The sixth Junior World Championship is now over, with England crowned champions for the first time, after three times previously falling at the final hurdle. The tournament was not just good news for England however, with Wales also performing exceptionally, and making it to the final, ensuring the first all-Northern Hemisphere final in the competition’s history. The tournament will be one to remember for fans of the home nations, as Ireland also impressed, beating Australia, and were unlucky to not complete a superb comeback against New Zealand. After much deliberation, here is the team of the tournament…
1. Peter Dooley – Ireland
The loosehead prop had a great tournament for Ireland, starting against both Australia and New Zealand, and impressing significantly with his destructive scrummaging. He laid a good foundation for the Ireland pack in all his games, but was at his best against Australia, where he often took the Australian tighthead apart at scrum time.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie – England
Despite playing at loosehead in last year’s competition, the Exeter Chief was in dominant form as a hooker this year, and often looked a class apart at U20 level. His performances were typified by his powerful scrummaging, accurate lineout throwing and marauding runs in the loose. Cowan-Dickie will be hopeful of getting playing experience with the Chiefs in the Premiership next season, and if his development continues at this rate, full international honours might not be a too distant prospect.
3. Sione Mafileo – New Zealand
The prop was imperious against both Australia and Fiji, and apart from the semi-final against England, has looked primed to be the next All Black to roll off their impressive production line from the U20 level. A strong scrummager and ball carrier, don’t be surprised to see Mafileo make the step up to the next level.
4. Scott Barrett – New Zealand
Scott Barrett, the brother of Beauden Barrett, the Hurricanes and New Zealand fly half, had an excellent tournament. Like Mafileo, Barrett was a key component in New Zealand’s win over Australia, but was also one of the few shining lights in his country’s comprehensive loss to England at the semi-final stage.
5. Rhodri Hughes – Wales
The Welshman fought off stiff competition from the English and South African locks for the final second row position, but takes the slot by the virtue of having started all of Wales’ games at the tournament. Making so many appearances in a short time is a rare feat for a forward at U20 level, and he took his opportunities well, playing impressively despite Wales being overpowered in the tight five on more than one occasion.
6. Ruan Steenkamp – South Africa
Although Steenkamp played as a number eight for the entire tournament, his switch to blindside flanker is a necessity to accommodate the player who will take the eight jersey. That being said, Steenkamp was as ferocious in his tackling as any blindside in the tournament, and displayed a work rate which would put many flankers to shame.
7. Ardie Savea – New Zealand
The likes of Matt Hankin and Ellis Jenkins were unlucky to miss out here, but Savea, like Cowan-Dickie, looked a different class of player, and his experience in Super Rugby was evident in his displays. Key in his side’s victories, Savea was also the best player in a black shirt in New Zealand’s semi-final loss to England, and if it weren’t for him, the score line could have been even more one-sided.
8. Jack Clifford – England
If any single player raised their club or international stock at the tournament, it was Clifford. The England captain never took a backwards step, and in addition to his considerable playing ability, he captained his side superbly, leading impressive comebacks against both South Africa and Wales, and although the former proved unsuccessful, the latter won his side their first Junior World Championship.
9. Alex Day – England
The scrum-half may have had a difficult time in the final, but he was excellent in the previous four games, and deserves this spot on overall form, narrowly beating out Rhodri Williams and Stefan Ungerer of Wales and South Africa respectively. A livewire around the fringes, Day was a threat with ball in hand, as well as distributing to a talented back line.
10. Sam Davies – Wales
The recently crowned IRB Junior Player of the Year was Wales’ standout player in a very impressive Junior World Championship. His goal kicking was accurate, he distributed the ball extremely well, and showed a composure which certainly belied his young age. A player to watch in the future, Davies could well go on to become the next long-term solution at 10 for Wales in the coming years.
11. Seabelo Senatla – South Africa
If South Africa are looking for a player to fill Bryan Habana’s rather large shoes when he makes the move to France, they could do far worse than Senatla. The winger was in sensational try scoring form at the championship, no doubt helped by his sevens experience, and could well go on to become an exceptional international winger, bucking the growing trend of looking to six foot plus behemoths at the position.
12. Sam Hill – England
Hill was a mainstay in the England team, and his consistency was a key part in securing England their inaugural Junior World Championship. Like Davies, Hill looked composed at his position, and showed very good hands (and feet for those who saw his run in the final) even when under pressure.
13. Michael Collins – New Zealand
New Zealand were blessed with two very talented centres in Collins and Jason Emery, but the fact Emery went missing in New Zealand’s semi-final loss to England, was enough to move Collins out from 12 to 13, and give him the nod over his teammate. A call up to Super Rugby surely beckons for this talented player.
14. Anthony Watson – England
Perhaps the hardest selection to make, as no single player made this wing spot their own, in the way Senatla did at 11. Both Rory Scholes and Ashley Evans of Ireland and Wales respectively are very unlucky to miss out, and Watson pips them purely based on how well he played when it really mattered, in both the semi-final and final.
15. Cheslin Kolbe – South Africa
Kolbe fought off stiff competition from Jack Nowell and the Welsh pair of Jordan Williams and Hallam Amos (who shared duties at 15 for Wales), and the fact he was more impressive than these three is a true testament to the ability Kolbe has. South Africa are famed for their forwards, and rightly so, but with the likes of Senatla and Kolbe coming through, they could well have the next Habana and Percy Montgomery on their hands respectively.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images