Junior World Cup graduates shining on Test stage

Getty Images     10 Nov 2012     Getty Images

Samoan Alatasi Tupou has the honour of being the first JWC graduate and James Hanson the most recent – and 66th in 2012 alone – after his debut for the injury-hit Wallabies in the 18-18 draw that ended the All Blacks’ chances of setting a new record for consecutive Test wins on their European tour this month.

Hanson, though, is not likely to hold that mantle for much longer as some 30 potential JWC graduates – as well as a few from the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy – have been named across squads for a packed month of internationals across Europe and beyond, alongside nearly 90 existing graduates.

The uncapped Henry Pyrgos has already been named on the Scotland bench for their daunting task against world champions New Zealand at Murrayfield on Sunday, while Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola are expected to make their England Test debuts against Fiji at Twickenham a day earlier.

More are expected to follow in the coming weeks with exciting young talents like scrum half Tawera Kerr-Barlow – a JWC winner in 2010 – earning a place in the All Blacks’ squad and French teenage star Gaël Fickou, who has caught the eye in the Heineken Cup just months after playing at JWC 2012.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has also travelled with Raymond Rhule in his squad, the wing having already enjoyed a memorable year having been part of the Baby Boks’ squad that finally ended New Zealand’s grip on the JWC trophy on home soil in June.

Leading the way

Fickou and Rhule, though, will not be the first players to graduate from JWC 2012 to the Test arena, that mantle was claimed by Liam Gill, who made his debut in Australia’s 22-0 loss to New Zealand in late August, just two months after captaining his country’s Under 20s in South Africa.

Gill now has six Test caps to his name and will be competing with two other JWC graduates in David Pocock – the most capped graduate with 45 Tests who is returning from a knee injury – and Michael Hooper for the Wallabies’ number seven jersey this month.

The 20-year-old, who first played on the Junior World Championship stage in 2010 in Argentina before his 18th birthday, is one of eight new Australian JWC graduates in 2012 as coach Robbie Deans continues to show willingness to give promising young guns their chance in the spotlight.

Australia can now boast 19 JWC graduates with 280 caps between them, just over a fifth of the total number of Test appearances racked up going into a packed November schedule.

Pocock and Will Genia have both led the Wallabies in 2012 and along with fly half Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James Slipper have already accumulated more than 30 Test appearances. Welsh duo Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny have also passed this marker, along with New Zealand’s RWC 2011 winner Sam Whitelock.

It is Argentina, though, who boast the most graduates with 27, many of them only having played thus far in the South American Championship with no fewer than nine players given their first Pumas’ outing in the 2012 edition in May.

Perfect records

A select few Pumitas have established themselves as Pumas during the inaugural Rugby Championship with prop Juan Figallo, scrum half Martín Landajo and fly half Nicolás Sanchez set to start again in their opening November Test against Wales on Saturday.

They will come up against a Welsh contingent of JWC graduates at the Millennium Stadium, led by captain Warburton and with Halfpenny – the graduate with the most Test points (182) to his name – part of an exciting backline.

Wales are the only other nation whose JWC graduates can boast more than a century of caps, not to mention Six Nations and Grand Slam winners medals for eight of them – Warburton, Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Toby Faletau, Rhys Webb, Lloyd Williams and Justin Tipuric.

There were also seven JWC graduates who played a part in New Zealand’s success in The Rugby Championship, including five who only made their All Black debuts in 2012 in Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Julian Savea, Sam Cane and Beauden Barrett.

This quintet, along with RWC 2011 winner and JWC 2009 winning captain Aaron Cruden, are yet to taste defeat in the black jersey and will hope that statistic continues as New Zealand take on Scotland, Italy, Wales and England over the coming weekends.

One question remains though, which JWC graduates – new or existing – will have the biggest impacts over the next few weeks as teams try to secure vital wins to give them the best seeding possible for the RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw on 3 December.