A year (and a bit) on from the wonderful Junior World Championship played in France, I thought it would be demonstrative to have a look at the progress of the best XV from that tournament and how their careers have gone on from that point. This should show how important the competition is, and which countries are the best at giving their youth a chance.
1. Ed Byrne (Ireland)
The Byrne twins had a superb tournament. Even though Ed wasn't necesarily first choice, he was by far the most impressive of Ireland's dominant front row in the tournament. This was the first tournament in memory where the Irish front row demolishing opponents in the scrum, and Byrne was a catalyst for lots of late game comebacks and improvements, especially in that unfortunate game against New Zealand.
The Byrne twins were highly touted prospects out of school, coming from the dominant period in Clongowes history, which has also featured the likes of Jordan Coughland and Conor Gilsenan.
Unfortunately, since the tournament, Byrne hasn't even appeared in the British & Irish Cup, with Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent and Jack O'Connell ahead of him in the pecking order. He will be looking for more gametime this season as he challenge Bent for the 3rd choice loosehead role, with O'Connell off to play for Bristol in the Championship. He will need to show signs of progression in his final season in the academy or his place in Leinster may be under threat.
2. Luke Cowan Dickie (England)
The JWC champions had one of their more impressive performers in the tournament. His performances on the rugby field excused his hair, which seemed to have gained a cult following. Highly thought of in England, big things were expected of the Exeter hooker after the tournament. He had played at loosehead prop the previous year, but his accurate darts, powerful scrummaging and wonderful loose play was a joy to behold.
Cowan-Dickie made a few appearances for the Chiefs this season, with several in the LV Cup, a couple in the Premiership and a Heineken Cup appearance. His potential is such that Lancaster deemed him worthy of inclusion into the extended England squad for their recent tour of New Zealand. Despite an injury ruling him out, the future looks bright for Cowan Dickie, and he's sure to push on next season.
3. Chris Taylor (Ireland)
Chris Taylor was the tighthead prop for Ireland that lead the scrum to demolishing all opponents. With the dearth of quality tighthead props in Ireland at the moment, many things were expected of Taylor on concluding the tournament.
Unfortunately, Ulster didn't offer Taylor a place in their academy following the tournament, although he did manage to feature once in the British and Irish Cup.While Ulster are losing John Afoa to Gloucester next season, and seem to be replacing him with quantity rather than quality, perhaps Taylor is the long term quality answer?
4. Irne Herbst (South Africa)
Herbst was one of South Africa more impressive forwards in the tournament. Another in the long line of South African locks, the powerfully built second row was impressive in his physicality and manage to score vital tries for his team.
Since the tournament, he's remained with the Blue Bulls U21 team, and has 8 caps in the Vodacom Cup. With the turnover in the Bulls at the moment, he will be targeting this year's Currie Cup to make his mark and push.
5. Patrick Tuipulotu (New Zealand)
For someone who nearly didn't make the Blues U17 team at the time, Tuipulotu was outstanding in the JWC, bringing his all action approach and high energy game all the way to the semi finals where New Zealand fell short.
Tuipulotu is the most well known name on this list so far. Owing due to a horrific injury suffered by Blues lock Calum Retallick on the eve of Super Rugby, Tuipulotu grabbed the last spot in the Blues squad and has gone from strength to strength, and continuing his impressive performances from the JWC. His form earned him a call up to the senior BNZ team, and he made his debut off the bench in the 2nd test against England in June. A force to be reckoned with for years to come.
6. Joseph Edwards
Edwards was part of a hugely impressive back row for New Zealand, with some huge hits, strong carries and brilliant support play. His experience from playing for Auckland in the ITM Cup the year before stood to him.
He went on to get more appearances for Auckland in the ITM Cup which was cut short by a dislocated shoulder. Despite this, Edwards was also named in the wider Blues training squad for 2014. Watch out for him to start showing his undoubted promise in this year's edition of the ITM Cup.
Mention for Steenkamp and Curtis Browning.
7. Ardie Savea
The IRB Junior Player of the Year nominee had a storming tournament, and showed the watching public why he's rated so highly. He was class in the loose, strong over the ball, and tackled furiously. His previous Super Rugby experience was evident, and Ardie always looked a class apart.
His 2013 got better after the JWC, and, along with a resurgent Victor Vito and Brad Shields, he was part of an all conquering Wellington Lions back row that nearly swept all before them before Canterbury shocked them in the final. His performances in that tournament also lead to him being called up as a non playing member of New Zealand's end of season tour, where Steve Hansen was able to get Savea used to BNZ's methods. No doubt he will be a feature of BNZ squads for years to come. In 2014, Jack Lam has been in outstanding form, and largely keeping Savea out of the Hurricanes starting line up. With Lam moving to Bristol next year, Savea will look to cement the Hurricanes 7 jumper for the next decade.
8. Jack Clifford
Clifford is another of the nominees for the IRB Junior Player of the Year after leading England to the JWC title. Clifford was the heartbeat of the English side. He never took a backwards step and was shown to be a proven leader.
Clifford is at one of the best clubs in England for young players, nurtured by Conor O'Shea, Clifford made 4 appearances with the senior side, and will no doubt be learning his apprenticeship under the experienced Nick Easter. With Easter the wrong side of 30, Clifford will be getting more opportunities in the coming season.
