Brodie Retallick the poster child for U20s graduation
With the World Rugby U20 Trophy just finished and its sister event the Championship to kick-off in Italy next week we take a look at some of the players to have graduates from them both to the test arena.
Since the World Rugby U20 Trophy and Championship began in 2008, almost 550 players have graduated from the tournaments to represent some 30 countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe on the test stage.
Those graduates boast Rugby World Cup 2011 winners, Six Nations and Rugby Championship winners, British and Irish Lions series winners and Super Rugby winners among them.
Not forgetting that the World Rugby Player of the Year in 2014 was Brodie Retallick, a U20 Championship winner with New Zealand in 2011 – a squad that also included the likes of Sam Cane and Beauden Barrett.
That year Sam Whitelock, Zac Guildford and Aaron Cruden – one of five of the seven Junior Player of the Years to have since graduated to test rugby – helped New Zealand end a 24-year wait for a second Rugby World Cup success.
Forty-nine players who had previously graced the U20 Championship – including Jean-Marc Doussain who made his test debut for France in the RWC 2011 final – and 10 from the U20 Trophy played at Rugby World Cup 2011.
YOUNGEST EVER RWC PLAYER?
That figure will be substantially higher at England 2015 later this year given that 22 players with U20 Championship experience were named by Stuart Lancaster in the hosts’ training squad earlier this week, including 2014 winning captain Maro Itoje.
Throw in another 14 in France’s 36-man squad and the future stars of rugby genuinely will be on show at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Italy from 2-20 June.
Just as they have been over the last 12 days in Portugal where the World Rugby U20 Trophy finished on Sunday with Georgia winning a first title after impressively beating Canada 49-24 in the final.
As a result the Junior Lelos have been promoted to the U20 Championship for 2016 – a level they have never played at.
One star among their ranks – who already has five test caps to his name despite the fact he doesn’t turn 18 until 14 October – is Vasil Lobzhanidze. Will the scrum-half become the youngest player in Rugby World Cup history in a few months’ time?
Few, though, will be able to match the fast-track elevation of Handré Pollard, who went from captaining South Africa’s U20s in the 2014 Championship final and being named World Rugby Junior Player of the Year in New Zealand to making his Springbok test debut against Scotland in Port Elizabeth just eight days.
In the years to come will a U20 graduate enjoy such a try-scoring record as 2010 Championship winner Julian Savea has so far in test rugby with 30 tries in 33 outings for the All Blacks? Such a record has already earned him favourable comparisons with All Black legend Jonah Lomu and Savea only turns 25 in August.
Thirteen players with Championship experience have already gone on to captain their country, including Sam Warburton who also led the British and Irish Lions to victory in Australia in 2013 – their first series success in 16 years.
Will Warburton or Australia captain Michael Hooper get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup at Twickenham on 31 October? Will Japan captain Michael Leitch lead the Braves Blossoms to a first Rugby World Cup win since 1991 and only second overall?
Who will be the first U20 graduate to reach a century of test caps? That question could be answered in a couple of years with Leigh Halfpenny and James Slipper already boasting 63 tests and Whitelock only one fewer.
SUCCESS ON THE SEVENS STAGE
Only time will tell but it is not only on the test stage that players with World Rugby U20 Championship and Trophy experience are making a name for themselves, a raft of players who have appeared in those tournaments have also shone on the HSBC Sevens World Series recently.
Former Junior Springbok flyer Seabelo Senatla, who was top try-scorer in the 2013 edition of the Championship in France, was the top try-scorer on the World Series in 2014-15 with 47 across the nine rounds to help South Africa qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Senatla’s performances on the series have seen him named as one of three nominees for the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award in association with HSBC, the winner of which will be announced at the World Rugby Awards function in London on 1 November.
Another former U20 player grabbing the headlines in London last weekend was USA Sevens captain Madison Hughes after he led them to a first ever World Series title with victory over Australia at Twickenham.
Hughes played in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the World Rugby U20 Trophy, helping the USA to win the title on home soil in the latter to earn promotion back to the elite Championship the following year.
Did you know ...?
The first U20 Championship player to graduate to the test arena was Samoa's Alatasi Tupou in September 2008, three months after U20 Trophy graduate Diego Magno made his debut for Uruguay
Leigh Halfpenny has 531 test points to his name already for Wales and the British and Irish Lions - easily the most by a U20 graduate
The country with the most U20 Championship graduates is Argentina, who boast 53 to date includes likes of Nicolás Sánchez and Pablo Matera
Australia's graduates - who include David Pocock, Quade Cooper and Michael Hooper - though boast the most test caps between them with 579 to date
U20 Trophy graduate Felipe Berchesi kicked 42 of Uruguay's points in their 57-49 win over Russia in the repechage to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015. In fact only five of Uruguay's points in those two matches weren't scored by graduates
Thirty-one players to have won a U20 Championship title have since gone on to make their test debuts, along with 33 from the U20 Trophy