With more than a third of players at Rugby World Cup 2015 having come through the World Rugby U20 Championship or Trophy, we take a closer look at this year's editions in Italy and Portugal.
WORLD RUGBY U20 CHAMPIONSHIP 2015
WINNERS: New Zealand
WHEN: 2-20 June
FINAL STANDINGS: 1. New Zealand 2. England 3. South Africa 4. France 5. Australia 6. Wales 7. Ireland 8. Scotland 9. Argentina 10. Japan 11. Italy 12. Samoa
LEADING POINTS SCORER: Brandon Thomson, South Africa (59 points)
LEADING TRY SCORER: Tevita Li, New Zealand (6)
FOUR-YEAR ITCH: New Zealand didn’t lose a match in winning the first four U20 Championship titles but it had been a barren time since. The return to Italian soil, though, saw a repeat of the last final there in 2011 and once again New Zealand came out on top against England, this time by a smaller margin of 21-16. In New Zealand’s team for that 2011 final were Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Codie Taylor, TJ Perenara and Waisake Naholo who all picked up a Rugby World Cup winners’ medal in 2015.
FINE MARGINS: Samoa winger Malu Falaniko had a penalty from just inside the Italian half to win the 11th place play-off with the final play, but his attempt fell agonisingly short to give Italy a 20-19 victory and condemn the Pacific Islanders to relegation to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2016. What made it even more agonising for Samoa was they knew that had they scored just one more try against Italy in their final pool match they would have been guaranteed a top eight finish.
RECORD-BREAKER: New Zealand winger Tevita Li scored six tries in 2015 to edge past Australia’s Andrew Kellaway and become the all-time leading try-scorer in U20 Championship history with 13. Kellaway still holds the record for the most in a single tournament with his 10 tries in 2014.
NO FAMILY AFFAIR: South Africa captain Hanro Liebenberg was hoping to follow in his brother’s footsteps by leading the Junior Springboks to the title. But while Wiaan was at the helm for South Africa’s only title success in 2012, younger brother Hanro had to settle for third place after defeat by England in the semi-finals.
BEST FINISH: Japan, returning to the U20 Championship after a six-year absence, and Scotland both secured their highest ranking in 2015. Scotland finished in the top eight nations for the first time in the tournament’s eight-year history, while Japan finished 10th after losing their final match to Argentina.
PATHWAY TO THE TOP: More than 370 players have graduated from the U20 Championship to the test arena since the tournament was introduced in 2008. At Rugby World Cup 2015, more than a quarter of the players had also followed this pathway from the pinnacle of age grade rugby to the sport’s showpiece event.
WHAT THEY SAID: “It was a test level match, both sides were great with the passion and emotion they put on the field. It could have gone either way, the first 20 minutes by us were sensational, but we struggled in keeping possession in the second half. I can’t ask for more from my side, I’m sure that we will see many of them playing at the World Cup in 2019 and 2023.” – Jon Callard, England coach
WORLD RUGBY U20 TROPHY 2015
WHEN: 12-24 May
WHERE: Lisbon, Portugal
FINAL STANDINGS: 1. Georgia 2. Canada 3. Uruguay 4. Tonga 5. Fiji 6. Namibia 7. Portugal 8. Hong Kong
LEADING POINTS SCORER: Rezi Jintchvelashvili (Georgia), 51
GOING UP: Georgia made their first appearance in a U20 Trophy final a winning one, seeing off Canada 49-29 to claim the title and promotion to the World Rugby U20 Championship for 2016. Two of the stand-out players were their half-back pairing of Vasil Lobzhanidze – who would go on to become the youngest player in RWC history in September – and Rezi Jintchvelashvili.
POINTS FEST: An incredible 293 points and 37 tries were scored at an average of 73 points per game on finals day. The third place play-off between Uruguay and Tonga produced the highest aggregate score and a 44-43 win for Los Teritos after a last-gasp try by captain Facundo Klappenbach.VAN’S THE MAN: Namibia flanker Christo van der Merwe finished as top try scorer with five in the pool stages. FIJI FALTER: Opening defeats to Georgia and Uruguay ruined any hopes pre-tournament favourites Fiji had of emulating Italy and Samoa and bouncing back to the U20 Championship at the first attempt. WHAT THEY SAID: “We have put in so many hours of hard work together over the last year and it is wonderful that after all of that we’ve been rewarded with this win. I’d like to thank all of the boys for playing to their potential.” - Georgia under-20 coach Ilia Maisuradze.