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Five standout players at the U20 World Championship

Ones to watch: Georgia fans enjoy the U20 World Championship. Photo: World Rugby Rugby World

We highlight five players to watch from the U20 World Championship in Georgia


By Aaron Tillyer
World Rugby U20 Championships are renowned for producing some of the best players in the world and with the semi-finalists confirmed, we look at those players who have caught the eye so far at the tournament in Georgia…
Ernst van Rhyn

South Africa captain Ernst van Rhyn is big loose forward who gets around the pitch seamlessly. During the pool stages, he showed a ferocity in defence and was one of the top tacklers (42) as the Junior Boks conceded only seven tries throughout their three fixtures.

Leading figure: South Africa skipper Ernst van Rhyn. Photo: World Rugby Rugby World

Van Rhyn’s best outing was perhaps against Argentina in round three. Argentina were penalised heavily at the breakdown, with van Rhyn constantly disrupting their attempts to recycle the ball quickly.

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With shades of a younger Schalk Burger, van Rhyn has all the hallmarks and makings of a fine openside flanker. As the Springboks side is currently in development, van Rhyn has surely caught the eye of seniors coach Allister Coetzee. Expect him to feature over the next two years ahead of the World Cup in 2019.

Max Malins

Defending champions England left it late to snatch victory against Australia in Pool A to secure their place in the semi-finals and although Max Malins didn’t have his greatest game, the young fly-half is quickly becoming England’s greatest asset.

Mighty Max: Malins already has first-team experience with Saracens. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

If Malins plays well, then England play well. In rounds one and two, Malins attacked the advantage line and got his team on the front foot on numerous occasions. His instinctive judgement in his passing is what opens up space in opposition defences. Like his Saracens team-mate Owen Farrell, Malins has great awareness of what is in front of him and, more often than not, his decision-making is what gets his side over the line.

After making his Premiership debut for Saracens this season, Malins will undoubtedly play a big part in next season’s domestic campaign.

Caleb Clarke

New Zealand have a proud history of developing their Baby Blacks into All Blacks. The likes of Julian Savea and Brodie Retallick have both come through the age-grade levels and into World Cup winners.

Winger Caleb Clarke has the ability to do something similar. He’s topped the try-scoring stats alongside England’s Gabriel Ibitoye, yet it’s the manner in which he has crossed the line that has stood out.

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He picked up three in the final game against Ireland – and in two of those his pace and his confidence to beat his opposite number out wide was clear.

Clarke is also a player who comes off his wing looking for work. In combining with fly-half Tiaan Falcon, Clarke is a line breaker from first-phase play and with a tournament high of eight clean breaks so far, he is very difficult for defences to handle.

Wing in: Caleb Clarke scores one of his three tries against Ireland. Photo: World Rugby Rugby World

If New Zealand go on to win the competition, Clarke’s involvement will have a far greater impact on his future and career in rugby.

Darcy Graham

Scotland have the opportunity to finish the competition in a very respectable fifth place – a vast improvement on last year’s eighth.

Another winger to have impressed during the tournament is Darcy Graham. The Scot was involved in both of Scotland’s wins against Italy and Ireland, scoring two tries in the process.

Having made his debut at U20 level in the Six Nations, Graham’s pace and athleticism provides his team with front-foot attacking ball. And his exceptional finishing means he’ll be knocking on the door of Gregor Townsend in the not too distant future.

Pace man: Darcy Graham has also played for Scotland Sevens. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

Tomas Albornoz

Argentina’s tie with France in round two was arguably the standout game of the pool stage – the lead changed hands on several occasions, France winning with the final play.

Yet despite Argentina losing two of their three games, fly-half Tomas Albornoz has impressed. His goalkicking has been near faultless, a 40m drop-goal against France showed great confidence and tenacity for a young player, and he reads the game very well.

The two semi-finals – England v South Africa and New Zealand v France – will be played on Tuesday 13 June.

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