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Column - JWC Shows Future of the Game

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Column - JWC Shows Future of the Game

During the June test window just completed, the heavyweights of international rugby clashed in the southern hemisphere. As usual, the home sides prevailed. 

 

New Zealand swept England in a torrid three-test series. The All Blacks tied the record for consecutive test wins (17) and will attempt to break it against the Wallabies in August.  

 

Across the Tasman, Australia similarly shut out France. South Africa was lucky to beat Wales in their second match but still took the series 2-0.

 

Flying under the radar was the IRB Under-20 Junior World Championship. Held at three venues around Auckland, it featured 12 national teams and some of the best young talent in the game.

 

England took home the trophy beating South Africa 21-20 in a riveting final played at Eden Park. In so doing they successfully defended their 2012 title. It was the closest Junior Championship final in history.

 

Both teams fielded massive packs which punished each other across the pitch for 80 minutes. Evenly matched, it was left to the backs to determine the result. Wing Nathan Earle was the danger man for England. His sparkling try revived his team at a critical moment.

 

Flyhalf Handre Pollard was the key to South Africa’s success throughout the tournament.  He moved the Baby Boks with polished skill and could’ve won the final 

with a successful drop goal in injury time. It was announced this week that the 20-year-old has been named to the Springboks senior squad.

 

New Zealand lost in the semi-finals to South Africa but took heart from a strong

effort to place 3rd, beating a determined Ireland 45-23.

 

Results & final standings

England 21, South Africa 20

New Zealand 45, Ireland 23

Australia 34, France 27

Wales 20, Samoa 3

Argentina 41, Scotland 21

Italy 22, Fiji 17

Two stories evolved out of the Junior Championship which may have an impact on the US game. Both have to do with bulk.

South Africa and England featured enormous forward packs; bigger than senior test teams from not along ago. That they were polished and skilful is almost beside the point. The Junior Boks weighed in at 888 kilos (1,971 lbs). By contrast, the All Blacks pack in the 1999 World Cup final weighed 864.

England’s junior and senior teams have similarly bulked up. The All Blacks looked almost scrawny compared to England and the Baby Blacks were completely dwarfed by both England and South Africa.  It begs the question, where is this leading?

The answer may lie with an Under-20 Scottish player who travelled to the Junior Championship - but not with his team. Sam Chalmers is a slightly built flyhalf, the son of Scotland and Lions flyhalf, Craig Chalmers.

Sam was called into Scotland’s junior squad in May of 2013. Coming off a club rugby  injury he was told to gain weight. Along with two team mates he trained hard, pumped iron and took a dietary supplement (Pro-SD from Dragon Nutrition) which they all thought was safe. After a Scotland training session in Edinburgh the drug testers came. Sam was one of five tested. His results were positive and he was banned from all rugby.

Sam’s ignorance let him down with terrible consequences. He cannot play or train with Scotland or his club. He cannot even attend a kicking practice or gym sessions with team mates. Sam was brought out to New Zealand to tell his story during the Junior Championship.  His tale of the past year will make some of those Under-20’s think hard. But how many will really listen?
 

Can the USA play at this level?

Watching the competition it became apparent that an American U-20 team; Junior Eagles or College All Americans, will one day play in this tournament. Properly prepared, a US side could foot it now with Italy and Fiji. Scotland might also be within reach.

The question, as always, will be how to gather a group, train them in camp and play tune-ups in advance of future Championships. 

For some who played in Auckland, the future is now. Many are already under club or provincial contract. A few such as South Africa’s Pollard and New Zealand’s Tevita Li are being fast tracked to the top. It will be fascinating to see how they turn out.