IRB Under 20 Championship: Tournament Preview


The 2018 IRB Under 20 Championship gets underway and we thought it would be prudent to take a look at how the teams are shaping up.

The IRB Under 20 Championship is just around the corner which is absolute music to the ears of rugby fans and punters as the tournament offers great entertainment and punting value.

This year's edition will be held in France and gets underway on Wednesday the 30th of June with the first set of three rounds of pool phase fixtures. Followed by two play-off rounds, with the latter round containing the tournament final and third/fourth place play-off.

2018 Under 20 Championship
France
Wednesday 30 May - Sunday 17 June

Pools

Pool A - Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Wales
Pool B - Argentia, England, Italy and Scotland
Pool C - South Africa, Georgia, Ireland, France

Contenders

New Zealand
The reigning Champions come into this one as favourites with the 'books but they won't be taking as strong a side to France as they took to Georgia last year with dynamic hooker Asafo Aumua and utility Will Jordan missing out through being overage and injury, respectively. In fact, the 'Baby Blacks' will only field two players who took part in last year's tournament out in Georgia with Tom Christie and Caleb Turner the only two returnees.

Despite missing majority of their victorious squad, the Kiwis will have some quality players to call upon including Sevens representative, Vilimoni Koroi. The young gun was in solid touch for the 'Baby Blacks' as they won the recently concluded Oceania Under 20 Championship. The New Zealanders were all-conquering at the tournament as they picked up a try-scoring bonus point in all three of their games beating Tonga 96-0 in the opener, Fiji 55-15 in their penultimate game and Australia 28-43 in their final fixture.

Player to Watch: Vilimoni Koroi
This youngster has already made a name for himself in the shortened format of the game and his stocks in the XV's format are bound to rise at the end of the Under 20 Championship.

Blessed with a devastating turn of pace and a slick set of hands, Koroi will give opposing defences all sorts of problems. He's also an extremely versatile player, capable of operating in a multitude of positions across the backline.

South Africa
The Baby Boks will be looking to go one further then they did in Georgia last year and advance all the way to the final in France. The South African youngsters will have to do this without star man Curwin Bosch who is no longer eligible for under 20's rugby.

They will have the equally talented Damien Willemse to call upon. The Stormers youngster has produced the goods during Super Rugby this season, making the starting pivot role his own.

Chean Roux's men head into the tournament off the back of some impressive results as they beat Scotland 41-3, Wales 41-5, and England 26-12 during their warm-up tour of the UK.

Player to Watch: Salmaan Moerat
The second-rower is an exceptional talent and has already made his Super Rugby d├ębut for the Stormers this season. While Moerat is a strong ball carrier and a solid line-out jumper, the biggest string in his bow is his great leadership skills.

The youngster captained the SA Schools side as well as the Western Province Craven week team with great success.

England
Last year's defeated finalists have managed to keep eight players from last year's squad as well as add some exciting talent to their ranks in the form of Harlequins wunderkind Marcus Smith and talented flanker Ben Curry, who missed last year's tournament as he went on the senior national side's June tour of Argentina along with twin brother Tom.

The English haven't enjoyed that good a preparation period heading into the tournament. They finished this year's Under 20 Six Nations as runners-up, while they lost their most recent warm-up game to the Junior Springboks 26-12.

Player to Watch: Marcus Smith
He's already established himself as one of the first names on the Harlequins team sheet this season. Smith is an incredible distributor who's game is far more akin to a New Zealand pivot than an English one. If he fires, then England will fire.

Dark Horse

France
2018 Under 20 Six Nations Champions have every chance of going all the way this season. With an extremely talented group who managed to win four of their five Six Nations games, their only defeat coming against the English.

The French have a very strong tight five who will look to bully their opponents into submission. They also have a rather handy midfield that's tasked with continuing the front foot momentum they get from the set-piece. While this game plan will work a treat against the likes of Scotland and Wales, it may backfire against more physical sides like South Africa and Georgia.

Player to Watch: Romain Ntamack
The son of the legendary French flanker, Emile Ntmack, is likely to get the starting 10 role at this year's tournament. He's a rather physical pivot, who is not scared to make a tackle or take the ball to the line. He's also got an eye for the try line as his three tries in this year's Under 20 Six Nations attest to.

Verdict: South Africa
I really think this will be the Baby Boks year. They have a vastly experienced squad who learnt some harsh lessons last year. Having said that, I am slightly wary of the English. Marcus Smith is a hell of a talent and could really galvanize his side.

I reckon we'll see a final between the Baby Boks and the English on the 17th of June, and I expect the 'Boks to just edge it if they have a fully fit squad. 

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