Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: World's best juniors heading for Auckland

Vian Van Der Watt from South Africa during the IRB Junior World Championships final match between South Africa and New Zealand. File photo / Getty Images
Vian Van Der Watt from South Africa during the IRB Junior World Championships final match between South Africa and New Zealand. File photo / Getty Images

While the rugby radar is now firmly tuned in to the start of the Super rugby, some are eyeing another crucial tournament in June.

Much will depend on the New Zealand team's performance but the International Rugby Board is hoping for record-breaking crowd numbers at the Junior World Championships in Auckland.

Twelve teams will contest the under-20 tournament from June 2 to 20, with New Zealand hoping to find the form that saw them sail through the first four tournaments (2008-2011) unbeaten. That track record was dented in South Africa in 2012 when the Kiwis lost to Wales in a pool match and the baby Boks in the final, and again last year when Chris Boyd's team, which included Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea, lost the play-off for third to the Boks.

England are the current champions after winning their final against Wales in France last year.

Philippe Bourdarias, the IRB's competitions general manager, said New Zealand's record in putting on two successful World Cups suggested the latest junior edition would be a hit.

"I think it's going to be the biggest Junior World Championships we have organised," said Bourdarias, who is in Auckland to finalise details of the tournament.

"Two years ago in South Africa we had a record-breaking tournament crowd - 40,000 in the final - it was massive. But I'm quite confident that we will break this record.

"As in any event, the success depends on the home team. In South Africa why did we break records? Because South Africa won it."

Bourdarias said he was also extremely positive about the interest from European broadcasters, who have not been put off by New Zealand's time difference.

The biggest 15s tournament outside the World Cup, it also traditionally features some of the best rugby, with the open game preferred to kicking for territory.

"For us it's very important. It's also very important for the participating unions because under-20 is a pathway for the players. All the talent they have identified three or four years previous ... it is the last stage [before becoming full internationals]."

In the case of the All Blacks, 17 of the squad on last year's European tour played in the Junior Worlds.

In what is a concentrated tournament played at three venues - Pukekohe and North Harbour with the finals at Eden Park - spectators will be able to watch three pool matches a day at a single venue.

Tickets have been priced to suit families at from $5 for children and $10 for adults.

- APNZ

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