Handré Pollard: From U20 Championship winner to Rugby World Cup great
We talk to the Springbok fly-half about how his experiences as a young player on the global stage helped to shape him into a world-class player.
As runners-up the last time the World Rugby U20 Championship was held in 2019, Australia go into this year’s tournament as second seeds.
However, fifth seeds England are the only team in Pool B to have lifted the U20 Championship trophy, having done so in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Joining Australia and England in Pool B are eighth seeds Ireland, who will go into the tournament full of confidence after winning the U20 Six Nations Grand Slam.
Fiji, seeded 11th, will be competing in their ninth tournament at this level having avoided relegation in 2019 thanks to an emphatic win over Scotland in the 11th place play-off.
Seeding for 2023: 2
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Runners-up (2010, 2019)
Worst finish: Eighth (2012)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 36 / Lost 24
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 1,923/ 264
U20 graduates: 74 (72 Championship, two Trophy)
Most capped U20 graduate: James Slipper (127 tests)
Did you know …? Tom Lynagh, the son of Wallaby great Michael, was a late withdrawal from the squad due to a calf injury. NSW Waratahs back Tom Morrison came in as his replacement.
Coach: Nathan Grey
Grey played 35 tests for Australia and has a Rugby World Cup winners medal from the 1999 tournament, The utility back also featured in the 2003 event. He has been head coach of the Junior Wallabies since January 2021 having been an assistant coach of the senior set-up between 2014-19.
What he said: “We are excited to represent Australia in Cape Town and test ourselves against the rest of the world. All players who have been part of the programme this year have worked extremely hard together to give our team the best opportunity for success. It will take a squad effort to deliver performances we are proud of and achieve our goal of winning the tournament.”
Captain: Teddy Wilson
One to watch: Taj Annan
Standing at 1.91m tall, the Reds inside centre is certainly imposing and was a real handful every time he touched the ball on the recent tour to New Zealand and will give the Junior Wallabies plenty of go-forward in midfield. He made his Super Rugby Pacific debut against the Fijian Drua this season.
Squad: Taj Annan (Reds), Nick Baker (Reds), Jack Barrett (Waratahs), Nick Bloomfield (Reds), Jack Bowen (Waratahs), Liam Bowron (Brumbies), John Bryant (Reds), Max Craig (Reds), Massimo De Lutiis (Brumbies), Mason Gordon (Rebels), Lachlan Hooper (Brumbies), Trevor King (Reds), Darby Lancaster (Rebels), Ronan Leahy (Force), Jhy Legg (Force), Daniel Maiava (Rebels), Ollie McCrea (Waratahs), Harry McLaughlin-Phillips (Reds), Toby McPherson (Brumbies), Tom Morrison (Waratahs), Henry O'Donnell (Waratahs), Marley Pearce (Force), Jackson Ropata (Waratahs), Tim Ryan (Reds), Ned Slack-Smith (Force,), Leafi Talataina (Rebels), Klayton Thorn (Brumbies), Harrison Usher (Reds), David Vaihu (Rebels), Teddy Wilson (Waratahs).
Seeding for 2023: 5
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Champions (2013, 2014, 2016)
Worst finish: Eighth (2012)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 47 / Lost 13
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 2,029/ 256
U20 graduates: 65
Most capped U20 graduate: Ben Youngs (124 tests – 122 England, two British and Irish Lions)
Did you know …? England reached six U20 Championship finals in a row between 2013-18, the longest sequence in the tournament’s history. They have a winning percentage of only 33.3 per cent from their nine finals though.
Coach: Mark Mapletoft
Mapletoft is no stranger to the U20 Championship having coached England at the first two tournaments in 2009 and 2010 in his role as national academy coach for the RFU. Before replacing Alan Dickens, he was assistant coach of England U18s. Prior to that, he spent more than a decade coaching Harlequins in the English Premiership. Mapletoft was capped once by his country, against Argentina in 1997.
