Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Young guns to restock Cup arsenal

It’s likely several of this year’s under-20 team will go on to play for the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
It’s likely several of this year’s under-20 team will go on to play for the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

Chances are, there will be a significant number of players on view at the Junior World Championship this year who will play at next year's World Cup.

The Junior World Championship, which is being played in Auckland over the next three weeks and kicks off tomorrow, has so far produced 282 test players.

Crunch those numbers and they look like this: since 2008, there have been 2240 young men who have played at the Junior World Championship and 12.5 per cent have graduated to the test arena.

The names are impressive. Sam Whitelock, Sam Warburton, Will Genia, Owen Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny all came through the JWC. Pretty much every current emerging star in the world game has JWC experience. A total of 49 JWC graduates played at the 2011 World Cup and 14 were in the British and Irish Lions touring party.

In terms of individual countries, Argentina has capped the most, with 42, while Australia can claim the most accumulative caps as their 25 graduates have 450 test appearances.

A total of 18 All Blacks have come through the JWC, which equates to a 10 per cent graduation rate. But that number will climb steeply in the next few years if the current trend is sustained.

Most, nearly all, of the All Blacks capped for the first time under Steve Hansen have played at the Junior World Championship. Since he took over in late 2011, he's awarded caps to 21 new players. Only five of those - Luke Romano, Dane Coles, Jeremy Thrush, Frank Halai and Matt Todd - were not part of the under-20s set-up.

The number of graduates won't just rise in New Zealand - the level of investment in under-20 programmes around the world has also increased significantly. The Six Nations lead the way, running an under-20 competition in conjunction with the tournament proper.

It has been a hugely successful formula, with the age-grade sides typically playing the day before the full tests.

England have thrown the most into their programme and have the results to justify it.

They are the defending champions and, as a further sign of the strength of their programme, nine of their match-day squad that played the 2011 JWC final against New Zealand are likely to be here in the full squad.

The level of competitiveness at the last two JWCs has persuaded all this year's main contenders to up their preparations.

South Africa, winners in 2012, spent two months in camp and played three games against Argentina as the main focus of their build-up.

Australia, who have been disappointing in previous tournaments given their talent base, are coming with a renewed confidence after they, too, spent prolonged time in camp.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand, having won the first four tournaments between 2008 and 2011, decided this year they needed to do more leading into the competition. Historically they have come in a little underdone, usually with just one hit-out under their belts.

This year, they played the respective development sides of the Blues, Hurricanes and Chiefs - slowly improving in each performance before claiming a solid win in their last match.

They have South Africa, Scotland and Samoa in their pool and the clash with the former will determine their fate. The three pool winners and the runner-up with the most points qualify for the semifinals.

But how the team fares in the next few weeks doesn't seem as important as how many future stars are produced. The man to keep an eye out for in that regard is last year's New Zealand Secondary Schools captain Mitchell Jacobson.

The versatile loose forward has drawn comparisons with Kieran Read because, like Read, he's advanced from a relatively unfancied rugby school (Cambridge High).

Atunaisa Moli is an already impressively-built prop who was head boy at Marlborough Boys' College last year and led them to Press Cup success Moli has already been picked up by Waikato.

In the backs, midfielders TJ Faiane and Jackson Garden-Bachop are astute footballers with all-round skills.


Numbers

282 - of the 2240 who have played in the Junior World Championships since 2008 have gone on to play test rugby.
12.5% - That's a conversion rate of 12.5 per cent.
49 - The number of Junior World Championship graduates who played at the 2011 World Cup.
21 - Steve Hansen has handed out 21 new caps since he took over in 2011. Only 5 didn't play at a Junior World Championships.
4 - The number of Junior World Championships New Zealand have won of the 6 that have been played, although the last triumph was in 2011.

- Herald on Sunday

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