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The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has announced the Australian under-20 squad that will travel to Italy in June to contest the IRB Junior World Championships.
The Junior World Championships is the top international under 20’s competition and has taken place annually since the IRB restructured international junior rugby in 2008.
The competition consist of the twelve best teams from around the world, all vying not only to win, but to avoid relegation to the eight-team IRB Junior World Trophy (a “second division” tournament for developing rugby nations). This year’s tournament, taking place in Italy, will be contested by the following teams:
Since its inception the tournament has been dominated by New Zealand, who has won every previous edition. England and Australia have constituted their main rivals, with the former contesting the final in the first two editions and the latter facing off against the boys-in-black in the final of last year’s tourney.
The Australian under 20’s side is coached by David Nucifora (who is seen as a possibly successor for Robbie Deans) and no doubt hopes to go one better in 2011.
The tournament is certainly very exciting for its participants, and undoubtedly serves a vital purpose in providing young players with a chance to not only represent their country, but also develop leadership skills (if handed the captaincy) and get used to the touring experience that is such a vital aspect of rugby union (particularly in the Southern Hemisphere).
However, having said all that, one has to question the wisdom of sending players who have already become contributing members of their Super Rugby teams.
The recently announced team of twenty-six (26) is made up of Queensland (11), Waratahs (seven), Brumbies (five), Western Force (two) and Melbourne Rebels (one):
Paul Alo-Emile (Western Force)
Jarrad Butler (Reds Academy)
Blake Enever (Reds Academy)
Colby Faingaa (Brumbies)
Liam Gill (Reds)
Michael Hooper (Brumby Runners)
Luke Jones (Rebels Rising)
Tim Mitcher (Brumby Runners)
Greg Peterson (Junior Waratahs)
JP Predaud (Brumby Runners)
Eddie Quirk (Reds)
Hugh Roach (Reds)
Siliva Siliva (Western Force Academy)
Scott Sio (Waratahs Academy)
James Ambrosini (Brumby Runners)
Eddie Bredenhann (Waraths Academy)
Joel Faulkner (Reds Academy)
Tom Kingston (Waraths Academy)
Tevita Kuridrani (Reds Academy)
Apo Latunipulu (Waratahs Academy)
Matt Lucas (Reds Academy)
Simon Morahan (Reds Academy)
Rohan Saifoloi (Waraths Academy)
Dom Shipperley (Reds)
Kimami Sitauti (Reds)
Ben Volavola (Waratahs Academy)
Whilst it is unsurprising that Queensland and New South Wales contribute far more to the junior program, the major concern lies in the fact that these two teams are also our best finals aspirants this year, and both sides are currently struggling under the weight of mounting injuries.
The current rules with respect to deciding who has priority (ARU versus the state union), requires that an eligible player must have started on at least four occasions before May. This is a rather strict rule that will mean Dom Shipperley will be leaving the Reds, despite being a key member of the current Reds set up with wingers Rod Davies and Peter Hynes on the injured list.
Compounding the contradiction, James O’Connor – arguably our best new talent to emerge since the restructuring of the tournament – has never participated. Instead, senior coach Robbie Deans deemed it more important for him to play for the senior Wallabies during the in-bound June internationals in 2009, rather than participate in the under 20’s carnival taking place at that time.
Whilst undoubtedly O’Connor has developed at a faster pace due to this “fast-tracking”, one has to question if players like Shipperley wouldn’t also progress at a much faster rate by playing Super Rugby instead of this tournament.
This is especially so for Reds and Waratahs players, who could yet feature in a finals match.