The future stars of world Rugby will come together in New Zealand from June 2-20 for the IRB Junior World Championship 2014.
The seventh edition of the Under 20 tournament will see matches played at North Harbour Stadium and Pukekohe Stadium during the pool stages and semi-finals on June 2, 6, 10 and 15.
Eden Park, the stadium where New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final, will then host the #JWC2014 title decider on June 20.
The pool stages have thrown up some mouth-watering encounters with hosts New Zealand to face South Africa in a repeat of the 2012 final, which the Junior Springboks won 22-16 at Newlands in Cape Town.
Four-time winners New Zealand will also face Scotland and Samoa, the latter Pool C encounter sure to prove popular with the large Samoan population in Auckland.
Defending champions England will face traditional rivals Australia, Argentina and IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2013 winners Italy in Pool A, while 2013 runners-up Wales face encounters with France, Ireland and Fiji in Pool B.
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The IRB Junior World Championship has gone from strength to strength since its introduction in 2008 with record crowds attending the South African event in 2012 and record television audiences watching the 2013 edition in France.
More than 260 players have graduated from the Junior World Championship to the Test arena, including 17 who played their part in New Zealand’s perfect year with 14 victories from 14 in 2013.
One of them was JWC 2009 winning captain Aaron Cruden, who kicked the touchline conversion that sealed the 14th win – 24-22 over Ireland on Sunday – and has previously admitted how important that tournament was to his path to becoming an All Black and RWC 2011 winner.
“There are a lot of great rugby players all around the world and I think that Under 20 tournament is a great pathway to be able to apply your trade and sort of show your wares on the international stage and then you never know what can happen,” Cruden said.
“For me, obviously, a couple of years later I was in the big one, the Rugby World Cup, and it was a total dream come true and I think I have the Junior World Championship to thank for that.”
IRB Tournament Director Philippe Bourdarias said preparations are on track for next year’s tournament in New Zealand.
“Following the massive success of Rugby World Cup 2011, it’s great to be back in New Zealand and getting ready for what promises to be an extraordinary tournament,” said Bourdarias.
“The Junior World Championship, which is now more competitive than ever, has grown massively as a result of its open, running Rugby, its values and the chance for fans to see the future stars of world Rugby up close.”
New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said: “We are incredibly proud to once again play host to the Rugby world.”
“Two years ago we delivered a very successful Rugby World Cup. I am confident we can once again stage a very special event that will make our country proud while also providing the right platform for the best young players in the world to perform to their potential.”
Francis Saili, who made his All Blacks debut earlier this year having been part of the last New Zealand team to win the Junior World Championship back in 2011, is excited about seeing the tournament come to New Zealand.
“I have very special memories of my time with the Under 20 team,” said Saili, who plays Super Rugby in Auckland with the Blues.
“It’s been really important in helping me realise my dream of becoming an All Black and I know for the young guys who get selected next year it will be pretty special to play in front of a home crowd.”
Fans in New Zealand are being encouraged to support the teams and tickets have been priced as low as NZ$5 for children. A family of four can attend all three pool matches at one venue on each match day from as little as NZ$30.
The tournament dates, match venues, pools and schedule for #JWC2014 were announced at the official launch at St Peter’s College in Auckland on Friday.