day. Very strong opposition like that will be good for us to play against,” he said.

“Most of the squad have been playing together at Under 17 and Under 18s level so we are very familiar with each other and that should be an advantage.”

Tonga captain Moses Latu was part of the side that finished fifth in last year’s Trophy and is hoping to put that experience, as well as that gained from his time in England with the Saracens Academy, to good use.

“I am excited to be here and to lead Tonga for the first time. I have now been at the Academy in Saracens for about a year and that has helped me develop my personal skills. I think that I can share some of that leadership and discipline with the rest of the team during the tournament.”