World Rugby U20 Championship 2012 revisited: Hosts reign supreme
We take a look back at the last U20 Championship to be held in South Africa, in which the Junior Springboks recovered from a losing start to win the title.
Since the last edition of the World Rugby U20 Championship was held in Argentina in 2019, a whole tranche of players from that tournament have been capped, 61 to be precise.
The U20 Championship is a proven springboard for the next generation of stars to kick on in their careers and that tournament was no different with a number of players, despite the challenges of COVID-19, translating their potential as youngsters to the senior stage in the years that followed.
The team we have chosen has 187 caps between them with 11 different countries represented.
🇮🇹 Ange Capuozzo scores two tries to help Italy claim a first win against Australia.— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) November 21, 2022
Eight days later, the 23-year-old is named World Rugby Men’s 15s Breakthrough Player of the Year ✨#WorldRugbyAwards pic.twitter.com/gzsxGovoru
Starting at full-back, Ange Capuozzo is arguably the player to have made the biggest impression. The Azzurrini may not have lit up the 2019 tournament as a team, finishing ninth, but anyone watching them was left in no doubt of the talent of Capuozzo. The Toulouse player appeared in all five games, scoring twice, against England and Georgia, and has since taken the test arena by storm, winning 10 caps.
Named World Rugby Men’s 15s Breakthrough Player of the Year 2022, Capuozzo has scored six tries but is perhaps best known for his breathtaking assist from deep that set up Italy’s historic, last-minute win over Wales in the last round of the 2022 Six Nations. A throwback to the amateur era in terms of his slight build, Capuozzo is as brave as they come and a devastating runner when given an inch of space.
Completing the back three, we have gone for Argentina’s Mateo Carreras on one wing and French flyer Ethan Dumortier on the other. Carreras played in both the 2018 and 2019 editions for Los Pumitas, scoring four tries in 10 starts. Having been named on the bench twice against Australia in 2021, Carreras has started five tests and has tries against France and Ireland to his name.
In club rugby, Carreras has scored all manner of worldly tries for Newcastle and his total of 13 tries in the English Premiership season just gone placed him second in the overall top finishers chart.
Like Carreras, Lyon’s Dumortier was the second-highest try-scorer in his domestic league, scoring 11 tries in the French Top 14. Dumortier’s knack of being in the right place at the right time was evident in the opening round of this year’s Six Nations when he collected Romain Ntamack’s crossfield kick on the full to score on debut against Italy. Dumortier kept his starting spot, thereafter, adding another try against Scotland, and will take some shifting from Les Bleus’ number 11 jersey.
Our midfield is an all-European duo, with Georgia’s Demur Tapladze paired up with Cameron Redpath. Strong in defence and attack, Tapladze played in both the 2018 and 2019 U20 Championships and captained the Junior Lelos against Scotland in the latter.
His influence did not go unnoticed by the senior Georgia management and he made his test debut, still only 19 years of age, against Belgium in the 2020 Rugby Europe Championship. Tapladze already has 24 caps as Lelos captain’s Merab Sharikadze’s trusted midfield partner.
Born in France and schooled and raised in England by a Scot, Redpath had the pick of three countries. An elegant runner and footballer, Redpath appeared at the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 for England but chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and represent Scotland at test level.
The Bath centre enjoyed a fine test debut, against his former age-group team-mate Ollie Lawrence, in Scotland’s famous 11-6 Calcutta Cup win against England at Twickenham in 2021, but injuries stymied his progress from that point onwards and he has faced a fight to get back in Gregor Townsend’s starting team. Redpath only has five caps to his father Bryan’s 60 but if he manages to stay fit, the 23-year-old has plenty of time, and the ability, to catch up.
As for the half-backs, we were spoilt for choice with the likes of Tedo Abzhandadze and Louis Carbonel unlucky to miss out. Instead, we have gone for a South African/Italian 9-10 combination in Jaden Hendrikse and Paolo Garbisi.
Composed and collected, Garbisi has shown he has the temperament and talent to be one of the best 10s in world rugby. Garbisi scored tries against England and Scotland in amassing 29 points at the U20 Championship in 2019 but had to wait 15 months before getting his chance with the Azzurri. It is fair to say he has taken that opportunity with both hands.
From scoring a try on his debut against Ireland in a delayed 2020 Six Nations match, Garbisi has never looked out of place and is the classy operator at 10 that Italy have been crying out for since Diego Dominguez retired all those years ago. He has 24 caps with the prospect of many more to come, perhaps in the future alongside younger brother Alessandro.
Hendrikse has started seven of the Springboks’ last 12 tests and been named on the bench in two of the others so has clearly been earmarked as Faf de Klerk’s long-term replacement as South Africa’s first-choice scrum-half.
