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The fifteen most exciting forwards at the 2024 World Rugby U20 Championship

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday Jun 26, 2024

World Rugby’s grandest stage for U20 rugby returns this weekend as the World Rugby U20 Championship gets underway in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Made up of the twelve best U20 nations in the game, the competition is split between three pools, with each of the table-topping sides and the top-ranked 2nd-place team progressing to a semi-final series.

Outside of the top four, the rest of the teams will progress to knockout fixtures, which will decide the remaining positions from 5th to 12th.

Amongst the favourites this season are Six Nations winners England, last year’s finalists Ireland, hosts South Africa and New Zealand. Just behind these teams are defending champions France who are joined by Italy, Georgia, Australia and Argentina as the next in line to push for the title.

Here are fifteen of the most exciting forward prospects at this year’s championship.

Toby Macpherson – Australia
Australia’s captain in 2024, the Brumbies prospect led his team to a win over the U20 Springboks earlier this year in the U20 Rugby Championship. The 6’6″ tighthead lock spoke exceptionally about his team’s excitement of competing at this year’s competition. Playing a key role in Australia’s 5th place play-off win over Wales last season, Macpherson will want to go at least one better this season and get his team into the semi-finals.

Trevor King – Australia
The 6’4″ and 120kg Queensland Reds prop is one of the most highly touted prospects in Australian Rugby. Born in Fiji, King linked up with the Australian U20 squad in his first year out Downlands College and is set to be a key figure for the junior Wallabies this year.

Asher Opoku-Fordjour – England
Singled out for praise by England stalwart Joe Marler, the Sale Sharks prop is already a fully fledged Premiership rugby star. Still just 19-years-old Opoku-Fordjour played in all four of Sale’s Investec Champions Cup pool matches including going head-to-head with an all international Leinster front row earlier this season.

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Junior Kpoku – England
Racing 92’s Kpoku is an interesting case when it comes to English Rugby. Given England’s international selection policy at senior level it is fascinating to see the Paris based powerhouse feature in England squads. Such is his talent level, the 6’7″ former Saracens academy and Exeter Chiefs standout was in high demand as he linked up with the Racing espoirs. Following in his older brothers Joel and Jonathan’s footsteps by crossing the channel, it will be fascinating to see where Kpoku’s career goes next.

Henry Pollock – England
English Rugby’s next superstar, the Northampton Saints backrow took the U20 Six Nations by storm in 2024. A dynamic and physical operator who is not afraid to get stuck into opponents, Pollock has an air of Lewis Moody about him.

‘I think we kind of really all bought into that’ – Henry Pollock discusses U20 Six Nations triumph

Mathis Castro-Ferreira – France
Already a Top 14 mainstay, the Toulouse backrow is regarded as one of the brightest prospects in French Rugby. Built in a similar mould to former French captain Charles Ollivon, Castro-Ferreira utilises his height to great effect as both an offloading and aerial threat.

Nika Lomidze – Georgia
A member of Top 14 side Bayonne, the backrow was a standout in last year’s competition as Georgia recorded dominant wins over Italy and Argentina as they tied on points with South Africa in Pool C. Bringing an incredible work rate to the Georgian pack, Lomidze is a destructive force in the tackle and at the breakdown which will be crucial to his team’s chances against three strong sides in Italy, Ireland and Australia.

Brian Gleeson – Ireland
Unlike any backrow prospect in Irish Rugby history outside of possibly Caelen Doris, the giant Gleeson will be looking to pick up where he left off last year’s Championship as one of the best U20 players in the world. Featuring for Munster on twelve occasions this season, the 6’4″ and 118kg number eight is expected to be a senior international imminently and will want to end his time at U20 level with a World title.

Evan O’Connell – Ireland
Nephew of former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, Munster secondrow Evan looks set to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a dominant lock. Leading this season’s Ireland U20’s, O’Connell guided his team to second place in the U20 Six Nations (losing out on points difference to England). At 6’7″, he is Ireland’s go to option at line-out time and will be using this year’s championship as a springboard to break into the Munster senior team next season.

Sean Edogbo – Ireland
Looking to emulate his older brother Edwin as a fully fledged pro, Edogbo operated as an impact sub during this season’s Six Nations. In fact it was his incredible burst down the right hand touchline that secured a crucial win for Ireland over Italy in Cork. With bundles of pace and physicality, the rangy backrow feels destined for a break out campaign in South Africa.

Federico Pisani – Italy
A tormentor of opposition scrums in this year’s Six Nations, Pisani alongside his Azzurri front row teammates is one of the brightest front row prospects in European Rugby. Simply obliterating Ireland in Cork, Pisani almost got his team over the line for a historic win.

Marcos Gallorini – Italy
Joining his front row buddy in the category of dominant scrummager, the tighthead prop is one of the biggest players at this year’s competition tipping the scales at 133kg. Utilising every kg to great effect, Gallorini will be the anchor to one of the best scrums in this year’s competition.

Malachi Wrampling-Alec – New Zealand – *Update he has pulled out of the tournament with injury*
Dominating the U20 Rugby Championship, the Chiefs backrow proved to the rugby world that he is one to watch in 2024. A powerful ball carrier with the skillset to match, Wrampling-Alec returns for a second crack at the World Rugby U20 Championship having featured in 2023. Bring his previous experience of the competition as well as a full season of NPC rugby knowledge, the backrow is a key leader for the junior All Blacks.

JF van Heerden – South Africa
The latest in a long line of bruising South African locks, van Heerden is a special operator. Making his senior debut in both the BKT URC and Investec Champions Cup this season, van Heerden was singled out by head coach Jake White as one to watch.

Morgan Morse – Wales
Already tipped as a Welsh senior international, Morse could realistically have been in Warren Gatland’s senior squad this season. Becoming a key player for URC side the Ospreys this season, Morse brings a hard edge to the Welsh pack as well as plenty of punch from the back of the scrum.

Watch the World Rugby U20s Championship live and for free on RugbyPass TV. Register here now
*Unavailable in Africa, NZ, Fiji, Samoa, Papua NG and Tonga

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