2016 World Rugby U20 Championship preview
The 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship kicks-off on Tuesday in Manchester, with New Zealand looking to retain their title and hosts England hoping to improve upon their runners-up finish last time out.
The Championship brings together the best young talent from across the globe and during the 18 days of competition, new stars will emerge onto the world stage and look to impress senior selectors. The competition will be broadcast to 111 countries.
The reigning champions New Zealand are joined by Wales, Ireland and Georgia. The Kiwis won their fifth title last year when they beat England, 21-16, in a tight final in Cremona, Italy.
Only two players return this year from that squad, but New Zealand will be able to lean on the experience of flanker Mitchell Jacobson, who will take part in his third U20 World Championship.
Georgia qualified by winning the U20s trophy last year and the Junior Lelos start in the most difficult manner possible by facing New Zealand. Scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze will captain the side and his experience, playing in last year’s senior Rugby World Cup, will be vital.
Following their U20 Six Nations Grand Slam title, Wales should be confident of also challenging. Their one player that particularly excelled in that tournament was Newport’s Harrison Keddie, whose physicality and leadership are expected to come to the fore over the coming fortnight.
Meanwhile, Ireland head coach Nigel Carolan has his work cut out this year. Irish U20 sides had been gradually improving over the last few years but they were brought back down to earth with a bump in this year’s U20 Six Nations, disappointing in the competition, despite a morale-boosting victory over England.
The pool consists of hosts England, a much-improved Australia, an experienced Scotland and the relegation-wary Italy.
It’s been a miserable season for England, who finished fifth in the U20 Six Nations, their worst ever campaign at this level and only managed a solitary victory against Italy.
Australia boast a number of players with Super Rugby experience including Lukhan Tui, James Tuttle and Sione Tuipulotu.
The victories that Scotland recorded over England and Italy in the Six Nations will provide them confidence while Italy will enter the competition nervously after avoiding relegation on the final day of the last two Championships.
Argentina, France, Japan and South Africa make up the final pool in the competition.
The Junior Springboks start their tournament against Japan and will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself at age-grade level.
With six members of the sevens side that won silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 the expectation is that Argentina will follow the example of their senior men and deliver high tempo attacking rugby.
Meanwhile, France haven’t won an age grade title for 10 years and in 2016 Olivier Magne wants this to change.