Oceania's place at JWRT 2010 up for grabs

(IRB.COM) Friday 4 September 2009
 Oceania's place at JWRT 2010 up for grabs
PNG proved too strong for Vanuatu in 2008 - Photo: Bruce Southwick/Zoomfiji

The Oceania Under 19 Championship draws to a close this weekend with the hosts Samoa's encounter with Fiji undoubtedly the highlight of the final day at Apia Park in a competition which has captured the imaginations of the local communities.

However while Samoa and Fiji will be looking to end on a high, the match between Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu is equally important with the winner qualifying for the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2010 as Oceania's representatives.

Papua New Guinea ran out convincing 84-0 winners when the nations met in last year's Oceania Under 19 Championship, and went on to delight fans at the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Kenya with their 'run everything' game plan, scoring some memorable tries along the way to finishing sixth overall on their tournament debut.

The encounter will be Papua New Guinea's first appearance in the tournament, so Vanuatu will be hoping to catch their more experienced opponents cold having already played one match in Samoa, albeit an 89-3 loss to the IRB Junior World Championship bound Fiji.

"I think the game between Vanuatu and PNG will be a competitive game," Michael Groom, the IRB's Operations Manager for Oceania, told Total Rugby. "However PNG usually are the team to beat at this level with those other nations like Vanuatu, Tahiti and New Caledonia.

A good development gauge

"We are expecting it will be a strong contest. It will be their first game and it might be any opportunity for Vanuatu to capitalise on already having had a game in the tournament."

The opportunity for the likes of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to play in a tournament featuring the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga is something not lost on Groom in terms of their future development.

"The qualifying (for the Junior World Rugby Trophy) is the main purpose of the tournament, but is also an opportunity for the smaller Unions to pit themselves against the stronger Unions and see where they are at in their stage of development in the game as well as participate in a tournament that is played in a good atmosphere and in the right spirit.

"Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are the big guns of the tournament if you like and teams like Vanuatu and PNG get an opportunity to play these teams and pit themselves against that level which they would not normally have an opportunity to do.

"We saw Vanuatu play Fiji and they realised they could get a good gauge of where they are at, where their rugby is at and where their skill levels are at against a team like Fiji who regularly compete in high level competitions in their own countries and the Junior World Championship."

Quest for Asian honours begins

The Oceania Under 19 Championship is not the only Age Grade competition taking place this weekend as Hong Kong's Under 20s will be hoping to make the most of home advantage when they host the Olympus Capital Asian Rugby Junior Championship.

Defending champions Korea - who beat Hong Kong 19-11 in last year's final to represent Asia at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2008 - are the top seeds with Sri Lanka, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and Malaysia also taking part in the Championship which kicks off on Saturday at the Hong Kong Football Club.

Korea, who finished seventh in that Junior World Rugby Trophy in Kenya back in April having lost to Papua New Guinea in the pool stages, are the top seeds and as such have a bye into the semi finals on Wednesday when they will face Thailand or Chinese Taipei.

Ed Rolston will captain Hong Kong when they take on seventh seeds Malaysia on Saturday looking for a victory which will see them line up against either Sri Lanka or Singapore in the other semi final.

The tournament concludes on Saturday 12 September, although this year's winner will not gain entry to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2010 as Japan, relegated from this year's Junior World Championship, have been confirmed as Asia's representatives for this event.

"ARFU (Asian Rugby Football Union) is delighted to be returning to Hong Kong for the hosting of the U20 Asian Junior Rugby Championship. This competition is a showcase for the future stars of Asian rugby and we know that the crowds will strongly support the event," said Ross Mitchell, ARFU Honorary Secretary General.

"In the past year, we have been greatly encouraged at the noticeable increase in Asian Rugby Unions wanting to participate at U20 level. As a result, we shall once again be holding two divisional championships this year, with a further eight teams expressing their desire to play in the Division 2 tournament in Manila this November.
"Our long-term goal is to institute a promotion and relegation mechanism between the two Divisions in Asia, providing even further competition at this level."