In a very welcome move, and one that fans and coaches have been clamouring for, SANZAAR has announced the launch of an annual U20 Rugby Championship, with the first competition taking place in April 2024. The contest will see the U20 teams from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa face each other once each over a three-week tournament, with the top team after these matches declared the winner. The tournament will only take place in one country each year, which may offer home ground advantage to one team, but certainly has the added benefit of reduced travel and improved player welfare. The 2024 iteration will be played on Australia’s Gold Coast, with the exact dates in April still to be confirmed.
This announcement comes hot on the heels of a World Rugby U20 Championship which saw disappointing results for most of the southern hemisphere teams. The Junior Springboks were the only southern hemisphere team to make the semi-finals, where they were defeated by Ireland, before ultimately beating England to take the bronze medal. This contest once again raised concerns over lack of meaningful playing time for junior teams in the southern hemisphere, while many of their northern hemisphere counterparts are exposed to significant tournament level rugby through the U20 Six Nations. The disconnect between school level rugby, where teams are able to play together regularly and develop a solid understanding of their game plan and set pieces, and the U20 teams, where this has been missing, was evident in a frequent lack of cohesive play during this tournament. Of course, it bears remembering that the young players who make up this year’s crop of U20s will have been significantly impacted by COVID restrictions, severely limiting their opportunities to play over the last few years as well. All in all, a bronze medal for the Junior Springboks is certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
Nonetheless, the announcement of this SANZAAR U20 Rugby Championship is a huge gain for southern hemisphere rugby, and one that should make a significant contribution to player development in the four countries involved. Exciting times indeed.
Photo credit: Junior Springboks