IRB age groups breed 'world superstars' say WRU
November 21, 2007

The Welsh Rugby Union, who will host the inauguaral IRB Under-20 Junior World Championship in 2008, have hailed age group competitions as "quite simply, the breeding ground of the next generation of rugby's world superstars".

Since the IRB took control of the old FIRA/AER Under 19 and Sanzar/UAR Under 21 championships in the new millennium, said the WRU, the two tournaments have become forerunners to the game's major tournament, the Rugby World Cup.

Springbok coach Jake White cut his teeth as an international coach in the younger age groups, helping South Africa to win the 1999 Sanzar/UAR Under 21 title in 1999 before steering his country's talented youngsters to the inaugural IRB Under 21 Championship title at Under on home soil in 2002.

Five years on, White was re-united with nine of his Under 21 squad members in France as the Springboks captured the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time with their victory over England in Paris.

"I had John Smit as captain of my 1999 side and Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez and Jean Smith in the 2002 squad. The core of the group that helped win the World Cup for South Africa in 2007 came from those two junior teams," said White.

"One of the main reasons I was able to get some success at senior level as Springbok coach was because I had worked with so many of the players at Under 21 level. These junior tournaments are a fantastic opportunity for players to get a taste of what is before them if they are prepared to work hard and develop their game.

"Those successful experiences at Under 21 level meant I was coaching players with the Springboks who knew what it was like to win a World Cup by beating the All Blacks, the French and the Australians.

"I was lucky because the South African Rugby Board gave me everything I needed to prepare the sides and there is no doubt the professional programmes that are being put in place for these young players are helping to raise the standards of the game around the world.

"I even had Os Du Randt acting as a scout for me in 2002 when we were looking for the best players to take to the tournament."

Former IRB World Player of the Year, Schalk Burger, played in the 2003 IRB tournament at Under 21 level in England and featured in a game against a Wales side at Newbury.

The 'Baby Boks' were 52-21 winners on the day and Burger will meet up again with two members of the Wales pack from that game on Saturday in the Prince William Cup clash at the Millennium Stadium, prop Rhys Thomas and lock Luke Charteris.

"I was fortunate enough to coach Wales at five tournaments and I would have to say that Burger stood out head and shoulders as the best player I've seen at that age," said former Wales Under 21 coach Chris Davey.

"It was a marvellous experience for the players to meet their peers from around the world and it certainly demonstrated to the northern hemisphere nations exactly what work needed to be done to match the best from down south.

"To begin with we weren't physical enough to match the New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans. But these days we are as well conditioned as any nation and are able to compete well against them all.

"Having the IRB Junior World Championship at Under 20 level in Wales will be a great opportunity for our best youngsters to see where they rank in the world game. It will also provide the fans with a fantastic chance to see the next generation of rugby superstars before they hit the headlines."

Davey coached Wales to fourth place in the 2002 tournament, when they were beaten in the 3rd/4th Play-Off match by a New Zealand side containing Dan Carter and Tony Woodcock.

Wales hosted the 1999 IRB/Fira Junior World Cup at Under 19 level. On that occasion a Welsh side captained by Dragons and Wales lock Adam Jones reached the final after beating England, Argentina and South Africa.

Blues full back Rhys Williams, centre Jamie Robinson, Dragons outside half Ceri Sweeney, Worcester Warriors scrum half Ryan Powell, Scarlets flanker James Bater and Dragons No 8 Michael Owen were all capped from the Wales side, while Dwayne Peel was among the replacements.

New Zealand won the final 25-0 in front of a 12,000 crowd at Stradey Park and had an exceptional side. Jerry Collins was voted 'Player of the Tournament', Richie McCaw was in the back row and Mils Muliaina among the back line.

"I played twice in the Under 19 tournament and each time was a fantastic experience. We lost to New Zealand in the final in 1999 and they had a number of players I went on to meet again for Wales and the Lions - Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins and Aaron Mauger," said Wales scrum half Dwayne Peel.