What he said: “The World Rugby U20 Championship is the peak of the age-grade calendar and for many, this will be the highlight of their rugby journeys so far. The players have learned a lot as a team and about themselves this year, including during our Six Nations campaign and on our recent tour of Georgia, and we’ll be better as a group for it. This is the first time since 2019 that the World Rugby U20 Championship has been played, so we’re very excited to take this squad to South Africa and test ourselves against the world’s best teams. Our squad reflects the diversity and strength of English rugby with every Premiership club represented, and we trust each player to play with pride every time they pull on an England shirt."
Captain: Lewis Chessum
One to watch: Toby Elliott
Out of the Max Malins school of versatility in that he can play most positions in the backline other than scrum-half but is most comfortable at wing/full-back. The joint-top try-scorer in this year’s U20 Six Nations made four appearances for his club Saracens in his first full season as a professional and will be looking to cap off a fine year with a finishing masterclass in South Africa.
Squad: Charlie Bracken (Saracens), Harry Browne (Harlequins), Finn Carnduff (Leicester Tigers), Zach Carr (Harlequins), Lewis Chessum (Leicester Tigers), Ethan Clarke (Harlequins), Cassius Cleaves (Harlequins), Harvey Cuckson (Bath Rugby), Chandler Cunningham-South (London Irish), Jacob Cusick (Leicester Tigers), Tobias Elliott (Saracens), Afolabi Fasogbon (London Irish), Greg Fisilau (Exeter Chiefs), James Halliwell (Bristol Bears), Sam Harris (Bath Rugby), Joe Jenkins (Bristol Bears), Nathan Jibulu (Harlequins), Louie Johnson (Newcastle Falcons), Rekeiti Ma'asi-White (Sale Sharks), Archie McArthur (Gloucester), Nathan Michelow (Saracens), Asher Opoku-Fordjour (Sale Sharks), Connor Slevin (Harlequins), Toby Thame (Northampton Saints), Finn Theobald-Thomas (Gloucester), Nye Thomas (Sale Sharks), Alex Wills (Sale Sharks), Tristan Woodman (Sale Sharks), Joe Woodward (Leicester Tigers), Craig Wright (Northampton Saints).
Seeding for 2023: 8
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Second (2016)
Worst finish: 11th (2018)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 28 / Lost 32
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 1,451 / 160
U20 graduates: 69
Most capped U20 graduate: Conor Murray (114 tests – 105 Ireland, nine British and Irish Lions)
Did you know …? Two years after reaching their first and only final, Ireland almost suffered relegation. Only a last-gasp try by Tommy O'Brien in the 11th-place decider against Japan saved them from the drop to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2018.
Coach: Richie Murphy
Richie Murphy was appointed head coach of Ireland in 2021 having worked as skills and kicking coach with the men’s team since 2013, including at the last two Rugby World Cups. He has been a significant contributor to Leinster’s trophy-laden era.
What he said: “It is an exciting time for the squad as we prepare to depart for South Africa for the World Rugby U20 Championship. It has been four years since the last edition of the tournament and we’re looking forward to getting to Cape Town to test ourselves against the world’s best teams. It has been a competitive couple of weeks as the squad have pushed each other in preparation for the tournament and we know we’ll need to grow and evolve as a team from the Six Nations for what will be a challenging couple of weeks against quality opposition in South Africa.”
Captain: Gus McCarthy
One to watch: Sam Prendergast
Long earmarked as Johnny Sexton’s successor in the senior number 10 jersey, Prendergast ticks every box needed to be a star. He has confidence and swagger, seems to have endless time on the ball, reads the game so well, kicks and passes beautifully, and most importantly he can nail the big-game moments.
