The U20 World Rugby Championship returns in 2023 after a four-year break, and ahead of the tournament, Planet Rugby looks back at the past winners of the U20 Player of the Year Award winners.
2008 – Luke Braid
Braid quickly made a name for himself as an uncompromising back-rower. He is the son of Gary Braid, who represented the All Blacks twice in 1983, while his brother Daniel also played for the national team. Luke played for the u20s in 2008 and was a standout in the tournament as New Zealand defeated England 38-3 in the final to win the competition. Braid went on to play just ten times for the Chiefs in Super Rugby and 69 times for the Blues between 2011 and 2015. He did not replicate his brother and father’s exploits by earning his Test debut for the All Blacks but did represent the Maori All Blacks. In 2015, he signed for French Top 14 club Bordeaux who he would play for until his retirement in 2019.
2009 – Aaron Cruden
New Zealand emphatically defended their title, cruising into the final, defeating England 44-28 in Japan. They were led by the brilliant young talent of Aaron Cruden, who scored two of the seven tries in the final. He debuted for the Hurricanes and All Blacks the following year and was part of the World Cup-winning All Blacks squad in 2011, famously starting the final before injury struck, forcing him off the pitch. He joined the Chiefs after the World Cup and would rack up 100 appearances for the side, winning Super Rugby twice.
Cruden was regularly part of the Test set-up until 2017 but would miss out on selection for the 2015 World Cup. Cruden signed for Top 14 outfit Montpellier in 2017 after earning his 50th Test cap for the All Blacks. He returned to the Chiefs in 2020 before signing for Japanese club side Kobelco Steelers in 2021. He finished up the 2023 season with Suntory Sungoliath.
2010 – Julian Savea
Savea shot to stardom during the 2010 U20 World Rugby Championship finishing the tournament as the top scorer, having dotted down eight times en route to the title. He did not score in the 17-62 triumph over Australia, but that mattered little as he picked up the Player of the Year Award. He played 12 times for the Hurricanes in his debut season in 2011 but had to wait until 2012 to make his Test debut. Savea quickly made the most of his opportunities, dotting down eight times in his first four appearances.
The abrasive winger was widely regarded as one of the best outside backs in the world, scoring 54 times in 59 Tests and winning the Rugby World Cup with New Zealand in 2015. He earned the last of his Test caps against the British and Irish Lions in 2017, joining Toulon a year later. He has since returned to the Hurricanes and finished the 2023 Super Rugby season as the tournament’s joint-top scorer in its history.
2011 – George Ford
The rugby world got the first look at the George Ford-Owen Farrell axis, with the pair leading England to the final, where they were again beaten by New Zealand 22-33. Ford won the award at the age of 18, becoming the youngest player to claim the gong. He has since represented England at two Rugby World Cups and has played over 80 Test caps since his debut in 2014. He has won three Six Nations titles and finished as a runner-up in the 2019 World Cup. Ford has also won two Premiership titles with Leicester Tigers.
2012 – Jan Serfontein
South Africa finally broke New Zealand’s stronghold on the U20 World Rugby Championship title. Serfontein was the standout for the South Africans in their home tournament, beating teammate Shaun Adendorff and Ireland’s JJ Hanrahan to the award. The then 19-year-old was tipped for higher honours during his schoolboy days and delivered on that promise making his Test debut in 2013.
He continued to be a key player for the Bulls and Springboks until he left SA shores in 2017 to sign with Top 14 club Montpellier. He has played over 100 times for the French outfit since winning the Top 14 and Challenge Cup title with the side. Serfontein earned the last of his 35 Tests for the Springboks in 2017.
2013 – Sam Davies
In 2013, England broke their U20 World Championship duck by defeating Wales 15-23 in the tournament’s final. Wales shocked many in the tournament, with mercurial flyhalf Sam Davies steering the side throughout the playoffs and group stages. Despite being able to see his side over the final hurdle, Davies was named the U20s Player of the Year, beating New Zealand’s Ardie Savea and England’s Jack Clifford to the gong. He regularly pushed for Test recognition through his performances with the Ospreys and later the Dragons, earning eight caps in total. Ahead of the 2023/24 season, he signed with PROD2 club Grenoble.
2014 – Handre Pollard
2014 was the third year that Pollard represented the South African u20s and captained the side to a second-place finish falling to a 21-20 defeat to England. Pollard shone throughout the tournament earning a call-up to the senior national team after the competition making his Test debut against Scotland.
He has since become a regular for the Springboks despite a troublesome spell with injuries after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Pollard was a vital member of the 2019 Rugby World Cup team that lifted the William Webb Ellis Cup and went on to win the 2021 British and Irish Lions Series. He captained the Springboks for the first time in 2022.
2015 – James Chisholm
England reached the tournament’s final again in 2015, with back-rower James Chisholm shining for the side. He beat the likes of Akira Ioane, Tevita Li and Jonah Placid to the Player of the Year award. Chisholm has since become a crucial member of the Harlequins squad, helping the side to a Premiership title in 2021. He has played over 130 times for the Famous Quarters.
2016 – Max Deegan
In 2016, Ireland reached the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship for the first. They were defeated 21-45 in the final by England but impressed throughout the competition beating New Zealand, Wales, Georgia and Argentina en route to the showpiece. Deegan was a standout for the side throughout the tournament beating the likes of England’s Harry Mallinder, New Zealand’s Shaun Stevenson, Japan’s Ataata Moeakiola and South Africa’s Curwin Bosch. Since then, Deegan has been a star for Leinster in the back row and earned his first Test cap for Ireland in 2020.
Due to the competitive nature of Ireland’s back row, he has played just twice for Ireland but is regularly in the mix for selection.
2017 – Juarno Augustus
Augustus stole the headlines during the 2017 edition of the competition scoring in each of South Africa’s five matches, grabbing seven tries in total. South Africa finished the tournament in third place, losing the semi-final to second-placed England. The physical back rower beat England captain Zach Mercer and his teammate Gabriel Ibiotye and New Zealand’s Tiaan Falcon and Will Jordan for the prestigious award.
Augustus struggled to nail down a starting role with the Stormers and Western Province and headed abroad in 2021. He has gone on to make 45 appearances for Northampton Saints scoring 13 times.
2018 – Jordan Joseph
Joseph stunned many in 2018 when he dominated the U20 World Championship as France claimed their maiden title defeating England 25-33 in the final. The Frenchman was just 17 then and had a similarly brilliant tournament a year later as France defended their title. He beat Romain Ntamack, Gabriel Ibitoye and Jordan Olowofela to the award. Tough competition at Racing 92 made it difficult for him to nail down a starting role with the Parisian side, but he has enjoyed a successful loan spell with Pau. He has been called up to the French national team on multiple occasions but is still yet to earn his maiden cap.
2019 – Juan Pablo Castro
In 2019, Argentina finished the U20 World Rugby Championship tournament in third place with an extremely talented squad, with centre Juan Pablo Castro pivotal to their fourth-placed finish. He beat Fraser McReight, Louis Carbonel and Jaden Hendrikse to the award—his progress since has been hampered by the Jaguares’ exit from Super Rugby. He had a short stint with Clermont as a medical joker and now represents Pampas XV in the Super Rugby Americas competition.