Argentina are set to stage a spectacular World Rugby U20 Championship as the future stars of international rugby get set to showcase their talent at the world’s premier age-grade competition from 4 -22 June.
Taking place over three weeks, the U20 Championship is a central part of World Rugby’s elite player pathways and will offer an incredible window into the immense growth of the sport in South America ahead of a busy schedule for the continent, with the Nations Cup kicking off simultaneously in Uruguay and the U20 Trophy heading to Brazil a month later.
Rugby in South America has witnessed phenomenal development in recent years, with more than 680,000 people playing across the continent, while Argentina itself now boasts an impressive 121,000 registered players nationwide. Adding to the excitement, the Webb Ellis Cup will also visit the tournament as part of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Trophy Tour, an additional motivation given that half of the players involved in Japan are expected to have come through the U20 Championship since it began in 2008
After sevens took centre stage in Buenos Aires during the Youth Olympic Games last year – where Argentina claimed men’s gold with victory over France, Rosario and Santa Fe will play host to the U20 Championship. Two of the nation’s largest cities, they have both become hubs for rugby outside of the capital city and will provide a vibrant and exciting backdrop for the elite athletes on show.
And all of this follows hot on the heels of the successful Americas Rugby Championship 2019, which set new fan engagement and attendance records across a region that has also seen fan numbers rise rapidly to an incredible 198.2 million.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: "The World Rugby U20 Championship is a proven environment in developing the future stars of the sport. The list of graduates includes many of the modern greats and I am sure that this year's Championship will uncover and shine the spotlight on the next generation of test stars. Good luck to all the teams."
World Rugby Vice-Chairman Agustín Pichot said: "As a proud Argentinian, I am excited to be welcoming the future stars of international rugby to my country. As someone who knows what it feels like to be in their shoes, I know how important it is to ensure that the tournament puts players first and this one certainly does.
"For many this will be the start of their journey to Rugby World Cup 2023. For all, I hope that they take time to enjoy the experience, build friendships across teams and continue to develop the skills that will see them become not only great players, but great people."
The stars of tomorrow
As World Rugby’s premier age-grade competition, the U20 Championship provides a platform for players to mark themselves out as ones to watch in the years to come.
The tournament continues to be a rich breeding ground, with eight of the players involved in the 2018 edition in France having already gone on to make their test debuts, including Demba Bamba and Romain Ntamack of the title-winning side.
A total of 655 players have graduated from the tournament to the test arena and this year promises to be no different. Fittingly, hosts Argentina have capped the most U20 Championship graduates with 67, including Los Pumas new captain Pablo Matera and all-time leading point-scorer Nicolás Sánchez.
2018 saw the most successful U20 Championship in history, with records broken across both in-stadia attendance and the digital and social reach of the event. Nearly 100,000 fans turned out in force across the five match days, while a peak audience of 1.31 million tuned into France 4 to see Les Bleuets lift the trophy after beating England in the final.
The 2019 edition will be a special event with strong crowds anticipated, and the action set to be broadcast in more than 85 territories across the world.
What to watch out for?
The tournament will be the second to feature the ‘high tackle warning’ system, which proved resoundingly successful in 2018, reducing the incidence of concussion by more than 50 per cent.
With World Rugby committed to reducing ‘high-risk tackles’, by encouraging players to go lower when making a tackle. If a player is not bent at the waist when making a tackle, he will run the risk of a post-match high tackle warning. Any player receiving two warnings will receive a one-match ban. Read more here.
Throughout the tournament the assembled stars bring with them a plethora of intrigue and interest, particularly from within their own families. England’s Tom Willis – making his second appearance at the Championship – will be aiming to emulate his brother Jack who won the tournament in 2016, while New Zealand’s Billy Proctor will have an eye on eclipsing the achievements of his brother Matt, who lost in the U20 Championship final against South Africa in 2012.
Similarly, England’s Manu Vunipola will be drawing inspiration from his cousins Billy and Mako, U20 Championship veterans themselves, and hoping to be part of the full England squad in the very near future.
How to watch the action
Fans and media from around the world can follow the future stars of rugby through World Rugby’s digital and social channels, as well as their local and regional broadcaster, all of which can be found here: www.world.rugby/u20/where-to-watch.