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Junior nominees set to join special group of winners

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irb.com     18 Jun 2014     Getty Images

This is the seventh award of this name, having changed from the Under 19 or Under 21 Player of the Year when the International Rugby Board restructured its age grade tournaments to create the IRB Junior World Championship and IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, both Under 20 tournaments.

We take a look back at the six previous winners of the IRB Junior Player of the Year award, one of whom now has a Rugby World Cup winners' medal to go with his IRB Junior World Championship winners' medal and Player of the Year award.

2008 - Luke Braid (New Zealand)

A member of the New Zealand side that won the last IRB Under 19 World Championship in 2007, Luke Braid returned to claim a second age grade title at JWC 2008 in Wales. A powerful flanker, he was a great link man with the talented backline, ensuring they got quick ball from the forwards to shine. He cleared out rucks at well and continually popped up in support of others, keeping the moves alive. Braid took over the captaincy of the struggling Blues in Super Rugby in 2012, leading by example with his commitment to the cause and destructive presence at the breakdown. His father Gary and older brother Daniel are former All Blacks, will Luke follow in their footsteps in the years to come?

Other nominees: Chris Smith (NZL), Joe Simpson (ENG)

2009 - Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)

The second New Zealand captain to lift the distinctive trophy, Aaron Cruden drew huge inspiration from pulling on the famous black jersey and captaining his country at JWC 2009 in Japan. The 20-year-old played against Uruguay and Ireland in the pool stages, but it was in the semi-final with Australia that Cruden's class and composure came to the fore, his vision allowing New Zealand to break through the defence and create the two tries in as many minutes which turned the match in their favour. Cruden, along with wing Zac Guildford, were the driving forces in the final as well, the fly half scoring two tries in three minutes among a 19-point haul to set New Zealand on the way to a 44-28 win over England and prompted coach Dave Rennie to label him "worth his weight in gold to us".

Cruden's success was all the more special given that a year earlier he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and then also had to beat a knee injury to lead New Zealand. Cruden's stock has continued to rise, his All Blacks debut coming in June 2010 and then found himself thrust into the spotlight at Rugby World Cup 2011 when called up to replace the injured Dan Carter. He came off the bench against Argentina in the quarter-finals, outshone Wallaby fly half Quade Cooper in the semi-finals and started the final before limping off with a knee injury, enduring a nervous wait on the sidelines until the All Blacks ended a 24-year wait to hold aloft the Webb Ellis Cup again. He has continued that impressive form for the Chiefs and was a key player in their Super Rugby title successes under mentor Rennie in 2012 and 2013. He held his nerve to land the conversion - at the second attempt - against Ireland to complete the perfect year for the All Blacks in 2013. He has now amassed 31 caps and 210 points, this month becoming only the 11th All Black to pass the double century.

Other nominees: Winston Stanley (NZL), Richard Kingi (AUS), Carl Fearns (ENG)

2010 - Julian Savea (New Zealand)

The New Zealand wing made a huge impact on JWC 2010 in Argentina, his power and athleticism meant he was almost impossible to stop when in full flight, leaving defenders in his wake and scoring some memorable tries. Described by commentators as a "smaller Jonah Lomu", Savea scored eight tries in less than two and a half matches to equal the record of another New Zealand flyer Zac Guildford for a single tournament.

The 19-year-old had already played for New Zealand Sevens by that point and showed great spatial awareness coupled with his speed and strength. Savea was called up to the All Blacks squad in 2012 after a good Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes and enjoyed a dream debut at Eden Park, becoming the first All Black to score three tries in a Test with Ireland. His try against England last weekend was his 20th in 21 Tests, a record few - if any - can rival.

Other nominees: Tyler Bleyendaal (NZL), Robbie Coleman (AUS), Ignacio Rodriguez Muedra (ARG)

2011 - George Ford (England)

The youngest player at JWC 2011 in Italy, George Ford’s skills and vision belied his tender age of 18 years and three months as he steered England to a third final in four years. Described as a “very mature player” and someone who “sets the tone in the squad” by England Under 20 coach Rob Hunter, Ford always seemed to have options and more often than not took the right one. He did miss a handful of kicks in the final which proved the difference as New Zealand won a fourth title with a 33-22 win.

Ford - the youngest player ever to play a professional match in England - has continued to impress when given the No.10 jersey for Leicester Tigers and particularly since moving to Bath Rugby last summer. He made his debut for the England Saxons in 2013 and graduated to the senior side with his debut coming against Wales in the Six Nations this year, a week shy of his 21st birthday. Ford was due to tour New Zealand this month but stayed home to undergo surgery.

Other nominees: Luke Whitelock (NZL), Sam Cane (NZL)

2012 - Jan Serfontein (South Africa)

The centre from Port Elizabeth had long been earmarked as a future Springbok and his performances at the tournament only reaffirmed this view as he helped South Africa win a first JWC title, scoring a try in the 22-16 win over New Zealand before 35,000 fans at Newlands. The 19-year-old showed himself to be an excellent distributor of the ball, as well as elusive, creative and blessed with great vision and awareness, his ability to break creating many tries for the Baby Boks. He had already caught the eye at Craven Week and in the Vodacom Cup but this year has earned rave reviews for his performances in his debut Super Rugby season with the Bulls.

He was initially named in South Africa's squad to defend their JWC title, but having attended training camps with the Springboks he was withdrawn and made his Test debut against Italy a year ago. A first Test try came a week later against Scotland. With Springbok captain Jean de Villiers sidelined with injury, Serfontein made his first start against Wales last weekend in what was his 10th Test.

Other nominees: JJ Hanrahan (IRE), Shaun Adendorff (RSA)

2013 - Sam Davies (Wales)

The fly half was outstanding through the tournament in France with his calmness and composure under pressure pivotal, allowing him to be the creative influence to unleash the players outside him. He showed howed nerves of steel in the dying minutes against South Africa, first with a perfectly weighted kick for Ashley Evans to score and then to slot the conversion from the touchline to snatch an 18-17 win and a first JWC final for Wales. He repeated the cross-field kick in the final, but Wales again came off second best to England, just as they had done in the Six Nations decider.

Davies had only made a handful of appearances for the Ospreys before his second Junior World Championship, but made the breakthrough last season with his first start in the RaboDirect PRO12 among 20 appearances for the Welsh region. He played in the Probables v Possibles trial match but did not make the Welsh squad to tour South Africa this month.

Other nominees: Jack Clifford (ENG), Ardie Savea (NZL)

Who will follow in their footsteps and be named IRB Junior Player of the Year 2014?