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Wales welcomes tomorrow's stars

The IRB Junior World Championship captains

By Peter Shuttleworth

For rugby fans wishing to catch a glimpse of tomorrow's superstars today, then Wales is where you want to be.

The IRB Junior World Championships is the nursery for the next generation of rugby icons.

This is where the heroes of the 2011 and 2015 World Cups will be unleashed on the world stage for the first time.

Richie McCaw and Jerry Collins first burst onto the international scene at the last junior world showcase in Wales where the now All Black legends inspired New Zealand to a crushing 35-0 final victory against the hosts at Stradey Park.

Wales Under-20 stars (clockwise from top left) Josh Turnball, Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar and Daniel Evans prepare for the IRB Junior World Championship
The Welsh kick-off their Junior World Cup against Italy

The great Schalk Burger cut his teeth at the Junior World Cup as he helped the Baby Boks to the title in 2002 before lifting the big boys' version five years later and hailed arguably the world's finest flanker.

The 2008 IRB Junior World Championships will be crammed full of the best rising stars from Super 14 and Europe's hottest young properties.

The Australians are ready to take on the normally age-grade dominant New Zealanders. In fly-half Kurtley Beale and wonderkid winger Ratu Nasiganiyavi - hailed as the new Jonah Lomu - they have two rookies destined for greatness.

England romped to under-20 Grand Slam glory and teenage winger Noah Cato's six tries in their all-conquering campaign particularly impressed with his quick and powerful running.

Philippe Sella knows what it takes to play at the very top having made a once record 111 international caps - and now the legendary French centre is now masterminding a route to the senior team for France's fledglings.

"A Junior World Cup is a crucial development step for any rugby footballer that has ambitions of becoming an established senior international," Sella told BBC Sport.

"This tournament is the first time many of these players would have spent such a long time together in a squad environment.

Philippe Sella is tackled by new Zealand's Warwick Taylor during the 1987 Rugby World Cup final
A Junior World Cup is a crucial development step for any rugby footballer that has ambitions of becoming an established senior international
France legend and under-20 coach Philippe Sella

"This is the perfect opportunity for the players to get used to that and be comfortable spending weeks at a time in each other's pockets as that happens so regularly in modern-day international rugby.

"Also the young players must learn how to create a team bond and spirit that can win major tournaments because close squads win trophies, not individuals.

"Players must be committed to each other and committed to the cause.

"Results are vital but what is hugely important that the players are allowed to develop and express themselves.

"One thing is for sure, this IRB Junior World Championship in Wales will be the first of a long and hugely successful international career for some exciting young talent who will not just star at the next World Cup but the next two or three."

It is not just budding players who will benefit from this Welsh breeding ground but promising young coaches too.

Jake White, if you recall, coached Burger and the Baby Boks to Junior World Cup success before masterminding South Africa's senior side to world domination.

Sella is an integral part of the 'Baby Bleus' coaching staff but the 46-year-old has lofty ambitions.

"It's not just young players who will start careers here," said Sella. "It's young coaches too.

"I am honoured and privileged to be able to have the opportunity to help mould and personally influence and inspire a successful France team of the future.

"But I have had a few discussions with the French Rugby Federation and there is a possibility that after the 2011 World Cup I might become involved with the senior team."

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: Keep an eye out for....

Noah Cato
Country: England
Age: 20
Position: Winger

The powerful Saracens star scored on his Guinness Premiership debut against Leeds and Cato's stock rose following his six tries in England's Under-20 Grand Slam campaign of 2008.

Mathieu Bastareaud
Age: 19
Country: France
Position: Centre

The Stade Francais centre has got French rugby excited as the Senegal-born star is their brightest prospect for many years. Bastareaud has already played for the French senior team and starred in the Heineken Cup.

Kurtley Beale
Country: Australia
Age: 19
Position: Fly-half

The New South Wales Waratahs of aboriginal heritage played in last weekend's Super 14 final defeat and attended his first Wallaby training camp at 17. A strong goal-kicker who, like Ratu, is wanted by five Aussie NRL rugby league clubs.

Nasi Manu
Country: New Zealand
Age: 19
Position: Back row

The Canterbury No 8/flanker was a try-scorer on his representative debut. Manu, the nephew of Wallaby loose forward Daniel Manu, starred for the Crusaders in their Super 14 final win against Beale's Waratahs.

Dan Biggar
Country: Wales
Age: 18
Position: Fly-half

The latest No 10 out of Wales' mythical fly-half factory and Biggar, with a reputation to match his name, is seen as the heir apparent to James Hook for both Wales and the Ospreys.

Stephen Dippenaar
Country: South Africa
Age: 20
Position: Winger

Blue Bulls outside wing/centre already has Super 14 experience and Dippenaar boasts lightening pace; he has done the 100m under 11 seconds.

Ratu Nasiganiyani
Country: Australia
Age: 20
Position: Winger
Last but certainly not least as the Fijian-born cousin of the great Lote Tuqiri has a reputation bigger than his 6ft 3ins and 20st frame. The Randwick star is yet to play Super 14 rugby but is already being dubbed the 'new Jonah Lomu and is wanted by a host of Super 14 and rugby league giants.

see also
Wales to host Under-20 World Cup
21 Nov 07 |  Rugby Union

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