The recent IRB Under-19 World Championship, which was held in Belfast and Bangor, will be the last of its kind at that age level as the International Rugby Board (IRB) has today announced a restructuring of its Age Grade tournament strategy.
From 2008, an annual 16-team Junior World Championship and an eight-team Junior World Trophy will be run at Under-20 level, replacing the IRB’s existing Under-19 and Under-21 World Championships.
The restructure, which was approved by IRB Council, comes after a period of extensive research, consultation and feedback from all stakeholders in the game, including Member Unions and Regional Associations and is aimed at increasing competitiveness and competition at Age Grade level.
Commenting on the restructure, IRB Chairman Dr. Syd Millar said: “The IRB Under-19 and Under-21 World Championships have proven extremely popular and successful but following initial consultation with stakeholders and as a result of the way the game has developed, we moved in 2006 from an annual U-21 tournament to a bi-annual tournament.
“Now that the consultation process is complete, the agreed way forward is to move to one annual IRB Junior World Championship tournament that will meet the requirements of the Member Unions.
“The IRB is committed to increasing the overall competitiveness of the game and our age grade tournament strategy is very important in this. The restructure took into account the fact that, as a result of the player academy structures now in place around the world, many players at age 20 or 21 are already playing professional senior rugby for their club, province or state,” added Millar, the former Ireland and Lions prop.
The annual Junior World Championship will be contested by 16 teams. It will bring together the 16 best Under-20 teams in world rugby. The format provides the opportunity for teams such as Fiji, Samoa and USA to regularly play teams that they would not normally meet and allow the developing Unions the opportunity to gauge their progress on an annual basis.
The IRB is also committed to providing a competitive competition and development pathway for more Tier 2 Unions and Tier 3 Unions. This will be achieved through the introduction of an annual eight-team Junior World Trophy, also at Under-20 level.
There will be promotion and relegation between the World Championship and World Trophy tournaments that will together provide annual competition for 24 Unions. Developing Unions will also have the opportunity of hosting these tournaments, which will allow them to gain experience in hosting major rugby events.
Millar explained: “The restructuring of IRB age grade tournaments does not mean the end of Under-19 and Under-21 level rugby which is still an important development tool for some Unions who will continue regional competitions at these age grades in order to assist in their development pathways.
– The Host Unions and locations for the inaugural 2008 IRB Junior World Championship and IRB World Trophy tournaments will be announced shortly –