World Rugby

World Rugby U20 Championship Pool Stage Recap: Six Nations Laden Semis

World Rugby U20 Championship Pool Stage Recap: Six Nations Laden Semis

Here is a recap of the World Rugby U20 Championship pool stage, as Ireland U20, England U20, France U20 and New Zealand U20 qualify for the semifinals.

Jul 10, 2024 by Philip Bendon
World Rugby U20 Championship Pool Stage Recap: Six Nations Laden Semis

And then there were four…. 

Claiming their spots at the semifinal stage once again are Ireland, England and France, who joined New Zealand this year in what looks set to be a blockbuster pair of fixtures.

Behind these four, the battles for fifth through 12th place will be no less intense, as each team looks to do its nation justice.

Here is a recap of the biggest talking points from the three rounds of pool play that got us to this point:

Hosts Crash Out

Despite regular claims that South African schoolboy rugby is a step above the rest, the hosts continued their barren run at this level, missing out on the semifinals.

Now 12 years removed from winning this tournament, South African underage rugby should be more competitive, given the sheer number of quality players in the country. Yet, despite this, there was a feeling of contentment that they pushed England all the way, which made it feel a million miles away from the expectations of the wider South African rugby public. 

Starting their campaign with an easy win over the lowest-ranked team in the competition perhaps lured the baby Boks into a false sense of security, before Los Pumitas thumped them in Round 2. 

For a nation that has won back-to-back Rugby World Cups at senior level, expect changes to be incoming, as the underage talent needs to perform to its potential.

Controversial Ending In Pool B

Getting battered by storms throughout the week, it was perhaps a minor miracle that the majority of the final contests were played Tuesday afternoon. 

The one fixture that did not happen ensured that Ireland topped Pool B, while Australia was denied the opportunity to play for a semifinal spot. 

In reality, Ireland is worthy of its place in the top 4 given its consistency, but a shootout against the only other undefeated team seemed like the perfect test of the knockout stages and the only fair way to decide who should proceed. 

Alas, it was not to be, and despite cries of foul play from the Australian team, it will now face Wales in the match for fifth place.

Six Nations Flex Continues

Though it has yet to be the case at the senior level, the shift in power from south to north at the U20 level is evident for all to see. 

For the fourth season running, France has progressed to the semifinal stage, having won the last three tournaments, while Ireland and England once again will join them. 

Saving the Southern Hemisphere’s blushes, New Zealand returned to the semifinals following three seasons away from the top table. Interestingly, New Zealand will face Les Bleus in a rematch of their epic pool stage clash, which was decided by a controversial last-second kick that secured the win for the Kiwis. 

On the other side of the draw, the top two sides from the Six Nations - Ireland and England - both are out for bragging rights, having played out a titanic draw in Bath in March. 

Should we see yet another all-Northern Hemisphere final, it will confirm the thought process that the gap between the two hemispheres has firmly closed in what undoubtedly is the most competitive era of rugby since the advent of professionalism.

Poor Venue Choices

As touched upon above, the fact that a crucial fixture was canceled a year ago from a tournament that saw pitch issues is a poor reflection on the competition hosts. While the weather can't be controlled, the conditions could be predicted given the heavy downpours the Western Cape experiences at this time of year. 

Thus, one wonders why the tournament could not have been hosted inland, where the conditions are far dryer, with the likes of Johannesburg and Pretoria or Bloemfontein having ample suitable venues. Instead, the game’s best U20 talent have had to trudge out onto swamps, which does not allow them to showcase their full talents.

Physicality At An All-Time High

Year on year, the physical ability of the players continues to go to another level, with 2024 being no exception. 

One simply needs to take a brief scan across the teams to see the exceptional athletes each team possesses. 

In the forward packs, the likes of JF van Heerden, Brian Gleeson, Henry Pollock, and Junior Kpoku are just four of the many players who would not look out of place at senior level. 

Across the backline, this trend continues, with Jurenzo Julius, Ben O’Connor, Hugo Reus, and Franco Rossetto headlining the stacked backlines of this competition. 

In short, the future of professional rugby is very bright, with the next generation ready to take the step up.

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