With the sad news this week that Jack Clifford, the England and Harlequins back row, had been forced to retire through injury at just 27, it prompted us to recall one of his finest hours, the 2013 IRB Junior World Championships.
Clifford, a former RGS Guildford pupil, was England’s captain for the 2013 tournament in France. The IRB Junior World Championships, now the World Rugby U20 Championships, had first come into being in 2008 and England had reached three finals but never won it.
In reflecting on his time leading England in that tournament, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to look back at the teams that played in that 2013 final and see where they are now.
First though, here’s what happened through the tournament:
England played some lovely rugby, with some future superstars such as Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, and Henry Slade mesmerising throughout. It is worth noting, by the way, that much of Exeter Chiefs’ success that was to come in the years to follow was built around a core of this England U20 side, the likes of Nowell, Slade, Sam Hill, Alec Hepburn, and Luke Cowan-Dickie.
England started well in their group, a comfortable win over France, however there was a major hiccup in game 2 as they went down to the reigning champions, South Africa. That meant that points difference would be key if England wanted to make the semi finals as the best runners up, but boy did they deliver, beating USA 109-0 to seal their place in those semi finals.
However it meant a semi final against New Zealand, who had won the competition four times in a row in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 before South Africa won on home soil in 2012. It was a formidable task but Clifford’s men rose to it, beating the Junior All Blacks 33-21.
Incredibly, that set up a semi final with Wales, who had never progressed beyond the semi finals before. They had topped their group with tight wins over Scotland and Argentina and a strong win over Samoa.
The semi final was surely one of Wales’ greatest ever moments at U20 level. Trailing 17-11 with time almost done Ashley Evans scored to bring his side within a point before Sam Davies, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, slotted the conversion to send Wales into the final.
It was momentum that Wales would carry into the final as they went into half-time with a 15-3 lead thanks to two tries from Evans. However in the end quality told, England’s side had three players that would tour with the British and Irish Lions in 2017, and at least two more that surely will at some point, and that quality of both skill and mentality shone through in the second half as tries came from Sam Hill and Jack Nowell, with Henry Slade adding ten more with the boot for a fantastic 23-15 and a first ever IRB Junior World Championship title for England.
It was a sea changing moment at U20 level, the tournament once utterly dominated by New Zealand went on to have a very English flavour. England would go on to lift the title again in 2014 and 2016, as well as reaching the final in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
2013 IRB Junior World Championship Final Teams – where are they now?
15 Jack Nowell
A British & Irish Lion, an England star, and one of Exeter Chiefs’ most important players, Nowell has more than delivered on his promise. More of a wing than a full back now, and even spoken of, tongue in cheek, by Eddie Jones as a potential flanker.
14 Anthony Watson
Like Nowell, a British & Irish Lion, England star, and a key Bath player. Plays full back for Bath but has alternated positions for England. One of the most devastating outside backs in the world now.
13 Harry Sloan
Dropped down to the Championship but this summer has moved from Ealing Trailfinders to Saracens, should he impress with them then a full return to the Premiership will be on the cards for the talented centre.
12 Sam Hill
Has seemed on the verge of England caps and recently moved from Exeter Chiefs to Sale Sharks, where he is now paired in the midfield with the dominant presence that is Manu Tuilagi. One of the most consistent performers in the Premiership.
11 Ben Howard
Left Worcester Warriors in 2018 after a strong career there, then linked up with Old Elthamians and England 7s. Now awaiting news of the fate of the England 7s setup post-COVID 19.
10 Henry Slade
Slade moved from 10 to 12 to 13 after not quite being able to establish himself as a pivot at the highest level. The move to 13 has worked though and he is now regarded as one of the classiest operators in the position in Premiership, is an established England international, and will be knocking on the door for a Lions tour next summer.
9 Alex Day
Moved to the Cornish Pirates in the Championship in 2015 and went on to establish himself as one of their key players, and joined Saracens during lockdown as part of their preparations for life in the Championship next season.
1 Alec Hepburn
A mainstay in the Exeter Chiefs front row and capped by Eddie Jones for England, a hugely consistent performer in what has been one of the most competitive positions in England in recent times with the likes of Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler, Ellis Genge, and even clubmate Ben Moon among those challenging in the position.
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
Cowan-Dickie had not long been a hooker at the time of these championships, having recently moved from loosehead, but the move has proved a good one. He is one of the most dynamic front row players in England, an established international who is pushing Jamie George hard, and who is in with a shout of touring with the Lions this year.
3 Scott Wilson
Sadly, like Clifford, Wilson’s career was cut short by injury. The young prop was just starting to make a name for himself at Newcastle Falcons but injury sadly robbed him of his career and a potential chance to push for senior caps.
4 Tom Price
Moved around the houses a little but has spent 2019/20 with title-chasing Exeter Chiefs after moving from the Scarlets last summer.
