World Rugby U20 Championship 2023: Pool A preview

World Rugby U20 Championship 2023: Pool A preview


Seeding for 2023: 1
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Champions (2018, 2019)
Worst finish: Ninth (2016)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 40 / Drawn 1 / Lost 19
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 1,651 / 202

U20 graduates: 83
Most capped U20 graduate: Gaël Fickou (79 tests)

Did you know …? France were involved in the only draw in World Rugby U20 Championship history, 23-23 against South Africa in the pool stage of the 2017 edition in Georgia.

One to watch: Posolo Tuilagi
The 18-year-old Perpignan second-row made his debut against England in this year’s U20 Six Nations, having made 11 appearances – including two starts – in the Top 14. He’s played seven times since then, scoring tries against Wales in the find round of the Six Nations, and in the promotion-relegation play-off against ProD2 side Grenoble.  


Seeding for 2023:6
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Runners-up (2013)
Worst finish: Seventh (2010, 2011, 2014, 2017, 2018)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 35 / Lost 25
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 1,531 / 181

U20 graduates: 71
Most capped U20 graduate: Dan Biggar (111 – 107 Wales, four British and Irish Lions)

Did you know …? A certain Sam Warburton, who would go on to captain the senior Wales side as well as the British and Irish Lions, scored Wales’ first points in what was then known as the IRB Junior World Championships, scoring a try against Italy in the inaugural tournament in 2008.

Coach (interim): Mark Jones
Jones is a former Wales international, capped 47 times on the wing. He steps in for Byron Hayward who tendered his resignation as Lead Pathway Coach at the WRU. His varied and much-travelled coaching career includes stints with Namibia and the Crusaders in New Zealand as well as a spell as an assistant with the senior men's Wales team in 2013. 

One to watch: Archie Hughes 
Two senior games were enough to convince Dwayne Peel, head coach of United Rugby Championship side Scarlets, to offer the 20-year-old scrum-half a new contract. Expect to see more of him in senior rugby next season, with Gareth Davies and Kieran Hardy likely to be away on international duty.


Seeding for 2023: 7
Tournaments played:> 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Champions (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2017)
Worst finish: Seventh (2019)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 49 / Lost 11
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 2,526 / 352

U20 graduates: 64 (63 Championship, one Trophy)
Most capped U20 graduate: Sam Whitelock (143 tests)

Did you know …? New Zealand won their first 21 matches in a row on the U20 Championship stage before Wales ended their run with a 9-6 victory in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 2012

Coach: Clark Laidlaw
Laidlaw's time as the Junior All Blacks head coach is only going to be short-lived as his new role as Hurricanes head coach in Super Rugby Pacific starts once the tournament is over. Laidlaw comes into the U20 Championship fresh from six years as head coach of the All Blacks Sevens, winning two HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series titles and a Commonwealth Games gold medal in that time. The 45-year-old is the son of former Scotland and British and Irish Lions scrum-half, Roy Laidlaw, and the cousin of recent Scotland captain Greig, and has his own international playing pedigree as a former Scotland Sevens player. He moved to New Zealand in 2008, which is when his coaching career began.

One to watch: Peter Lakai 
The latest in the long, rich line of baller eights from the Land of the Long White Cloud. In his breakout season, Lakai – vice-captain in South Africa – helped Wellington to a first NPC Premiership title in 23 years, and made seven appearances for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Pacific. All after being a key member of the New Zealand under-20s squad that dominated last year’s Oceania Championship. 


Seeding for 2023: 12
Tournaments played: 5 (2008-09, 2015-16, 2018)
Best finish: 10th (2015)
Worst finish: 15th (2008, 2009 – 16 teams in tournament)
U20 Championship match record: Played 25 / Won 3 / Lost 22
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 447 / 67

U20 graduates: 51 (23 Championship and 28 Trophy)
Most capped U20 graduate: Michael Leitch (78)

Did you know…? Japan regained their place in the top-tier competition by beating Portugal in the World Rugby U20 Trophy final in Brazil in 2019. But pandemic delays meant they had to wait until this year for their Championship return.

Coach: Rob Penney
Penney was announced as Japan U20 head coach in December 2022. The 59-year-old New Zealander has an extensive coaching CV, at home and overseas, including spells as head coach at Munster and the NSW Waratahs. Penney also led the Junior All Blacks to the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2012 where they were beaten by South Africa. Penney is very familiar with Japanese rugby having held various positions at club level, including his current advisory role with Japan Rugby League One team, the Urayasu D-Rocks.

One to watch: Yoshitaka Yazaki
The swift-thinking, fleet-footed, free-scoring full-back and winger was a member of the High School Japan side that played Ireland U19 in March and is widely considered one of Japan’s stars of the future. He scored a try off the bench in Japan’s 52-46 win over New Zealand Universities on 27 May.

POOL A FIXTURES (kick-off times local, GMT+2)

Saturday, 24 June

14:00 – France v Japan – Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
16:00 – Wales v New Zealand –  Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl<

Thursday, 29 June

13:30 – France v New Zealand – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
14:00 – Wales v Japan – Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch

Tuesday 4 July

16:00 – New Zealand v Japan – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
16:30 – France v Wales – Athlone Sports Stadium, Cape Town

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