With New Zealand, South Africa, England and Wales through to the semi-finals, and all have had to do it the hard way, the 2013 Junior World Championships is living up to expectations. In the RR’s pre-tournament talent review it was noted that although some famous names were missing, the tournament was brimming with talent and indeed, to date, a number of individuals have thrived for their respective countries. The following six have been of particular note and seem genuine stars for the future:
Patricio Fernandez, fly-half, Argentina
Fernandez entered the tournament on the back of a stellar series against the Baby Boks in May as well as playing for the Pumas in the South American championship. Although the reports from the South American continent were glowing few would have been expecting Fernandez to explode as he has to date. His play for the Pumitas against Scotland, and in a cameo role against Samoa, was sensational. Blessed with speed, size and kicking ability, Fernandez is starting to look like a once in a generation player for Argentina as he tore Scotland to shreds, scoring one and working with Santiago Cordero to set up another. In the pool decider against Wales, Fernandez was well contained by commendable Welsh defence but he still showed flashes of his brilliance and, along with the similarly impressive Cordero and Matera, represents an exciting new generation of Argentinian rugby players. Although consistency has been an issue, one has to remember that Fernandez is only 18 and theoretically could have two more years at this level before making the step up, all-in-all an astounding talent.
Jack Clifford, number 8, England
Watching Jack Clifford’s high energy performances for England reminds the RR of former England number 8 Nick Easter. Clifford has been in fine form so far in the tournament and has led from the front for the English as a good captain should do. Save for conceding a couple of soft tries against the Baby Boks which ultimately proved their undoing, the English have looked like a real force, especially in destroying the hosts France in the first game. In that game Clifford was at the fore of everything the English did; he carried the ball with energy and power and showed a real nose for the try line (something he has been doing all season). Although the Baby Boks managed to neutralise this part of Clifford’s game quite effectively, he was nevertheless influential through his defensive work-rate and leadership, as the English recovered from a horrific and demoralising start. With England set to take on New Zealand in the semi-final, gaining forward dominance will be imperative and look for Clifford to lead the charge.
Rory Scholes, wing, Ireland
The Irish were expected to struggle somewhat this year after the gifted duo of Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Olding where selected for senior Irish tour of North America. However, while the Irish have missed out on a semi-final place, they have been one of the more impressive sides after beating Australia (the score-line flattered Australia), thrashing Fiji and pushing New Zealand to the brink of elimination. While Daniel Leavy has been arguably the pick of the forwards, in the backs Rory Scholes has shone and looks like he could be a real talent for Ireland in the future. Scholes is a natural-born finisher and he has continued his try scoring form from the Six Nations with three so far here. Two of his tries have showed that he has great strength (he has a devastating fend) and brilliant positional play (both times he put himself in superb positions to score) and the third try showed he can also burn out wide. In the New Zealand game he was a key cog in Ireland’s second try and produced a number of threatening runs late on but without fruition.
Cheslin Kolbe, fullback, South Africa
When reviewing the round-robin stage of the tournament the try scoring prowess of Seabelo Senatla stands out from the crowd as he has notched six in three games. However, the impact and form of the Baby Boks’ fullback, Cheslin Kolbe, has reached arguably higher levels. After the Baby Boks were dealt a dual blow of losing Jan Serfontein (international call-up) and Sergeal Petersen (injury) many feared their backline would be rather anaemic. However Kolbe has been a real source of inspiration for the Baby Boks so far with his incredible feet, elusiveness and acceleration confounding opposing defenders time and time again. Kolbe is a pocket-rocket in the style of Gio Aplon and in similar fashion he has been a conduit for so much of South Africa’s attacking play, setting up a number of tries (scoring one himself) in the thrashing of USA and scoring the clincher against a spirited French side in the final match. With the Welsh lurking in the semi-finals, South Africa will look for the killer trio of Kolbe, Senatla and Obi to continue their lethal scoring run, which to date, no team has had an answer for.
Hallam Amos, fullback, Wales
The media scope on the Welsh before the tournament was focussed more on who were not there (notably Rhys Patchell, Harry Robinson and Dan Baker) than the prospects of the team in emulating or bettering their third place finish last year. After a hard fought win over a fancied Pumitas side, the Welsh have done themselves proud by again reaching the semi-final stage. The virtuoso display of Jordan Williams against Scotland aside, Hallam Amos has arguably been the most impressive Welsh player, scoring two tries in two games so far. His incredible solo effort against Argentina, burning a favourite of the RR, Santiago Cordero, on the way to scoring perhaps the try of the tournament so far, was a product of a stunning line and a mixture of pure speed and power. Indeed, Amos has looked like a man amongst boys so far this tournament, certainly a product of his ample game-time with the Newport-Gwent Dragons senior side, but it also betrays the fact that he is only 18 years old! The only downside for Wales is that they have yet to figure out how to play Jordan Williams and Amos together, a dual-threat like that would be something to behold.
Ardie Savea, flanker, New Zealand
Savea entered the tournament as the unquestionable ‘player to watch’ and while he and the entire New Zealand team have yet to find their top form in the tournament so far, one cannot help being impressed by Savea, if only for his moments of genius which have occurred in each game. Savea has drifted in and out of games too often, has missed tackles and given away penalties but one cannot question his heart and leadership for New Zealand, particularly in testing circumstances against the Australians. His tournament got off to such an auspicious start as he robbed a Fijian of the ball in the first tackle of the match and cantered in under the posts for an incredible try. Against Australia, his tackle and pilfer after the hooter ended a spirited comeback. In the final game versus Ireland, Savea was imperious in everything he did, forcing a number of key turnovers. With the English on the horizon, New Zealand’s tight five needs to up the intensity which has been noticeably lacking so far. Riding Ardie Savea’s back, as has happened in the two close encounters against Australia and Ireland, won’t suffice in the knock-out stages.