U21 World Cup Preview
June 14, 2002

The first IRB Under 21 World Cup kicks off today in South Africa.

Previously the SANZAR/UAR U21 tournament, we know we are guaranteed
exposure to magical play which will remain vivid in the memories of all
who were privileged to participate and witness it.

Over 150 players, since the tournament began, have progressed from the
U21 tournament to full international status. This year will be no
exception with an abundance of talent in the limelight.

The tournament has been expanded to 12 Unions including Fiji, Italy,
Romania and Japan who participate for the first time, all playing a
significant role in driving forward the developmental and expansion
policies of the IRB.

Noel Murphy, Chairman of the IRB Age-Grade Advisory Committee said:
"This is the first time that the tournament will be held under the
auspices of the International Rugby Board. I would like to pay tribute
to SANZAR for their work in creating and developing the competition to
the stage it is at today. The decision to enlarge it to 12 Unions and
give it World Cup status reflects both the quality on offer this year
and the IRB's commitment to continuing the development of our beloved
game."


Vernon Pugh QC, IRB Chairman said: "Over the years the U21 tournament
has not only produced rugby of high standard and some classic matches,
but it has been the proving ground for players who have themselves
become part of the fabric and the history of the game."

HISTORY
At the first tournament in 1995, New Zealand, brimming with talent,
coached by Ross Cooper and Lin Colling and led by future All Black
captain Taine Randell, with another future international captain Anton
Oliver as his able lieutenant, won despite some stern opposition from
hosts Argentina and a spirited challenge from the young Wallabies. They
struggled in the opening round with Los Pumitas, but were too good for
South Africa (24-7), they controlled the final to defeat a solid
Australian side 33-16.

"That team was the talent reservoir for the All Blacks of the following
few years; it was a great squad full of talented youngsters. The
tournament was a great learning curve for all involved and served them
and us well." Lin Colling recalls.

But it was not only the All Blacks who benefited, though Taine Randell,
Anton Oliver, Christian Cullen, Carl Hoeft, Kees Meeuws, Scott
Robertson, Carlos Spencer were a reasonable return for an age-group
team. Tom Bowman, Toutai Kefu, Nathan Grey, Justin Harrison and Bill
Young were the future Wallabies in the Australian team coached by Ian
Kennedy, while Robbie Kempson, Andre Snyman and Breyton Paulse were the
future Springboks among the South Africa U21s. Likewise with Argentina,
captained by Santiago Phelan, had Gonzalo Quesada, Ignacio Fernández
Lobbe and Gonzalo Longo among the stars of the future. Overall, 34
players from 104 participants in the inaugural tournament went on to win
international honours - 33 for their own countries and one for Italy - a
remarkable 32% of the total number of players.


In the following year the Australians ensured the trophy ended up in
their country. It was definitely a case of leading from the front for
captain and future Wallaby Nathan Grey when he charged down a clearance
kick to score the try that put the Australians ahead 17-14 with less
than a minute left, in injury time. The try silenced the crowd at
Takapuna, in the North Island as Grey and his future Wallaby team mates
Chris Latham, Elton Flatley, Sam Cordingley and Tom Bowman managed to
withstand the relentless assaults of the New Zealanders to deny them the
trophy.

"This game proved that reputations count for nothing at this level."
said winning coach Ian Kennedy, who still holds the record of having
coached Australian teams in four different tournaments.

A year later, the same four gathered in Sydney for the third Tournament,
but this time the hosts successfully defended the silver bowl.
Interestingly enough that U21 Australian team produced not only future
Wallabies, but also skipper Keith Gleeson who played for Ireland, Jason
Jones-Hughes who played for Wales and Fosi Pa'alamo who represented
Samoa.

The hardest game for the aspiring Wallabies was against Argentina, a
team who finally came of age after two years of near misses. Los Pumitas
managed to beat South Africa 54-33 after a spectacular game full of
drama and action, in the final round. The 1997 generation was the most
successful, with an overall tournament record of 41 players from 104
participants graduating to top international level - a staggering rate
of 42%.

The breakdown per nation puts Argentina at the top with 12 future
internationals followed by New Zealand with 11, Australia with 10, and
South Africa with Bobby Skinstad as captain and with Breyton Paulse
playing in his third and last tournament, with eight. All this does not
take into account the large number of 1997 U21 players who gained
professional contracts both in the Super 12 and the Northern Hemisphere.

