More than 950 players have used the World Rugby U20 Championship as a springboard to the test arena since the tournament was first staged in 2008.
Nine members of the Springboks’ starting XV for the Men’s Rugby World Cup 2023 final against New Zealand had used that exact pathway, taking the total number of U20 graduates to lift the Webb Ellis Cup to 32.
South Africa will host the U20 Championship for a second successive year between 29 June-19 July and the conveyor belt of talent the tournament is producing shows no sign of slowing.
Last weekend three players who appeared in the 2023 U20 Championship in the Western Cape made their Guinness Men’s Six Nations debut, while Georgia included four recent graduates in their Men’s Rugby Europe Championship opener against Germany.
Posolo Tuilagi became the first 2023 U20 graduate to appear in this year’s Six Nations when he came off the bench in France’s defeat to Ireland in Marseille.
The latest member of the Tuilagi family to play international rugby, Posolo started four matches at last year’s U20 Championship, including the 50-14 final victory against Ireland.
In Marseille on Friday, he replaced Paul Gabrillagues in the France second-row with a little under 30 minutes to play and made good use of his time on the pitch.
Tuilagi made three carries, all of them effective, for 15.4 metres, while making five of his six tackles in defence. He could not prevent Les Bleus slipping to a 38-17 defeat against Ireland, however.
On Saturday, back-row Chandler Cunningham-South emulated Tuilagi’s achievement when he came off the England bench in their 27-24 victory against Italy in Rome.
In a little under 15 minutes on the Stadio Olimpico pitch, Cunningham-South made two carries for 23.2 metres and broke through the Azzurri’s defensive line on one occasion.
According to former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton – who knows a thing or two about back-row play – the Harlequins number eight is a “serious athlete” with a big future.
“I think he could be a massive name for England moving forward,” Warburton said over the weekend. “I think Cunningham-South could be the real deal.”
Another player who left their mark on the opening weekend of the Six Nations was Wales full-back Cameron Winnett.
The Cardiff Rugby youngster wore the number 15 jersey in all three of Wales’ Pool A matches at the 2023 U20 Championship, including the 27-26 victory against New Zealand and the defeat to France that denied them a place in the semi-finals.
In Cardiff on Saturday, Winnett was one of the best players in a Wales side that recovered from going 27-0 down early in the second half to come within two points of a famous comeback victory.
He made an impressive 138.8 metres from 15 carries, 10 of which were effective, while completing 100 per cent of his four attempted tackles. Not bad for a player who had played only 15 matches for Cardiff before his call-up to the senior Wales squad.
Georgia, meanwhile, played their first match under new coach Richard Cockerill on Sunday as they opened their Rugby Europe Championship defence with a 28-17 defeat of Germany.
Tight-head prop Irakli Aptsiauri, who appeared five times at the 2023 U20 Championship and made his test debut at RWC 2023, earned his first start for the Lelos in Dessau, while full-back Luka Tsirekidze won his maiden cap.
Aptsiauri’s fellow front-row forward Giorgi Mamaiashvili came on for his test debut in the second half, as did replacement scrum-half Davit Khuroshvili. All four players started their country’s impressive 20-0 win against Argentina at the 2023 U20 Championship.