"These junior competitions are great tournaments with a hell of a lot at stake. What made them really difficult was the fact you play so many games with such a short turnaround.

"But everyone really enjoyed them. They have proven to be a massive breeding ground and it was a good place to play because a lot of us were capped only a year later.

"It definitely exposed me to a higher level of rugby and gave me a better insight into what was needed to step up onto the international stage.

"You only have to look at the big name players who have played well in those tournaments to see they are a stepping stone to bigger and better things"

Peel also went to the 2000 tournament and a year later it was the turn of the talented Gavin Henson to taste the global scene for the first time.

He spearheaded the Welsh charge into the semi-finals of the Under 19 competition in Chile in 2001 - the fifth time in seven tournaments since their debut in 1995 that Wales had reached the last four.

France beat Wales to reach the final, which was won by New Zealand, and the Welsh side went down 43-24 to Australia in the 3rd/4th Play Off game.

"I was a youngster at the time, but playing full-time at Swansea. That meant I went into the Junior World Cup with plenty of confidence," said Henson, who was named the inaugural IRB Young Player of the Year that summer.

"I was playing against men week-in-week out, so I knew I was of a standard and that gave a real boost to my game. I'm a confidence player and I think that probably brought out the best in me.

"We did reasonably well and should've done better really. We all thought we were playing well and could have won the competition.

"The pundits obviously thought I did okay because they gave me the young player of the year award, which was a very proud moment for me.

"As it turns out, that was my only experience of World Cup rugby to date. It left me itching to be involved at senior level which, unfortunately, hasn't happened yet.

"But the memories of 2001 still spur me on and maintain my thirst for top-class international rugby on the world stage."
Henson returns to the Wales team to face South Africa this weekend and could find himself going head-to-head with Francois Steyn - an IRB World Championship winner at Under 19 level in 2005 and a Rugby World Cup winner in 2007.

Wales coach Pat Horgan will have a talented group of players to take into the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship at Under 20 level next year. Sam Warburton's Under 19 side finished fourth in IRB competition in Belfast last year and will be keen to do well on home soil next summer.

A number of that side have already gained Regional experience - Gareth Owen at the Ospreys, Daniel Evans and Jonathan Davies at the Scarlets - and they will be hoping to go one better than Adam Jones' side of 1999.

IRB Young Player of the Year Award Winners
2001: Gavin Henson (Wales)
2002: U19 - Luke McAlister (New Zealand); U 21 - Pat Barnard (Australia)
2003: U19 - Jean-Baptiste Peyras (France); U21 - Ben Atiga (New Zealand)
2004: U19 - Jeremy Thrush (New Zealand); U21 - Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)
2005: U19 - Isaia Toeava (New Zealand); U21 - Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australia)
2006: U19 - Josh Holmes (Australia); U21 - Lionel Beauxis (France)
2007: U19 - Robert Fruean (New Zealand)

IRB World Junior Championship at Under 21

2002 South Africa
Final: South Africa 24-21 Australia (Johannesburg)

South Africa's Victorious Under-21 squad: Pat Barnard (WP), Roland Bernard (Lions), Gary Botha (Blue Bulls), Jacques Cronjé (Blue Bulls), Jean de Villiers (WP), Fourie du Preez (Blue Bulls), Jaco du Toit (SWD), Christiaan Els (Leopards), Quinton Geldenhuys (Sharks), Rayno Gerber (Cheetahs), Gordon Gillfillan (WP), Dean Hopp (SWD), Enrico January (Boland), Tsepo Kokoali (Lions), Jorrie Muller (Lions), Odwa Ndungane (Border), JP Nel (Blue Bulls), Clyde Rathbone (Sharks), Maurice Reid (Boland), Jean Smith (Cheetahs), Guthro Steenkamp (Cheetahs), Francois Swart (WP), Dewey Swartbooi (Blue Bulls), Stefan van Rooyen (Leopards), Pedri Wannenburg (Blue Bulls), Ashwin Willemse (Boland).

