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Preview: 2011 IRB Junior World Cup

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James Mortimer     10 Jun 2011     Getty Images

The beautiful Veneto region in North West Italy will play host to the tournament, with the former Venetian Republic (which was independent from Italy for more than a millennium) and its capital Venice continuing the tradition set by the International Rugby Board (IRB) to give smaller rugby nations hosting rights for the championship.

The tournament was officially launched this week by IRB Tournament Director Philippe Bourdarias, Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR) Vice President Nino Sacca and representatives of the 12 participating teams at the Palazzo Della Ragione in Padova – with Luke Whitelock the New Zealand captain.

The championship follows in the footsteps of Japan in 2009 and Argentina in 2010, and will take place from June 10 (June 11 NZT) – kicking off with host’s Italy playing defending champion’s New Zealand – through to June 26, when the Final will be played at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova.

The opening day will also see England take on Ireland, while last year’s runners-up Australia will play Tonga.

England, twice beaten by New Zealand in the Junior World Cup final, looks to be the strongest challenger, winning the Under-20’s Six Nations Grand Slam, beating Ireland 46-15 back in March.

Australia, who were shell shocked by a rampant New Zealand last year, will see Colby Faingaa – like Whitelock another member of a prodigious rugby family – captain their team and they will hope to go one further against their Trans-Tasman rivals.

Mark Anscombe, coach of the New Zealand Under-20s, was looking forward to continuing the proud tradition of the Baby Blacks.

“I’ve been involved in the team the three previous years and know what is expected and what it has taken to be successful,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter who coaches them, the expectation is always pretty high on New Zealand teams to be successful and to do well at tournaments like this.”

“I think the normal ones will all be there again. Australia will be very strong again, England are getting stronger and stronger each year. I don’t know a lot about France but they will always be competitive. South Africa seem to have put a lot into their [preparations], they’ve been on tour. Then you’ve got the Irish and the Welsh who you can never take for granted and you’ve got to be on your game to beat them.”

While Whitelock said the side wasn’t looking past their opening match.

“We’re taking it [the first game against Italy] very seriously,” he said.

“We realise that when people play for their country, and especially at home, they can grow another arm and a leg.”

As for the Italians, their captain Piermaria Leso said he was looking forward to not only playing in front of his native Venetians, but opening proceedings against the reigning champions.

“I’m a Veneto, and playing in my region in front of my family is very exciting,” he said.

“The first match will be tough, however we are ready for this challenge, the Baby Blacks are definitely the strongest team in the world.

“Last year we won the Junior World Rugby Trophy [effectively the second tier Junior World Championship] and we won the right to participate in the Junior World Championship. The goal now is to stay in this competition.”

All three New Zealand pool matches, the semifinals and Final will be broadcast live on SKY Sport’s Rugby Channel.

The IRB will be streaming 16 matches live and on-demand via the official tournament website at www.irb.com/jwc, ensuring an increased global audience can see the live action for free.

To see the team selected to play Italy, click here.

New Zealand Under-20 squad

Forwards

Carl Axtens* Bay of Plenty
Dominic Bird Canterbury
Heiden Bedwell-Curtis Taranaki
Sam Cane*# Bay of Plenty
Michael Kainga Wellington
Steven Luatua* Auckland
Greg Pleasants-Tate North Harbour
Brodie Rettalick Hawke’s Bay
Solomona Sakalia* Wellington
Sefo Setefano Waikato
Brad Shields Wellington
Ben Tameifuna* Hawke’s Bay
Codie Taylor* Canterbury
Luke Whitelock^ Canterbury

Backs

Gareth Anscombe* Auckland
Beauden Barrett Taranaki
Nathan George Waikato
Rhys Llewellyn Canterbury
Waisake Naholo Taranaki
TJ Perenara*# Wellington
Charles Piutau* Auckland
Glen Robertson^ Waikato
Francis Saili* Auckland
Mitchell Scott Tasman
Lima Sopoaga* Wellington
Brad Weber Otago

Note: * denotes member of 2009 New Zealand Schools team
# denotes member of the 2009 New Zealand Under 17 programme
^ denotes member of the 2010 New Zealand Under 20 team

2011 Junior World Championship Pools

Pool A: New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, Wales
Pool B: Australia, Fiji, France, Tonga
Pool C: England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa

New Zealand fixtures

10 Jun, Italy v New Zealand @ Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso
Kick off 8:10pm local, NZT 11 June 6:10am

14 Jun, New Zealand v Wales @ Stadio Mario Battaglini, Rovigo
Kick off 6:10pm local, NZT 15 June 4:10am

18 Jun, Argentina v New Zealand @ Stadio Plebiscito, Padova
Kick off 6:10pm local, NZT 19 June 4:10am

Previous champions
(Note the Junior World Cup replaced both the Under-19 and Under-21 championships)

2008 in Wales, New Zealand 38 - 3 England
2009 in Japan, New Zealand 44 - 28 England
2010 in Argentina, New Zealand 62 - 17 Australia