A goal-kicking nine, Hendrikse scored a brace on his U20 Championship debut against Scotland in 2019 and added nine points with the boot for a personal haul of 19 points. He doubled that tally in the remaining four games in Argentina.
Hendrikse missed the last part of the Sharks’ season due to an injured shoulder that required surgery and the Springbok management will be hoping for a speedy recovery as he is a key part of their Rugby World Cup plans.
Hollie Davidson will become the first female referee to officiate in the World Rugby U20s Championship 🏉#WorldRugbyU20s— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 13, 2023
Upfront, our front row of Angus Bell, Ewan Ashman and Joe Heyes makes for an impressive-looking trio.
NSW Waratahs player Bell started each of the Junior Wallabies’ five games at the U20 Championship as a 19-year-old and is another who has racked up a significant number of caps (20) in no time whatsoever. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old has been struggling with different foot injuries in the last year but he is on the comeback trail and will almost certainly feature at Rugby World Cup 2023 if fit to do so.
Prolific try-scoring hooker Ashman was one of the few shining lights for Scotland in their relegation campaign in 2019. Almost impossible to stop from the back of a rolling maul, he was the tournament’s top try-scorer with seven. And his nose for the try-line continued at test level with a try on debut against Australia in November 2021 before bagging a brace the following July against Argentina. A move north of the border from Sale Sharks to Edinburgh, on a four-year deal. will only increase the chances of him adding to his seven caps, the most recent coming against Italy in this year’s Six Nations.
England’s sole representative comes at tight-head in the sizeable form of Joe Heyes. A veteran of two U20 Championships, Heyes scored in his final outing for England U20s against Wales in Rosario. The first of six caps came just under two years later, by which time he had established himself as an anchor of the Leicester Tigers scrum. More of an old-school tight-head than Kyle Sinckler, Heyes’ progress has given England head coach Steve Borthwick two very different but quality options at number three.
Ryan Baird and Tupou Vaa'i team up in the engine room to provide a heady cocktail of physical presence and pace.
A supremely gifted and athletic loose forward, Ireland’s Baird started in both the second and back row in Argentina in 2019. Blessed with speed and stamina, the Dubliner properly announced his arrival in senior rugby for Leinster in 2020 with a hat-trick against Glasgow and just seems to get better and better no matter what number jersey he has on. Primarily used off the bench by Ireland in his 11 caps to date but there appear to be no limits to what Baird can achieve.
Alongside him, we have chosen New Zealand’s sole representative. A big, physical presence, Vaa'i is another player equally comfortable in either the second or the back row and is one of the few success stories to come out of the class of 2019, who finished in an all-time low position of seventh. He has won 18 caps since his All Blacks debut in 2020.
This brings us to the back row and a triumvirate that ticks all the boxes. Juan Martín González excelled in Los Pumitas’ run to the semi-finals in 2019 and has continued to shine since stepping up to senior international rugby.
The irrepressible flanker, who has the pace of a winger, was a standout performer for Los Pumas during the 2022 Rugby Championship, scoring a never-to-be-forgotten try in the ground-breaking win over the All Blacks in New Zealand. It was one of four he scored in that tournament, on top of making a mountain of tackles and line breaks. Already has 20 caps, 14 of them as starts.
Packing down on the other flank is breakdown specialist Tommy Reffell, who played for Wales at both the 2018 and 2019 U20 Championships. Breaking into the senior Wales back row is no mean feat given their quality of resources there, but Reffell’s ability to win turnover after turnover meant he couldn’t be passed over forever and a first cap arrived against South Africa in July 2022, where he thrived in the most hostile of environments. To date, he has made nine test appearances.
Keeping Reffell company at the back of the pack is former age-grade team-mate and U20 captain, Jac Morgan. Another turnover specialist, Morgan has won the majority of his nine Wales caps as a blindside, scoring try doubles against Georgia and Australia, but he did feature at number eight in this year’s Six Nations defeat to Scotland. He is currently sidelined with an ankle injury.
The World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 Graduate Dream Team: Ange Capuozzo (Italy, 10 caps); Mateo Carreras (Argentina, 7 caps), Demur Tapladze (Georgia, 24 caps), Cameron Redpath (Scotland, 5 caps), Ethan Dumortier (France, 5 caps); Paolo Garbisi (Italy, 24 caps), Jaden Hendrikse (South Africa,12 caps); Angus Bell (Australia, 20 caps), Ewan Ashman (Scotland, 7 caps), Joe Heyes (England, 6 caps), Ryan Baird (Ireland, 11 caps), Tupou Vaa'i (New Zealand, 18 caps), Juan Martín González (Argentina, 20 caps), Tommy Reffell (Wales, 9 caps), Jac Morgan (Wales, 9 caps).