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Key takeaways from round one of the World Rugby U20 Championship

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Sunday Jun 30, 2024

Round one of the World Rugby U20 Championship got off without a hitch yesterday in Cape Town as six scintilating rugby matches took place live on RugbyPassTV.

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Given the ruthless nature of the qualification process at the competition, every round counts and as such, the ‘big guns’ in this year’s Championship will be happy to have come through unscathed.

Here are four of the main takeaways from all of the action.

Cream rises to the top
Ireland, England, France, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia entered this year’s competition as the clear-cut ‘big six’, all capable of winning the title. After round one, all six remain undefeated, with Ireland, France, and South Africa coming through unchallenged, while England and the Antipodean sides were made to work for their points. Falling behind early, England and Australia both launched furious comebacks to overturn Argentina and Georgia, respectively, whilst New Zealand will be counting their lucky stars that the final whistle blew as Wales came racing back into their contest. On the other hand, Ireland and France were too powerful for Italy and Spain in their contests, but it was the Irish who felt more positive as they thumped an Italian side that almost beat them in the Six Nations. Finally, South Africa had an armchair ride as their pack dominated Fiji in every facet of the game. Getting a read on the Baby Boks was tough, but at first view, their pack looks potent, albeit the challenges will only get tougher for them. Their backline is packed with stars but lacks cohesion, with players overrunning one another and having simple handling errors. No doubt the hosts will work on this area and will get better throughout the tournament, but they will face an acid test when they face England in the final round.

Round one team of the week | 2024 World Rugby U20 Championship

Contrast of styles on show
From one end of the spectrum to another, round one displayed just about every style of rugby team one could expect to see. From the daring do style of the Fijians, who lacked structure but had a crack from everywhere, to the forward, dominant, and confrontational style of South Africa. In between these two sides, the other teams filtered in, with Ireland and England looking the most well-rounded. As is often the case with U20 rugby, teams will morph and mould themselves as the competition develops.

Most physical championship yet
Across the board, this year’s championship is stacked with remarkable athletes who already appear to be the finished products physically. This physical ability has seen the pace of the game take a step up, even from last year’s top-quality competition. Headlining this physicality was the opening contest between England and Argentina, which saw two packs that would not look out of place at the senior level and had a right old tussle. Starting the contest brightly, Argentina appeared to be on course for an upset as their forwards went over the top of their English counterparts to set up two wonderful tries. As the match wore on, however, players such as Henry Pollock, Asher Opoku-Fordjour, Finn Carnduff and Junior Kpoku took control. On the other end of the scale, South Africa’s structured set piece obliterated Fiji, but in open play, the South Pacific Islanders more than held their own and put in some thumping hits. Starting with a bang does not mean this physicality will let up, in fact expect things to get even more competitive as the top sides begin to square up in the later rounds.

Rugby lineage on full display
Koen, Bracken and O’Connell, are we in the early 2000s? One could be forgiven for thinking so as the next generation of great rugby families look to carve out their own path. This starts with Baby Bok Liam Koen, who is following in his father’s footsteps as an astute kicking and facilitating operator in the flyhalf channel. Although he resembles his father in the way he directs traffic around him, Koen Jr is a physical operator in a way his father was not as he uses all 6’4″ of his frame to great effect in particular on the defensive side of the ball. Bracken on the other hand is more similar to his father as a pacy and versatile backline oeprator who capped off his debut with a hattrick of tries against Argentina in game one. Finally O’Connell is a near carbon copy of his uncle Paul O’Connell and appears to have picked up his leadership abilities as the captain of the Irish side this year.

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