World Rugby Under 20 Championship 2017 Preview

Our rugby scribe runs the rule over the 2017 World Rugby Under 20 Championship which gets underway on Wednesday the 31st of May.

Rugby fans will soon have a smorgasbord of international over ball action to feast upon with the June Internationals, British and Irish Lions series and the Under 20 Championship set to become a staple on television sets around South Africa this June.

Whilst the senior stuff will take precedence for most, the Under 20 Championship should not be missed as it offers some great value and gives us an opportunity to look at the next generation of rugby superstars. Don’t believe me? Well, Jordie Barrett was part of the Junior All Blacks side last year and the youngest of the Barrett brothers is now on the precipice of the All Black squad to take on the British and Irish Lions.

Pool A 
Teams: Australia, England, Samoa and Wales

This is quite an interesting Pool as its sees Under 20 Six Nations Champions England grouped against Six Nations third-placed finishers, Wales. These two sides are likely to duke it out for the top spot in the Pool, as you can’t really expect the Aussies to make much of an impact as their talent pool has become shallower with each passing year – seriously, ballroom dancing has a better participation rate than rugby in the ‘Land Down Under’.

The final side in Pool A is Samoa, who make their return to the tournament after missing out on the 2016 competition due to relegation. The Baby Manu have had a tough build-up to the tournament suffering heavy defeats at the hands of Australia (43-20) and New Zealand (80-23) at the recently concluded Oceania Rugby Junior Championship.

Player to Watch: Zach Mercer
With both of the Curry twins, Ben and Tom, having been called up to the senior England squad, there will be a lot of weight on the shoulders of eighth man Zach Mercer. The son of former New Zealand rugby league player Gary Mercer has long been touted for big things and the Bath youngster was a key cog in the English machine that claimed a Grand Slam during the U20 Six Nations. The skilful backrower has a blinding turn of pace and all the hallmarks of a linking eight. He’s already caught the eye of England seniors coach Eddie Jones and he’s sure to catch yours as well.

To Advance to Semi-Finals: England Group Winners 
Wales will give them a run when the two sides meet in the second round of fixtures but the English forwards should have the better of the Dragons on the soft fields of Georgia. The Welsh could well secure a spot in the semis, however, as their games against Australia and Fiji could see them up their points differential dramatically.

Pool B
Teams: Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland 

Pool B is another that’s likely to be dominated by just two sides with Ireland and New Zealand’s clash on the 8th of June likely to decide who makes it through to the next semi-finals. I wouldn’t write off the chances of the loser of that battle advancing to the semi-finals as the best-placed runner-up as both Scotland and Italy shipped a plethora of points in this year's Under 20 Six Nations.

The junior All Blacks look the likelier of the two sides to claim first place. They may not have the mercurial Jordie Barrett to call upon but their squad has been less affected by injuries than the Irish who have lost several key players just weeks before kick-off.

I don’t hold much hope for the remaining two sides in Pool B as they were both rather average at the Junior Six Nations. Italy are likely to be the whipping boys, with the Scots sole victory set to come against their European counterparts.

Player to Watch: Thomas Umaga-Jensen
His twin Peter was set to be the star attraction in the New Zealand backline but a cruel twist of fate has seen him ruled out with a shoulder injury. Word on the street is that Thomas is slightly ahead of his brother, though. He’s your typical Kiwi back with a slick set of hands and he’s able to read the game like a book.

Verdict: New Zealand to Top Pool And Ireland To Advance to the Semi's as Best-Placed Runners-Up
My money is on the Baby Blacks edging a tight affair against the Junior Irish which will see the men from the 'The Land of The Long White Cloud' top the group. Ireland will likely scrape their way into the semi-finals by virtue of hammering Italy and Scotland.

Pool C
Teams: Argentina, France, Georgia and South Africa

Ah, the dreaded group of death. I always enjoy doing the write-ups for these groups as you’re not left trying to scrape 80 words together to describe how the weaker sides will do without being an ass about it. I’m going to do things a bit differently here and start with the team I think will end up at the bottom of the table, namely the hosts Georgia. Don’t get me wrong, the Junior Lelos will give all three of their opponents a real run for their money, and I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised if they claim a win against Argentina, but if I had to have a wager right now, my money would be on Georgia finishing at the foot of the table.

On to the French now and they actually could spring a surprise here if their Six Nations performances – where they finished second and won three out of their five fixtures - are anything to go by. Le Baby Blue will be heavily reliant on their pack, which isn’t a bad thing as they will need their forwards to front up against the monstrous packs their opponents will field.

From the French to the Argentines we go and it looks like the South Americans may be a bit less threatening than they were last year with a whole host of their star players now ineligible due to age. While their side looks decent enough on paper, I think they will struggle to repeat the feats of last year which saw them beat the Baby Boks and claim their best ever finish at an Under 20 Championship.

On to the Baby Boks now and Chean Roux’s men will be looking to atone for last year’s shocking showing in Manchester. While it may not have been the whole cause for their fourth place finish in 2016, former coach Dawie Theron’s decision to field a lighter pack than in previous years certainly did hinder the South Africans' chances. As such, it’s rather pleasing to see his successor bring in a few heavyweights for this tournament.

Player to Watch: Curwin Bosch
The Sharks man was superb for the coastal Super Rugby franchise before being called up to the Baby Bok squad. He’s got a howitzer of a boot on him but it will be his counterattacking ability that puts fear into the hearts of his opponents.

Verdict: South Africa to Top Pool
The Baby ‘Boks have some real quality on their books which should see them top their group. Their lineout functioned well during the build-up games and they should dominate this area at the tournament.

Outright Winner: England v South Africa Final – England to Win
England really have a top quality development program that has started producing the goods over the past five years or so. They may have lost a whole host of senior statesmen but the youngsters that have come through are more than capable of filling those shoes. And while I fancy the Baby Boks to make the final, I feel they will falter at that last hurdle. 

Previous Winners
2016: England
2015: New Zealand
2014: England
2013: England
2012: South Africa
2011: New Zealand
2010: New Zealand
2009: New Zealand
2008: New Zealand


Round 1

Wednesday 31 May
England v Samoa | Avchala Stadium | 11:00 
New Zealand v Scotland | Kutaisi Stadium | 11:00
South Africa v France | Avchala Stadium | 13:30
Ireland v Italy | Kutaisi Stadium | 13:30
Argentina v Georgia | Avchala Stadium | 16:00
Australia v Wales | Avchala Stadium | 18:30

Round 2

Sunday 4 June 

Argentina v France | Avchala Stadium | 11:00
Ireland v Scotland | AIA Arena | 11:00
New Zealand v Italy |  AIA Arena  13:30
Australia v Samoa | Avchala Stadium | 13:30
South Africa v Georgia | Avchala Stadium | 16:00
England v Wales | Avchala Stadium |  18:30

Round 3

Thursday 8 June

Wales v Samoa | Avachla Stadium | 11:00
Scotland v Italy | AIA Arena | 11:00
Argentina v South Africa | Avchala Stadium | 13:30
Ireland v New Zealand | AIA Arena | 15:30
France v Georgia | Avchala Stadium | 16:00
England v Australia | Avchala Stadium | 18:30


Tuesday 13 June (TBA)

Final Round (TBA)

Sunday 18 June

Written by Darry Worthington for!

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