5 Dom Barrow
Quit rugby at the end of last season after a successful Premiership career, not least with Leicester Tigers. Now working for a company specialising in electric vehicle charging points.
6 Ross Moriarty
He might have played for England through the age-grades but at senior level Wales was always going to be the option for Moriarty, whose father and uncle both played for Wales too. It has certainly proved a good call, Moriarty is now well established in the Wales set up and toured with the Lions in 2017, one of the most destructive carriers in the northern hemisphere.
7 Matt Hankin
If ever the evidence was needed that the back row is a fearsome place to play professional rugby then look no further than this England back row. Like Clifford, Hankin’s career was cut short by injury just as he was making strides at Saracens. A real loss to the games.
8 Jack Clifford (captain)
The man who had so much promise. 10 caps for England seems a scant reward for Clifford’s talent but sadly injuries dogged him all throughout his senior career. Retirement at 27 is the ultimate salt in the wounds for the man that skippered this World Championship winning group. Will be sorely missed by all.
Scott Spurling (Left Saracens a year ago, now working in industry), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (returned to Northampton Saints after 4 years at London Irish), Tom Smallbone (6 years a pro at London Irish, now working in property), Harry Wells (now a firm fixture for Tigers), David Sisi (capped by Italy), Callum Braley (skippered the side the following year, now playing for Italy), Ollie Devoto (Capped by England, key player for Exeter Chiefs), Henry Purdy (Spent time at Tigers and Gloucester, now at Bristol Bears).
15 Jordan Williams
A move to Bristol saw Williams excite many as they chased a return to the Premiership, now back in Wales with the Dragons, Williams is yet to be capped but there is still huge hope that he will fulfil the potential that had so many excited after these World Championships.
14 Ashley Evans
It has largely been the Welsh Premiership for Evans after his time with the U20s, though he has also appeared in some exciting performances for the Wales 7s side.
13 Steffan Hughes
Hughes has been with the Scarlets through his career, he is yet to make the break into the Wales setup but did go on to captain Wales U20 the season after this Junior World Championship final.
12 Jack Dixon
Dixon is yet to make a senior international but he was the youngest player ever to play regional rugby in Wales and has been at the Dragons throughout his career.
11 Hallam Amos
Amos has gathered plenty of Wales caps and while a regular place in the team has so far eluded him, he is a consistent member of Wales squads and a player that is highly regarded across the board.
10 Sam Davies
Another Welsh prodigy at fly half with a huge amount of expectation placed on them, Davies has stood up to the scrutiny well. Earning Wales caps and performing well for the Ospreys before his move across the regions. Unlucky to be in an era of such strength at 10 for Wales.
9 Rhodri Williams
Williams has 3 caps to his name in one of the most competitive positions in Wales. After a stint at Bristol, Williams moved back to Wales with the Dragons last season.
1 Gareth Thomas
Moved from the Scarlets to the Ospreys in 2014 and has gone on to make over 50 apperances for the region.
2 Elliot Dee
One of the biggest success stories from this Wales U20 side of 2013. Dee has made 27 appearances for Wales and is firmly established as Wales’ second choice hooker behind British and Irish Lions hooker, Ken Owens.
3 Nicky Thomas
After stints at Ospreys, Gloucester, Scarlets and Dragons, and as of 2020 he is now at the Ospreys again as he looks to firmly settle in and establish himself at the region.
4 Carwyn Jones
After stints at Scarlets and Ealing Trainfinders, Carwyn Jones is now in the Pro D2 in France with RC Vannes making 17 appearances in the 2019/20 season.
5 Rhodri Hughes
Hughes has made 10 appearances for the Ospreys over the years, however it has largely been the Welsh Premiership that has seen the bulk of his talents since this Junior World Championship final.
6 Jack Jones
Jones had spells with the Ospreys and Scarlets as well as a stint in Italy with Rovigo, now playing in the Welsh Premiership.
7 Ieuan Jones
Spent time at the Dragons and Cardiff Blues before a short stint at Ospreys, now playing in the Welsh Premiership.
8 Ellis Jenkins (captain)
A complete success story punctuated by his body letting him down occasionally. Over a century of appearances for Cardiff Blues, 11 caps for Wales including captaining the side against South Africa in 2018, however a horrific injury kept him away from the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Aims to return to play in October of this year.
Ethan Lewis (Nearly a half century for Cardiff Blues), Thomas Davies (34 appearances for Dragons before being released), Dan Suter (Currently at Dragons after his Ospreys stint), James Benjamin (Over 50 appearances for Dragons), Daniel Thomas (moved from Scarlets to Gloucester in 2014 and then onto Bristol Bears, for whom he is now a key figure), Joshua Davies (retired after stints in the England with London Welsh, Ealing Trailfinders, and Chinnor), Owen Jenkins (made a handful of Cardiff Blues appearances, also played for Wales 7s), Thomas Pascoe (went to Australia after his time at Cardiff Blues, now at Newport RFC).