France Repeat as Champions; Scottish Angst at Relegation to JWRT
The Junior World Rugby Championships just wrapped up in Argentina and France won again, their only two titles in the twelve year history of the JWC. They've never even placed 2nd or 3rd before just three 4th place finishes in 2011, 2015 and 2017. New Zealand have owned the competition winning the first four years (2008-2011) and coming runner up the next year (2012). They've won more titles than anyone else at six, it's what you would expect from the #1 ranked nation at the senior level. England is next with three titles, France with two now and the only other country to win the U20 was South Africa in 2012. Wales and Ireland have both been runners up, Wales in 2013 and Ireland in 2016. Australia as well, runners up in 2010 and this year. All those countries mentioned represent the top 8 countries at the senior level, so it would seem obvious there is a correlation between U20 championship results and senior level results and rankings.
The question is, can the relationship be deconstructed into a predictive model or are there too many variables? Is France's dominance these last two years going to predict a resurgence of the senior side in 5 to 6 years? Are New Zealand's worst results, 7th place this year, 4th last year, going to show up as a glitch in their senior results down the road. Then there's the analysis of why, is it a reflection or report card on elite youth development in those countries, is France trending something right and New Zealand something wrong. Playing numbers, coaching style, player selection, team preparation - the theories and factors become numerous.
An then there's Scotland, currently ranked 7th in senior men ahead of France, now relegated to Tier 2 for next year. While teams like Fiji, Georgia, Argentina and Italy, remain in Tier 1 and push to climb the senior rankings, Scotland will be doing some introspection.
It has already begun, the Scotsman article
reflects on how devastating the result was to players and coach. The coach, Carl Hogg, going on to be forwards coach at Ospreys, gets scrutinized, were the tactics right, the team chemistry, etc. The player errors get noted, what happened? The article doesn't attempt to dig that deep but ends with "Complex problems are not susceptible to simplistic solutions." and throws it back on the SRU to sort it out... but there is worry about their developments systems and the implication for the future.
For a more robust discussion on the Scottish situation and theories galore check out the Reddit discussion
on the Scotland U20 relegation.
It's not something foreign to us in Canada, the worry about our U20 team and how their results impact the future of our senior teams. Finally we seem to be taking the issue seriously, bulking up the funding through the Canadian Rugby Foundation U20 Support Fund which is now almost about $2 million, it will also trickle down to help the U18 teams. The restart of the Pacific Pride academy this coming season - all positive steps. Canada came second to last in the 2018 JWRT, only ahead of Romania, there's some pressure and expectation to see a better result this year.
France and Australia Battle for Title; Fiji and Scotland Compete to Avoid Relegation to JWRT
While the Tier 2 U20 Junior World Trophy tournament (JWRT) looms next month in Brazil where Canada will try to win promotion to Tier 1, the Tier 1 Junior World Championship (JWC) in Argentina is just wrapping up with one round of play left.
France again will be in the final, champions last year, they will face Australia this year. New Zealand who have won the tournament several times in the past have slipped to a playoff for 7th place versus Ireland. Argentina and South Africa will vie for 3rd while 5th place will be decided between Wales and England. Near the bottom of the standings Georgia and Italy will compete for 9th while the relegation battle will be between Fiji and Scotland.
Scotland have never been relegated to the JWRT so will be fighting to prevent a historic precedent. Fiji were just promoted last year and they are one of the several teams who have constantly jumped up and down between tournaments. Japan is another team who has won promotion a couple of times recently but were quickly relegated. They will go into this year's JWRT ranked #1 being relegated from the JWC last year.
The USA actually made it to the top tier in 2013 but were quickly relegated again. Canada have never won the JWRT to earn promotion but have come second twice, once in 2013 to Italy who have stayed up in the top tier and in 2015 to Georgia who also have remained in the top tier, and will do so again this year.
Match highlights from the tournament can be viewed on the World Rugby site at this link.