South Africa have only once failed to make the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship, yet their sole title success remains the one they lifted in their home campaign of 2012.
The Junior Springboks will want to put that right as they once again host the tournament on the Western Cape. But they will have their work cut out in Pool C.
Argentina, beaten by South Africa in the most recent bronze final in 2019, will be determined to reach a first final while Italy and Georgia continue to make strides at this level.
It all means that Pool C could potentially be one full of surprises when the action gets underway at Danie Craven Stadium and Paarl Gymnasium on 24 June.
Seeding for 2023: 3
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Champions (2012)
Worst Finish: Fifth (2011)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 43 / Drawn 1 / Lost 16
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 2,102 / 293
U20 Graduates: 55
Most capped U20 graduate: Eben Etzebeth (110 tests)
Did you know …? Handré Pollard, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Steven Kitshoff were all U20 Championship winners with the Junior Springboks on home soil in 2012 and then Rugby World Cup 2019 winners with the Springboks in Japan.
Coach: Bafana Nhleko
A former Golden Lions U21 coach, Nhleko joined the Junior Springboks as an assistant coach in 2018. Promoted to the top job in 2021, Nhleko led South Africa to the U20 Six Nations Summer Series 2022 title in Italy.
One to watch: Masande Mtshali
Described as a “warrior” by Blitzboks coach Sandile Ngcobo ahead of his HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut in Dubai, Mtshali travelled to five tournaments in his maiden season on the circuit. South Africa will hope to provide the winger with the space in which he can showcase his pace and finishing ability.
Seeding for 2023: 4
Tournaments played: 12 (2008-19)
Best finish: Third (2016)
Worst finish: 11th (2009, 2017)
U20 Championship match record: Played 60 / Won 29 / Lost 31
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 1,398 / 162
U20 graduates: 85
Most capped U20 graduate: Pablo Matera (91 tests)
Did you know …? Argentina were involved in the only kicking competition in U20 Championship history, beating Wales 9-8 to reach the fifth-place play-off in 2010
Coach: Álvaro Galindo
Former Los Pumas flanker Galindo, who won 13 caps for his country between 2004-12, is preparing for his first U20 Championship as Argentina coach. Having joined the Unión Argentina de Rugby as a regional academy manager in 2017, he became U18 coach a year later and is keen to balance development with performance in South Africa.
One to watch: Mateo Soler
Named in the Argentina squad alongside his brother Valentín, the pair are the sons of former Puma Facundo Soler. Mateo can play anywhere along the back-three and his performances for Dogos during Super Rugby Americas 2023 earned him a place in the team of the tournament and also the young player of the tournament award.
Seeding for 2023: 9
Tournaments played: 10 (2008-09, 2011-12, 2014-19)
Best finish: Eighth (2017, 2018)
Worst finish: 13th (2009 – last year of 16 teams)
U20 Championship match record: Played 50 / Won 14 / Lost 36
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 828 / 103
U20 graduates: 75 (67 Championship, eight Trophy)
Most capped U20 graduate: Tommaso Allan (70 tests)
Did you know …? Only five players have scored more U20 Championship tries than Italian winger Giovanni D’Onofrio, who crossed the whitewash eight times between 2017-18. New Zealander Tevita Li is the tournament’s most prolific try-scorer, having scored 13 times across the 2014 and 2015 Championships.
Coach: Massimo Brunello
A former Italy winger, who played eight tests for his country between 1988-93, Brunello got his first taste of the U20 Championship as an assistant coach when the tournament was last held in South Africa in 2012. Following five years in charge of Calvisano, Brunello took the U20 job in 2020 and led the Azzurrini to a third-place finish in the 2023 U20 Six Nations.
One to watch: Marcos Francesco Gallorini
Italy’s forward power impressed during the 2023 U20 Six Nations and no one player contributed more to that effort than tight-head prop Gallorini. Despite being only 18, he proved more than a match for his opposite numbers and ended the tournament with five tries to his name. He will hope to have a similar impact in South Africa.
Seeding for 2023: 10
Tournaments played: 4 (2016-19)
Best finish: Ninth (2018)
Worst finish: 10th (2016, 2017, 2019)
U20 Championship match record: Played 20 / Won 7 / Lost 13
U20 Championship points/tries scored: 347 / 42
U20 graduates: 63 (27 Championship and 36 Trophy)
Most capped U20 graduate: Lasha Khmaladze (U20 Trophy – 94 tests)
Did you know …? Georgia warmed up for the U20 Championship with a 40-38 defeat of England in Tbilisi.
Coach: Lado Kilasonia
Despite only turning 38 in March, Kilasonia has been involved with the Junior Lelos since 2012, when he became an assistant coach ahead of the U20 Trophy in Salt Lake City, USA. He continued in that role until taking over as head coach for the team’s commitments in South Africa two years ago, the high point of his tenure to date coming against England in Tbilisi earlier this month.
One to watch: Tornike Kakhoidze
In his third season as part of the U20 set-up despite still being only 19, Kakhoidze looks destined to be a mainstay in the Lelos midfield for years to come. Having made his U20 debut at 17, he was called up to the senior Georgia squad for the first time at the beginning of 2022 and made his test debut against Germany during the Rugby Europe Championship 2023.
POOL C FIXTURES (KICK-OFF TIMES LOCAL, GMT+2)
Saturday, 24 June
11:00 – Argentina v Italy – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
19:00 – South Africa v Georgia – Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
Thursday, 29 June
16:00 – South Africa v Italy – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
16:30 – Argentina v Georgia – Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
Tuesday, 4 July
11:00 – Italy v Georgia – Paarl Gymnasium, Paarl
19:00 – South Africa v Argentina – Athlone Sports Stadium, Cape Town