Picking 5 Future Stars from the IRB U20s World Championship
While Julian Savea and Aaron Cruden are fine examples of U20s graduates who are now world-class players, plenty of IRB Junior World Championship stars, such as France’s Lionel Beauxis, have faded when making the transition to the senior international game.
Here, Bleacher Report looks at the five most likely from the Class of 2014 to make the grade.
1. Garry Ringrose, Centre (Ireland)
After the retirement of the titanic Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland are looking for an outside centre. Fortunately, in Garry Ringrose they may have a tailor-made replacement. A Leinsterman like O’Driscoll, their province is far from the only similarity between the two players. Most impressively, Ringrose hunts tries when in the opposition 22. Like O’Driscoll, he is both powerful driving over from five metres and able to use deft hands to put others into space.
To complement his skills, Ringrose is also a good goal-kicker, slotting four conversions and a penalty against Fiji. Ringrose is a talented footballer and consistent performer who can be expected to fill a key position for Ireland over the coming years.
Verdict: Ringrose could be the perfect replacement for Brian O’Driscoll.
2. Tevita Li, Wing (New Zealand)
Tevita Li is a dynamic left-winger and strong finisher who runs great support lines. He is yet another flyer from the New Zealand production line of athletic back-three players. His try against the Baby Boks was a breathtaking solo effort from his own 10-metre line. Li will become an international-class player, but he will have to fight the outstanding Julian Savea for an All Black starting berth. At 23, Savea has years and years ahead of him, but competition from Li will be great for New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
Verdict: Only if Savea continues to mesmerise will he be able to keep Li out of the All Black team in a few years’ time.
3. Handre Pollard, Fly-Half (South Africa)
Handre Pollard is a typical South African fly half who is pushing for a Springbok place. Pollard won the Junior World Championship in 2012, and captained the side that were runners-up this year. With sustained appearances in the U20 team, he is the leading points scorer in the tournament’s history. Further reward came after being named 2014 IRB Junior Player of the Year.
His kicking game, both out of hand and from the tee is excellent. In the final, a great chip through led to the try for Jesse Kiel. What is more, he also has a long-range drop-goal in him. He reminds one of current South African fly-half Morne Steyn, but he also attacks the gain-line, fixing defenders and creating space out wide.
Verdict: Pollard seems tailor-made for South African rugby.
4. Maro Itoje, Lock (England)
England U20 captain Maro Itoje is an athletic lock in a similar vein to Courtney Lawes. Consistently able to make breaks, Itoje has fantastic awareness of those around him and offloads impressively. For a second rower, his ability to play with his head up is a rare quality. However, to become a top international player, he may have to increase his power in the scrum. Time though, is on his side. With Itoje, Lawes and Joe Launchbury, England have enviable, mobile locks.
Verdict: Itoje will push Lawes and Launchbury very hard for their England places in the years to come.
5. Sean McMahon, Blind-Side Flanker (Australia)
Sean McMahon is an Australian workhorse in the Rocky Elsom mould. Certainly best on the blind-side flank, McMahon is a tireless tackler and powerful runner from close quarters. His try against France was superb, demonstrating an invaluable ability to break out of tackles without losing momentum. As the Wallaby captain, McMahon led the side by example.