Squad: Fiachna Barrett (Corinthians/Connacht); Dan Barron (Dublin University/Leinster), Oscar Cawley (Naas/Leinster), Max Clein (Garryowen/Munster), Hugh Cooney (Clontarf/Leinster), John Devine (Corinthians/Connacht), Ronan Foxe (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Hugh Gavin (Galwegians/Connacht), Brian Gleeson (Garryowen/Munster), Fintan Gunne (Terenure/Leinster), George Hadden (Clontarf/Leinster), Joe Hopes (Queen’s University/Ulster), Charlie Irvine (Queen’s University/Ulster), Matthew Lynch (Dublin University/Leinster), Diarmuid Mangan (UCD/Leinster), Gus McCarthy (UCD/Leinster), Paddy McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster), Henry McErlean (Terenure/Leinster), James McNabney (Ballymena/Ulster), George Morris (Lansdowne/Leinster), James Nicholson (UCD/Leinster), Evan O’Connell (UL Bohemians/Munster), Jack Oliver (Garryowen/Munster), Andrew Osborne (Naas/Leinster), Conor O’Tighearnaigh (UCD/Leinster), Sam Prendergast (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ruadhan Quinn (Old Crescent/Munster), Danny Sheahan (UCC/Munster), Rory Telfer (Queen’s University/Ulster), Harry West (Buccaneers/Connacht).
Seeding for 2023: 11
Tournaments played: 8 (2008-14, 2019)
Best finish: Sixth (2011)
Worst finish: 12th (2009, 2014)
U20 Championship match record: Played 40 / Won 9 / Lost 31
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 710 / 89
U20 graduates: 36 (22 from Championship and 14 from Trophy)
Most capped U20 graduate: Manasa Saulo (50 tests)
Did you know …? Fiji recorded their highest-ever score in the U20 Championship in their last match at this level, against Scotland in 2019. Fiji saved themselves from relegation with a stunning 59-34 victory, which easily eclipsed their previous best of 46 points against the USA in 2013.
Coach: Ifereimi Rawaqa
Ifereimi Rawaqa is a former Fiji and Pacific Islands loose forward who won 42 caps across the two teams in addition to playing sevens for Fiji. He started in the second row for Fiji’s famous win against Wales at Rugby World Cup 2007 having made his tournament debut four years earlier in Australia. The 42-year-old was appointed Fiji U20 head coach in 2022 having previously been in charge of Fiji Warriors.
What he said: “The team has prepared really well and are looking forward to the Championship. We have had players who were also part of the Fijian Warriors and their experience has really boosted the side.”
Captain: Motikiai Murray
One to watch: Isaiah Ravula
A product of St Andrew’s College, Christchurch, Ravula was a star of the New Zealand schoolboy circuit. A fly-half with lightning-quick feet, he has the potential to be every bit as big in the game as his uncle, All Black Richie Mo’unga. He joined the Highlanders Academy in 2022.
Squad: Philip Baselala (Drua), Pateresio Finau (HPU), Sakiusa Kama (Hamilton), Josh Kina (HPU), Bronson Lee (HPU), Breyton Legge (HPU), Tuitubou Maika (HPU), Nalani May (HPU), Mosese McGoon (Crusaders U20), Sireli Misiwini (HPU), Motikiai Murray (Drua), Joeli Nainoca (HPU), Timoci Nakalevu (HPU), Emosi Natubailagi (HPU), Frank Ralogaivau (Brisbane), Isaiah Ravula (Hurricanes U20), Netava Saukuru (Fiji Schoolboys), Judah Saumaisue (Melbourne), Sakenasa Senivono (HPU), Basiyalo Sikeli (HPU), Kavaia Tagivetaua (HPU), Sitiveni Tamani (Perth), Marika Toga (Nadi U19), Semi Tokitani (HPU), Waisea Tudulu (Canberra), Mesake Vocevoce (HPU), Manieta Vonovono (HPU), Lasaro Vuluma (HPU), Epeli Waqaicece (Hurricanes U20), Tupeni Waqalala (Nadi U19).
POOL B FIXTURES (kick-off times local, GMT+2)
Saturday, 24 June
13:30 – England v Ireland – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
16:30 – Australia v Fiji – Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
Thursday, 29 June
11:00 – Australia v Ireland – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
19:00 – England v Fiji – Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
Tuesday 4 July
13:30 – Ireland v Fiji – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
14:00 – Australia v England – Athlone Sports Stadium, Cape Town
All squads are subject to change