The World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 in Georgia was officially launched over the weekend in the cities of Kutaisi and Tbilisi with all 12 team captains expressing their eagerness to get the action underway on Wednesday.



The captains of five-time champions New Zealand, 2016 runners-up Ireland, Scotland and Italy came together on Saturday in Kutaisi, where the Pool B teams will be based for the pool stages of the premier age-grade tournament.

A day later the other eight captains, including the host nation's Ilia Spanderashvili and defending champions England's captain Zach Mercer, joined forced in the Georgian capital for the launch involving the Pool A and C teams.

While the teams were all chomping at the bit to get onto the field for their first matches, they were also only to aware of the value of a tournament that has seen 485 players graduate to the test arena since it began in 2008.

"This is a wonderful stepping stone, not only for us as South Africans but also for any team the U20 Championship it can put you on the map," said South Africa captain Ernst van Rhyn, one of eight players in the Junior Springboks' side that finished fourth last year.

"If you perform well here, you have a good chance of getting into your senior national team. For now we are just focused on France and getting a good result. Our main focus is the team, not to impress anyone, we want the team to do well and I think with that the players will grow and get selected for the senior team."

Australia captain Reece Hewat added: "It's a massive platform and it really does shape a lot of players in terms of their abilities and their confidence outside of rugby and exposes them to this professional level. There have been a lot of young players coming through and you sort of think 'well they've done it, they've put the in hard work and effort so why can't we?'

"It's a massive motivation and to see a lot of successful Australian players who have risen through the ranks and where they are now, it makes you think it's definitely doable."


For Scotland captain Callum Hunter-Hill, whose side open their campaign against five-time champions New Zealand on Wednesday, the tournament is a key part of a player's development as it provides both the opportunity to embrace a new culture and learn from the experiences of playing on such a global stage where the future stars of world rugby emerge.


"I think it is just the pressure that you are put under being in a world tournament where everyone is looking at you and watching you. That’s something you need as a young player because it is something you are constantly faced with as a professional in a senior set-up. It is a pressure you either thrive on or don’t, personally I like to go into each game and enjoy it. 

"We actually trained against the Scotland team before we came out to Georgia, and that just shows you how accurate and fast they are but also that you’re not that far away from playing with the likes of Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray. Scotland and most teams are getting younger and guys are getting into the senior team aged 21-22 if not younger, so that’s shows you that you’re not that far away.

Wales captain Will Jones is relishing the prospect of the "new challenge" that facing Australia will bring to his side but also how "really important it is to be playing against the best players in the world" over the next three weeks.

One team that undoubtedly understand the importance of being among the world's best teams at U20 level are Samoa, having won the sister U20 Trophy event last year to bounce back straightaway after their relegation from the elite tier in 2015.

"It is a huge honour for us to be back in the Championship, not only for our young guys that are in Samoa, the local boys, but in trying to bring rugby out more in Samoa to promote it more," explained captain Ivan Fepuleai. "The England team, they are the best in the world and that is what we want, to be playing the best teams in the world and it is going to be a huge game for us.

"We have huge support back home, from families not just in Samoa but in Australia and New Zealand and from all around the world, really proud Samoans who are looking forward to seeing us play."

Samoa's first opponents will be defending champions England and captain Zach Mercer was part of the squad that lifted the distinctive trophy on home soil in Manchester last year and the Six Nations Grand Slam a few months ago, although he is quick to point out that the class of 2017 want to write their own chapter in U20 Championship history.

"We can't look back on that, we have won the Grand Slam which is a massive achievement. We can't hide that but we are in the World Cup now and you can see the calibre of teams we have got in this tournament. It's a massive tournament for us and we know the challenge, but the boys are really up for it.

"I really enjoyed the experience last year, but that is a different team - we are hear to create our own legacy this tournament. I am hoping to bring experience this year but to represent my country, England, against other nations is massive and I can't wait to get out on the field on Wednesday and play against a really passionate Samoan side."

Another nation counting down the days until kick-off are the hosts Georgia and their captain Ilia Spanderashvili.

"For me and the team it is a great honour to host the U20 Championship in Georgia and playing against the best teams in the world on home soil. This is a big responsibility and I am looking forward to it. In our pool we have some great teams which are strong both tactically and technically but we are committed to playing in a way that we will leave the pitch with our heads held high.

They will be difficult games of course for us, but I can say that our opponents will not have easy games against us."

Find out where to watch the World Rugby U20 Championship in your region and follow the tournament @WorldRugby using #WorldRugbyU20s.