2003 England
Final: New Zealand 21-10 Australia (Oxford)

2004 Scotland
Final: New Zealand 47-19 Ireland (Glasgow)

Final Standings: 1 New Zealand, 2 Ireland, 3 South Africa, 4 Australia, 5 England, 6 Wales, 7 Argentina, 8 France, 9 Italy, 10 Scotland, 11 Russia, 12 Tonga

2005 Argentina
Final: South Africa 20-15 Australia (Mendoza)

South Africa: 1 Heinke van der Merwe, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3 Sangoni Mxoli, 4 Nikolai Blignaut, 5 Cliff Milton, 6 Derick Kuun, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 8 Pieter Louw; 9 Paul Delport (C), 10 Morne Steyn; 11 Marius Delport, 12 Thabang Molefe, 13 Earl Rose, 14 Cedric Mkhize; 15 Hendrik Daniller
Reps: Adriaan Strauss, Harry Vermaas, Gerhard Mostert, Davon Raubenheimer, Ruan Pienaar, Mzwandile Stick, Ronnie Cooke

Australia: 1 Benn Robinson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3 Alex Walker, 4 Dean Mumm, 5 Richard Stanford, 6 Ben Mowen (C), 7 Julian Salvi, 8 Leroy Houston; 9 Nic Berry, 10 Daniel Halangahu; 11 Digby Ioane, 12 Lloyd Johansson, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Henari Veratau; 15 Cameron Shepherd
Reps: 16 Geoff Abram, Ben Alexander, Pat O'Connor, Shane Udy, Dominic Fuller, Scott Daruda, Ben Batger

Final standings: 1. South Africa, 2. Australia, 3. New Zealand, 4. France, 5. Argentina, 6. Scotland, 7. England, 8. Wales, 9. Ireland, 10. Samoa, 11. Canada, 12. Italy

2006 France
Final: France 24-13 South Africa (Clermont-Ferrand)
France: 1 Laurent Cabarry, 2 Laurent Sempere, 3 Yohan Montes, 4 Denis Drozdz, 5 Loic Jacquet (C), 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 8 Damien Chouly; 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 10 Lionel Beauxis; 11 Yann Fior, 12 Gregory Puyo, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 14 Florian Denos; 15 Maxime Médard
Reps: Guilhem Guirado, omas Domingo, lien Le Devedec, Nicolas Bontinck, Julien Tomas, Thibault Lacroix, Mathieu Bourret

South Africa: 1 Heinke van der Merwe, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (C), 3 Sangoni Mxoli, 4 Nikolai Blignaut, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 6 Pierre Spies, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 8 Keegan Daniel; 9 Jano Vermaak, 10 Isma-eel Dollie; 11 Cedric Mkhize, 12 Bradley Barritt, 13 Waylon Murray, 14 JP Pietersen; 15 Marius Delport
Reps: Adriaan Strauss, Bandise Maku, Alistair Hargreaves, Pieter Louw, Warren Malgas, Joey Mongalo, Scott Spedding

IRB World Junior Championship at Under 19

2004 South Africa
Final: New Zealand 34-11 France
3rd Place Match: South Africa 38-31 England

2005 South Africa
Final: South Africa 20-15 New Zealand
South Africa: 1 Jakobus van Rensburg, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3 Johan Strauss,
4 Alistair Hargreaves (C), 5 Joe Snyman, 6 Conrad Strauss, 7 Hilton Lobberts,
8 Pieter Myburgh; 9 Warren Malgas, 10 Jody Rose; 11 Randell April, 12 Francois Steyn, 13 Petrus Vermeulen, 14 Luvuyo Mhlobiso; 15 Shandre Frolick
Reps: Deon Fourie, Zander de Kock, Jan Volschenk, Hendrik van Niekerk, Francois Uys, Marlon Lewis, Ricardo Croy, Jowayne van Wyk, Jacobus Swanepoel, Andisa Nkumi, Jerome Williams

