U20 Junior World Championship Wrap Up: What Are the Implications for Canada
posted June 25 2016
[ed. comments below]
The Tier 1 JWC just wrapped up this weekend with England showing their dominance at this level. They went undefeated through the tournament and at the time of writing have a comfortable 28-7 lead over Ireland in the second half of the championship match. England are on a roll this summer, the senior team just claimed a 3-0 shutout of Australia on their June tour. They've now moved up to 2nd in the World Rugby rankings, dropping Australia to fourth.
There's an obvious connection to a nations U20 performance and their senior teams performance. The U20 players of today are expected to be the senior test players of tomorrow - in theory anyway. The best 18 and 19 year olds don't always go on to be the best senior players but there's definitely a causal relationship between the programs.
England have won 3 of the last 4 U20 championships and placed 2nd in that 4th year. Does that mean at the senior level they're a team destined to be on the rise? They had a glitch at the World Cup for sure, but the long term data seems to indicate they are going up. Their 2nd place World ranking verifies that, their recent domination of Australia, 2nd at the World Cup, verifies that. In 2012 when they placed a dismal 7th at the U20 they were ranked 4th, a familiar place for England.
What about NZ, they owned the U20 championship from 2008 to 2011, then have been top 4 since, winning again last year when England came 2nd. This year however they placed 5th, the worst finish for them. Should the NZRU be worried, is this a portent of things to come with their senior side? They have such a large lead in the rankings right now that even a loss to England in November wouldn't change their ownership of #1 but it would send shivers down the spine of many a kiwi - especially when connected to the decline of their U20 program.
Australia have been a disaster at the U20 level, they came 2nd in 2010 but 8th in 2012 and came 6th this year. The fact England dominated them at the senior level this summer could be vindication of the U20 statistics. Australia have done well at World Cups however and the effectiveness of post-U20 development systems in various nations opens up another discussion. Still Australia are now 4th in World rankings and their U20 record would say the bottom hasn't been reached yet.
South Africa are consistently top 4, they even won the U20 title on home soil in 2012. They're ranked 3rd in the world which is perfectly aligned with their U20 record of the last decade.
Argentina are the bright star, their U20 record indicates a senior side on the move upwards. Their 3rd place finish this year is their best after some hard years coming in 9th and even 11th one year, very close to relegation.
Georgia are also looking good, they were promoted this year and did fairly well finishing 10th. They sit in 12th spot in the World rankings but their U20 record would say they are gunning for Fiji and Japan the two countries ahead of them. They are hosting the JWC next year which speaks to the confidence of the national union in their U20 program.
Japan drew the short straw this year at the JWC, they're coming back to the Tier 2 U20 world next year. Italy defeated them in the 11th/12th match.
That brings up another question, how important are the U20 programs to the nations that are battling to make the top 10 in World rugby. Does the historical data provide any clues?
The last four winners of the Tier 2 U20 JWRT, Italy, Japan, Georgia, Samoa are ranked 11 to 15, ahead of Canada. The two anomalies are Fiji at #10 and Tonga at #14. Neither have particularly shined at the U20 level although Fiji did place 3rd this year at the JWRT. They were in Tier 1 up until 2014 when they were relegated to Tier 2. Samoa won the Tier 2 competition this year and will go back up to U20 Tier 1 next year. The U20 data would suggest that Samoa are on the verge of rising in the battle of the Pacific Nations but that didn't happen this year with Fiji claiming the senior Pacific Nations Cup, Samoa coming 2nd.
Another metric at the Tier 2 U20 level may be consistency. Fiji had a decent run at Tier 1, remaining there from 2008 to 2014. Samoa were relegated twice from Tier 1 in 2010 and 2015 but have climbed back up for 2017. Tonga were in Tier 1 from 2008 to 2011. Japan have also battled up and down, there for 2008 and 2009, missing for 5 years, back in 2015 and 2016 but now back down. Canada on the other hand have gone down for the count, they were in Tier 1 for 2008 and 2009 but are missing now 7 years and counting. Canada didn't even qualify for the Tier 2 JWRT this year, that should worry Canadian rugby fans.
If Canada want a realistic chance of becoming a Top 10 rugby nation in men's rugby they need to have a consistent U20 program. That would involve a significant amount of change starting at the top with the amount of focus and resources made available to the men's U20 program. It would also effect all the provincial talent identification and development programs that feed the national U20 program. Perhaps one indicator of that focus is the willingness of the national union to host the JWRT.
Spain are hosting the JWRT next year, they also finished second to Samoa this year and almost gained promotion to Tier 1. It certainly seems Spain are taking their U20 program seriously, they are a distant 23rd in World ranking but their U20 data is starting to speak out. Perhaps their win at the Olympic 7s repechage this month has more to it than appears on the surface.
2016 JWC Standings (#senior ranking)
1 England (#2)
2 Ireland (#7)
3 Argentina (#5)
4 South Africa (#3)
5 New Zealand (#1)
6 Australia (#4)
7 Wales (#6)
8 Scotland (#8)
9 France (#9)
10 Georgia (#12)
11 Italy (#13)
12 Japan (#11)
2016 JWRT Standings
13 Samoa (#15)
14 Spain (#23)
15 Fiji (#10)
16 Namibia (#21)
17 United States (#18)
18 Uruguay (#19)
19 Hong Kong (#22)
20 Zimbabwe (#31)