9. Stefan Ungerer
Ungerer beat of close competition for Rhodri Williams, whose service to Sam Davies was quick and sharp, but Ungerer played in the controlling scrumhalf mould for South Africa to a tee, and in a year when much was expected of Luke McGrath, Ungerer showed up the highly thought of Leinster prospect.
Ungerer played Vodacom Cup with the Natal Sharks in 2013, and was selected for the Shark's squad for the 2014 Super Rugby competition, making 4 sub appearances. With Charl McLeod moving to Grenoble, the opportunity for Ungerer to get more gametime will increase next season.
The challengers to Ungerer's position as the scrumhalf of the tournament were Rhodri Williams, who played 15 times for Scarlets in the Pro 12, with 6 Heineken Cup appearances, as well as two substitute appearances for the full Welsh side. Luke McGrath has gone on to make 8 sub appearances for Leinster in the Pro 12, as well as captaining the British and Irish cup side on occasion.
10. Sam Davies
The IRB Junior Player Of the Year had to make the team didn't he? His placekicking was flawless, his distribution was top drawer and his composure was exemplary.
Davies had a good season just gone with Ospreys, mainly finding himself in the 15 shirt. His 15 appearances in the Pro 12 show that despite the negatives surrounding the Welsh exodus, the talented youngsters are afforded a chance to play.
Other notable players were Henry Slade (18 Premiership appearances, 6 Heineken Cup appearances and an England game v the Barbarians) and Simon Hickey, who was underage in the tournament, went on to star for Auckland in the ITM Cup before establishing himself as the first choice number 10 for John Kirwan at the Blues making nine starts. Hickey captained the baby BNZs unsuccessfully in JWC 2014.
11. Seabelo Senatla
The Blitzbokke star was outstanding in this tournament. His pace, finishing and ability to ghost past defenders was beautiful to watch. His sevens experience shone out, and perhaps sent a message to other nations that this could be a valuable tool for youngsters progression.
Senatla was nominated for the South African 7s player of the year, and resigned to play 7s again for 2014.
Other talented wings that missed out include Jack Nowell, who in between his Chiefs appearances, started all 5 games for England in the 6 Nations and managed to find time to appear on Sky Sports as a pundit for JWC 2014, and Jordan Williams, who dazzled spectators in his 18 Pro 12 games, also appearing in the Heineken Cup in each game and for Wales. Fa'asiu Fuatai is another whose pace and finishing stood out, and his appearances for Otago in the ITM Cup 2013 certainly showed his ability.
12. Michael Collins
The lesser heralded of two centres in the New Zealand team, you wouldn't have known that Collins was the one without Super Rugby experience had you watched him play. Collins was outstanding in the New Zealand midfield as both as 12 and a 13.
Collins went on to play the full season for Otago in the ITM Cup, and will be gearing up for another season in the ITM cup when it kicks off in August.
Sam Hill was the only challenger to Collins, with the Englishman a beacon of composure throughout the tournament. Like his Exeter Chiefs teammates before him, Hill has gone on to make 4 Heineken Cup appearances, and 15 Premiership appearances.
13. Tom Farrell
As mentioned in the original article last year, Farrell really got the nod by default, with no 13 standing out, and me going for the homer. Farrell was impressive in attack, and contributing at the breakdown, that was enough for me to get him in the team.
Farrell has struggled with injuries in recent years, but in his first year of Leinster academy he managed to get 2 B&I cup games. There is an opportunity ahead of him in the retirement of the current 13 in Leinster, but if this year's JWC is anything to go by; Farrell could have competition coming up behind him.
14. Rory Scholes
If Farrell was a potential homer decision, Scholes's inclusion in the list is anything but. It's rare for a team's best player to play on the wing, but Scholes made some vital try saving tackles while also scoring a few at the other end.
Last season, Scholes took advantage of Andrew Trimble's resurgent season with Ireland to get some Pro 12 gametime during the internationals. He's close to establishing himself in the second string back three with Michael Allen and Craig Gilroy, although Louis Ludik may have something to say about that.
Scholes's huge competition for this spot came in the form of Ashley Evans who was an U19 star who didn't deliver as well in this year's JWC, Santiago Cordero (5 senior caps for Argentina), and Cheslin Kolbe, who starred for the Blitzbokke before injury ruled him out of the start of the Stormer's Super Rugby campaign. His return to their team has coincided with a dramatic upturn in their fortunes.
15. Hallam Amos
Hallam Amos was, to me, the standout out player of the Welsh explosive back three. At the time I predicted that due to his age that he would be a contender for the player of the year trophy in 2014. his step was mesmeric, and was a huge contributor to the Welsh run to the final. His 8 previous Pro 12 games had stood to him in a great campaign.
The prediction that he would be a contender for the JWC player of the year in 2014 never came to pass. Luckily for Amos though, that was because of a call up to the senior Welsh trial match which meant he wasn't included in the Welsh JWC squad. Amos has been capped by the senior Wales team, and this comes after a season with 3 Amlin Challenge Cup caps and 16 Pro 12 appearances.
Like Amos, Anthony Watson has also stepped up from the JWC, starring for Bath in his 20 Aviva Premiership appearances and 6 Amlin Cup games. Injury has delayed his inevitable England debut.
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