England beat South Africa in the final of the Junior World Championships on Friday, and Alex Shaw has rounded up the top performers in each position.
Thomas du Toit – South Africa
The mammoth South African was powerful in the loose and consistent at the set-piece throughout the tournament. He was vital in helping the Baby Boks to two impressive wins over the hosts, New Zealand, and involvement with the Sharks at Super Rugby level cannot be too far away in his future. Peter Dooley of Ireland and Daniel Hobbs-Awoyemi of England both ran him close, particularly Hobbs-Awoyemi, who had a barnstorming game in the final.
Tom Woolstencroft – England
It was not a vintage tournament for hookers, especially after the position’s leading light, Malcolm Marx, suffered a tournament-ending injury in the group stages. That said, Woolstencroft acquitted himself superbly for the duration of the competition, and aside from some early inaccuracy in the final, boosted his stock considerably over the last month.
Paul Hill – England
Hill might not have had the same impact in the loose that New Zealand’s Tau Koloamatangi did, but his scrummaging was more proficient and consistent than any other tighthead in the tournament. Honourable mentions must go out to the South African duo of Dayan van der Westhuizen and Wilco Louw, but both fell slightly short of matching Hill’s impact.
Maro Itoje – England
The lock followed up his excellent U20 Six Nations with a series of superb displays at the JWC. With Callum Braley often used from England’s bench, Itoje took to mantle of captaincy with aplomb, leading from the front. He made his debut for Saracens at the end of the Aviva Premiership season against Leicester, and will be eager to kick on next year and feature more heavily for the North London side.
Nico Janse van Rensburg – South Africa
Van Rensburg completes a South African and English whitewash of the tight five, but given those nations’ respective performances in Auckland, it’s not too surprising. Had a quiet final, but was the driving force behind much of South Africa’s set-piece success earlier in the tournament.
Yacouba Camara – France
The Toulouse flanker showed his class for France, but was not able to lift them beyond a sixth-place finish at the JWC. Camara was actually unlucky not to tour Australia with the senior French side, but a number of eye-catching displays in New Zealand will have done no harm to his burgeoning reputation.
Gus Jones – England
The openside has not been a part of this England U20 side for very long, but he played the part of the try-scoring jackal exceptionally. A number of promising English sevens have struggled for form and/or been turned into ‘6.5s’ recently, but hopefully Jones will give the senior side a long-term option to develop ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Richard Mariota – Samoa
Mariota played all over Samoa’s back row during the competition, but it was at eight that he caused teams the most trouble. His powerful runs off the base of the scrum gave New Zealand and South Africa a lot to think about it in the group stages. Ensuring Mariota remains a Samoan player must be amongst the highest priorities for Samoa Rugby Union.
Henry Taylor – England
Taylor’s performances were so impressive that he ousted team captain Callum Braley from the starting XV, and went on to feature heavily in important games against Australia, Ireland and South Africa. The scrum-half had plenty of competition, most notably from New Zealand’s Josh Renton, who was used sparingly, and Argentina’s Juan Bernardini.
Handré Pollard – South Africa
The newly-crowned IRB Junior Player of the Year was the standout fly-half at the JWC and thoroughly outplayed New Zealand’s Simon Hickey, who was seen by many as the favourite to pick up the award prior to the tournament. Pollard’s ability with the boot and ball in hand were vital in getting his team to the final and his decision-making was rarely, if ever, called into question. He was run closest by Ross Byrne of Ireland, whose performances were all the more impressive for having to play on the back foot for much of his time on the pitch.
Tevita Li – New Zealand
New Zealand’s 2014 campaign will be viewed as a huge failure by the expectant Kiwi fans, but if it were not for Li, it would have been an even uglier affair. The Auckland-born winger looked like a man amongst boys at U20 level, scoring tries for fun and generally terrorising defences throughout. Pollard was a deserving winner of the IRB JPOTY, but if anyone had a right to feel aggrieved about the decision, it would be Li.
Harry Sloan – England
A veteran of England’s 2013 JWC title-winning campaign, Sloan was a welcome and experienced weapon outside of fly-half Billy Burns. A strong carrier, Sloan almost always made metres for England when he got his hands on the ball and was extremely solid in defence when called upon.
Garry Ringrose – Ireland
The outside centre has to be considered the discovery of the championship. Ringrose was a figure of relative obscurity outside of Ireland just a month ago, but after excelling and earning himself a nomination for the IRB JPOTY, that is certainly no longer the case. His rise to prominence and Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement make for an intriguing potential storyline over the coming years, and although we should not get ahead of ourselves, he does look like a player with plenty of promise.
Nathan Earle – England
Earle’s distinctive running style and searing pace electrified on-watching fans in Auckland. Normally a fullback, Earle was moved to the wing following the injury to Zach Kibirige prior to the tournament, and his versatility should be a huge positive for England over the coming years. Another IRB JPOTY nominee, the fullback-turned-wing saw off competition from the free-scoring Australian Andrew Kellaway, thanks mainly to the quality of opposition Earle had to face and his role in helping England lift the trophy.
Damian McKenzie – New Zealand
The Kiwi fullback was in supreme form throughout the JWC, often giving his side an excellent counter-attacking threat as their set-piece crumbled around them. He was pushed hard by Ireland’s Cian Kelleher, but McKenzie looked the more complete player and that extra measure of class showed in New Zealand’s 45-23 win over Ireland in the 3rd Place Play-off match.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)