1998 was the turn of South Africa to host the tournament in its fourth
year, and for the first time, a team England from outside the SANZAR/UAR
alliance was invited. England, went home with four losses. The Pumitas
fielded an experienced team with half of the squad, including the
Contepomi twins Manuel and Felipe and Ignacio Corleto, having played in
Sydney the year before. The experience showed, when the Argentine
youngsters managed to beat New Zealand 12-11 at the University of
Western Cape stadium - the only win of an Argentine national side
against New Zealand to date.

Los Pumitas also managed to defeat both South Africa and England and
with the young Wallabies left between themselves and the elusive first
ever title, Argentina only had to prevent Australia from getting a bonus
point, to win the tournament. But their plans went awry four minutes
from time when electric winger Brendan Williams - the top try scorer at
IRB RWC 7's 2001 - scored the fourth and bonus point try for a 24-7
Australian win. That gave the young Australians a total of 15 points -
one more than Argentina, which enabled them to lift the trophy. Elton
Flatley captained the team and had in Stirling Mortlock, Manny Edmonds,
Phil Waugh and Tonga Lea'aetoa some of the stars of the future, the
first three appearing for Australia and the last representing Tonga.

"We were so close to winning it that it hurts thinking about it. This
has been a good lesson for the future and hopefully we all came out
better players," said a heartbroken Felipe Contepomi after the match.

In 1999 the tournament returned to Buenos Aires. It was the year of the
UAR centenary and the Argentina Union wanted to celebrate it in style.
They invited three other European teams Scotland, Wales and France in
addition to England, for a two-pool eight team field, the largest in the
history of the event. It was only when South Africa - ignored by pundits
at the beginning of the Tournament - managed to beat defending champions
Australia 20-12, that the public started to notice the unusual potential
of the team coached by Eric Sauls. Springbok hooker John Smit, who
played tight-head prop in his third tournament, contributed enormously
to a memorable South African win.

The South Africans won the final with the last kick of the tournament
and the win demanded every ounce of effort, every bit of strength, every
piece of heart to win it. Late in injury time, South Africa's patience
and willpower paid off when after a succession of scrums on the New
Zealand line, they finally scored the winning try. Unable to dislodge
the massive New Zealand scrum, the South Africans had no option but spin
the ball wide, with centre Frikkie Welsh beating Ben Blair on the
outside to score. With class and confidence flyhalf Jaco van der
Westhuizen slotted the conversion to secure a historic South African
27-25 win.

"It was up to us, I asked the team how much they wanted it," explained a
tired and happy John Smit.

The sixth tournament was held in New Zealand in Albany, near Auckland
with Scotland, Samoa and Tonga. With the young New Zealanders in
dominant mode they romped home, despatching on their way to the title -
Samoa by 42-3, England by 29-6 and Argentina by 53-12 - for a re-match
of the previous year's final against South Africa.

In the final, played in heavy rain at Eden Park as a curtain raiser for
the New Zealand v Scotland test, New Zealand beat the aspiring
Springboks 71-5. The New Zealanders scored eight tries in the process,
with fullback Ben Blair touching down twice, kicking seven goals and
four penalties for a personal contribution of 36 points. Captain and
future All Black Aaron Mauger was also amongst the try scorers. For the
lovers of statistics, Simon Taylor, who played for Scotland U21 became
the first player to graduate from this tournament to the British Lions.

A total of 16 games were played in the 2001 Tournament, at the Sydney
Showground, at the Olympic Park. And again the young New Zealanders were
the pick of the crop, finishing top of their pool after three
comfortable wins: 39-11 against Argentina, 63-3 against England and
44-18 against Ireland. They were captained for the second year running
by centre and playmaker Aaron Mauger, who was forced to miss the final
due to injury. Flanker Richard McCaw - one of the finds of the 2001
season - who replaced him for the final against South Africa, did such a
good job that he became first choice flanker for the All Blacks before
the end of year.

New Zealand won 30-13 a final of reasonable technical standard, with
France, England and Ireland finishing among the top 6 - a sure sign that
the Northern Hemisphere was catching up. France took the bronze by
dispatching England 36-6, while a talent-loaded Irish team surprised the
world, with narrow 43-42 win over South Africa.

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