Five of the best U20 players

Date published: June 23 2015

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With the U20 World Championship wrapped up and New Zealand crowned champions, we pick out five players who caught the eye in Italy.

The world's best young talent took part in this year's U20 World Championship as the Baby Blacks ended their four-year drought by defeating England in the final.

Several players thoughout were impressive, so here are five of the best, while limiting ourselves to one player from each country.

Akira Ioane  New Zealand

Without question the best player in the tournament, Ioane was a wrecking ball against every side he came across – finishing with five tries and only failing to score in the final Pool B match against Ireland.

The monster number eight's five-pointer against England in the final changed the tempo of the contest and at 194cm and 111kg he is a phenomenal athlete, as his heritage would suggest being the son of a former Samoa international player, Brian Ioane, and a Black Fern in Sandra Wihongi.

Anyone who saw Ioane's blistering first appearances for the Blues knew he would make a major impact on the tournament and Ioane was uncontainable. Still only 20 he will be a major figure for the Super Rugby side next year and look sets for the top.


Lewis Ludlam – England

Going forward there's no doubt that England have a number of exciting young talents in the pack as we saw throughout this year's championship.

Maro Itoje led the way with the 2014 title triumph in New Zealand and a new crop including props Ellis Genge and Paul Hill (who has joined Northampton) along with second row captain Charlie Ewels are all strong candidates to play Test rugby.

Ludlam was another, with the young Northampton Saint standing out especially in the final with his work at the breakdown where he won multiple turnovers.

He does face stiff competition at his club to win a starting place but offers something different for England in that he appears to be a natural fetcher at the ruck. Ludlam was notably voted England's Player of the Tournament.


Malu Falaniko Samoa

Samoa were in fact relegated from the U20 World Championship after Italy's last-gasp victory in the 11th-place Final on Saturday, meaning that next year they will play in the Junior World Rugby Trophy and be replaced by Georgia.

One player who really stood out though was Falaniko. The winger showed real pace out on the left touchline for his country and finished as the third-highest points scorer in the competition with 43, including one try.

The accuracy of Falaniko's goal-kicking, including six out of six in Samoa's Pool B win over Italy (before they met again at the end of the tournament), indicated that Samoa have a match-winning kicker to depend on going forward.


Garry Ringrose – Ireland

The next in line in Ireland's rich history of star centres? Ringrose showed great vision and creativity for Ireland in midfield through the tournament.

It might have been a frustrating tournament for the Ireland U20 side in the end as they finished in 7th, despite pushing New Zealand close in the pool stages, but Ringrose was a bright light again in a mixed campaign.

Comparisons with Brian O'Driscoll are inevitable when Ringrose goes around producing touches of skill like this one earlier this year in the U20 Six Nations, but last year's World Rugby Player of the Year nominee looks destined for greatness and also added to Ireland's points tally with a crucial penalty and conversion in the final win over Scotland.


Jonah Placid – Australia

Dangerous moments from the Australia U20 side never seemed far away when Placid got his hands on the ball throughout this year's championship, with the full-back making his first Super Rugby start for the Melbourne Rebels earlier in 2015. Already with a try to his name at the top level having appeared for the Rebels and Reds, it was no surprise to see Placid threaten in Italy.

The 20-year-old finished with five tries and showed a real ability to make something out of nothing given how Australia's set-piece struggled against the other countries.

Placid though showed his ability to open up defences with sharp footwork and real pace, working in the back-three with the former leading try scorer at this level in Andrew Kellaway. The Rebels will certainly be pleased to have him in their ranks when Placid returns to camp to prepare for the 2016 Super Rugby campaign.

Honourable mentions: Tevita Li (NZ), Hanro Liebenberg (SA), Otere Black (NZ), Damien Penaud (FRA), Nick Tompkins (ENG), Zander Ferguson (SCO), Thomas du Toit (SA), Sekou Macalou (FRA), Rory Jennings (ENG), Jason Jenkins (SA), Blake Gibson (NZ), Brandon Thomson (SA) 

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