New Zealand: 1 Justin Davies, 2 Dane Coles, 3 Scott Murphy, 4 Nick Crosswell, 5 Joshua Bekhuis, 6 George Whitelock (C), 7 Vern Kamo, 8 Falfili Levave; 9 Baydon Phillips, 10 Steve Alfeld; 11 Lance MacDonald, 12 Seminar Manu, 13 Timothy Bateman, 14 Nicolas Thomson , 15 George Pisi.
Reps: Mason Pomare, Sekope Kepu, Jonathan Direen, Dean Budd, Thomas Gilmore, Isaia Toeava, Daniel Bowden, Tama Makamak, Charles O'Connell, Dane Shelford, Robbie Flynn

3rd Place Match: Australia 29-21 England

2006 United Arab Emirates
Final: Australia 17-13 New Zealand
Australia: 1 Ben Daley, 2 Saia Faingaa (C), 3 Jack Kennedy, 4 Daniel Linde, 5 Sam Wykes, 6 AJ Gilbert, 7 David Pocock, 8 Patrick McCutcheon; 9 Josh Holmes, 10 Christian Lealiifano; 11 Lachlan Turner, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 13 Brett Gillespie, 14 Brando Vaaulu; 15 Lachlan Rosengreen
Reps: James Hanson, Taniela Hoponoa, Jonathon Salvi, Philip Mathers, Poutasi Luafutu, Will Genia, Benjamin Lucas, Luke McLean, Jackson Mullane, Jack Lam

New Zealand: 1 Shane Cleaver, 2 Mason Pomare, 3 Jonathan Direen, 4 Chris Smith, 5 Chris Middleton, 6 Michael Coman, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 8 Victor Vito (C); 9 John Legg, 10 Trent Renata; 11 Greg Tweddle, 12 Male Sa'u, 13 Timothy Bateman, 14 Armyn Sanders; 15 Colin Slade
Reps: Nathan Fotuali'i, Ben Afeaki, Adrian Briggs, James Broadhurst, Piula Faasalele, Hoani Matenga, Dean Brunsdon, Daniel Devereaux, Gareth Goodin, Tane Puki, Tua Saseve.

3rd Place Match: England * 12-12 France

2007 Ireland
Final: New Zealand 31-7 South Africa
New Zealand: 1 Rodney Ah You, 2 Ash Dixon, 3 Ben Afeaki, 4 Chris Smith (C), 5 Samuel Whitelock, 6 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 8 Liukanasi Manu; 9 Wayne Ngaluafe,
10 Daniel Kirkpatrick; 11 Kade Poki, 12 Ryan Crotty, 13 Robert Fruean, 14 Zach Guildford; 15 Trent Renata
Reps: Quentin MacDonald, Paea Fa'anunu, Nicholas Barrett, Thomas Crowley, Josh Townsend, John Hardie, Matthew Cameron, Jackson Willison, Winston Stanley, Ken Pisi, Sean Maitland

South Africa: 1 Corne Fourie, 2 Henri Bantjes, 3 Frederick Kirsten, 4 Cornell Hess, 5 Martin Muller, 6 Thiliphaut Marole, 7 Johan van Deventer, 8 Gerrit van Velze (C); 9 Francois Hougaard, 10 Francois Brummer; 11 Vainon Willis, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 14 Bernado Botha; 15 Wilton Pietersen
Reps: Pieter Janse Van Vuuren, Wiehahn Herbst, Troy Masanganja, Berend Botha, Marlin Ruiters, Earl-Jivan Snyman, Tshepo Masuga, Mlindazwe Nqoro, Aubrey McDonald, Yaasir Hartzenberg, Sobelo Nhlapo

3rd Place Match: Australia 25-21 Wales


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