The World Rugby U20 Championship continued with stunning victories for Italy and Georgia and hard-fought wins for Ireland and Wales, while defending champions France were too strong for six-time champions New Zealand and England eased to victory over Fiji.
Wet conditions greeted the players in the Western Cape as the World Rugby U20 Championship resumed on Thursday with a series of key encounters.
Australia, the 2019 U20 Championship finalists, and Ireland kicked off proceedings in Paarl and it was the current U20 Six Nations champions who prevailed 30-10 after a strong second-half display.
Two-time defending champions France powered their way to a 35-14 victory in the second game, while Wales finished strongly to beat Japan 41-19 in the day’s first encounter at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.
Italy then brought an impressive forward display that was perfect for the wet conditions to beat hosts South Africa 34-26 in Paarl, leaving Pool C firmly in the balance after Georgia produced a brilliant performance to beat Argentina 20-0 at Danie Craven Stadium.
England wrapped up the day’s action with a dominant display from their pack which laid the foundations for a 53-7 victory over Fiji at the Danie Craven Stadium.
The pool stage draws to a climax on Tuesday, 4 July with the race for the semi-finals set to be an intriguing affair. With every team in Pool C having one victory, the Italy v Georgia match will kick-off the action in Paarl at 11:00 local time (GMT+2), followed by Ireland v Fiji in Pool B at 13:30 and New Zealand v Japan in Pool A at 16:00.
Athlone Sports Stadium in Cape Town will host its first matches of the tournament with Australia v England in Pool B up first at 14:00. The top two sides in Pool A will then meet at 16:30 in France and Wales before South Africa v Argentina brings the curtain down on the pool stage at 19:00.
POOL A: FRANCE 35-14 NEW ZEALAND
France showed they mean business in defending their title with a convincing win in torrential rain in Paarl.
Posolo Tuilagi scored twice in his first appearance of the tournament and earned the Mastercard Player of the Match award, while Hugo Reus produced another goal-kicking masterclass, converting all five of Les Bleuets’ tries.
For New Zealand, it was their heaviest defeat in the history of the U20 Championship, surpassing the 12-point margin they suffered at the hands of England in the 2013 semi-final.
The big Les Bleuets pack was an unstoppable force and after some telling carries, the ball was worked out wide to winger Théo Attissogbe who scored the first try of the match.
On 15 minutes, Nicolas Depoortère missed a good opportunity to add to his double in the big win over Japan in round one. However, France did not have to wait long for try number two, second-row Tuilagi powering over at the back of a driving maul. With Hugo Reus adding the conversions to both, France led 14-0.
New Zealand had barely fired a shot and when they did get a chance to attack, Les Bleuets’ defence remained steadfast.
Another strong maul led to France’s next try. Good ground was made before the ball was released to Attissogbe who passed back inside to scrum-half Baptiste Jauneau. He juggled the ball at first but managed to get it back under control before grounding. Once again, Reus added the extras.
New Zealand’s first sustained attack came right at the end of the half and Che Clark looked to have splashed down in the corner after a perfectly weighted kick pass from fly-half Taha Kemara but the video replays showed he had put a knee in touch.
The referee had been playing advantage and when he called play back, New Zealand kicked the penalty to the corner. They needed a lift but a third missed lineout of the half ensured they went into the break scoreless.
France had the bonus point in the bag just three minutes into the half and it was that man-mountain, Tuilagi, who crashed over again. Reus converted brilliantly from the touchline.
New Zealand then showed some intent and the flow of penalties started to go against France. After a final team warning, referee Damian Schneider sent Jauneau to the sin-bin.
New Zealand looked to have taken advantage almost immediately but Macca Springer’s try was disallowed after he was found to have led with the elbow in attempting to shrug off Attissogbe’s tackle. The only consolation for New Zealand was that his yellow card wasn’t upgraded by the TMO bunker.
It was 14 v 14 for less than two minutes, though, as centre Costes strayed offside and joined Jauneau in the sin-bin. New Zealand finally got on the scoreboard in the 58th minute when their pack earned a penalty try.
Peter Lakai then busted through three tackles to score as New Zealand’s spirited comeback continued and Kemara added the conversion to make it 28-14.
But France went back to basics and Brent Liufau crossed from close range on 68 minutes to close the game out, Reus making no mistake from the kicking tee to maintain his 100 per cent record.
POOL A: WALES 41-19 JAPAN
Amid a torrential downpour in Stellenbosch both teams struggled to deal with the conditions in the early stages at Danie Craven Stadium. However, it was Wales who appeared to cope better and took the lead in the fourth minute when Daniel Edwards sent a penalty sailing through the posts.
Wales then extended their lead as scrum-half Archie Hughes finished off a flowing team move in the 17th minute and Edwards added the conversion.
But Wales’ momentum was halted shortly afterwards when second-row Evan Hill was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle.
The decision was sent to the TMO Bunker, and remained as a yellow card, however, by the time Hill returned to the pitch his side were trailing.
Japan made the most of their numerical advantage almost instantly, hooker Kouta Nagashima dotting down at the back of a rolling maul which came from the subsequent lineout.
And as Hill waited to return to the field, Japan and Nagashima produced a virtual carbon copy lineout drive to take a four-point lead.
It was one they extended further in 37th minute when Kanjiro Naramoto – who had converted both of Nagashima’s tries – found winger Renji Oike with an inch-perfect cross-field kick.
Wales looked stunned but found a route back into the contest on the stroke of half-time as a clever lineout play of their own put hooker Lewis Lloyd into space and he powered over the line.
Arguably the defining moment of the match came less than nine minutes into the second half, though, as Japan captain Yoshiki Omachi was shown a yellow card for an infringement at the breakdown. The decision was quickly upgraded to red by the TMO Bunker.
Wales, though, were unable to make their player advantage pay until the 65th minute when replacement Tom Florence went over in the right corner following a dominant attacking scrum.
The result remained in the balance until the final six minutes when Edwards, Bryn Bradley and Louie Hennessey each crossed the whitewash to put some gloss on the Wales victory.
POOL B: AUSTRALIA 10-30 IRELAND
After choosing to kick off, Ireland barely laid a hand on the ball in the first five minutes but a breakout from Andrew Osborne led to them scoring the first points of the match against the run of play. Osborne intercepted Jack Bowen’s pass and while he didn’t have the gas to go all the way, Australia conceded a defensive penalty and Sam Prendergast put over the simplest of three-pointers.
The wet conditions made expansive play difficult and while Australia continued to dominate possession, it was the Ireland forwards who had the upper hand at close quarters with number eight Brian Gleeson making a big impact. Whenever they did have possession, Ireland’s attacking patterns very much resembled the senior team with pull-back passes and dummy runners keeping the Junior Wallabies guessing.
By and large, though, defences remained on top until David Vaihu showed what was still possible. From a move that started on their own 22, Australia’s Mastercard Player of the Match in round one stepped his way through the midfield defence, fed captain Teddy Wilson who then found outside-centre Henry O’Donnell on his inside, to leave the U20 debutant with a clear run to the line.
Bowen kicked the conversion and then drilled over a penalty, via a ricochet off the left-hand post, before Ireland hit back, scoring in the 31st minute through winger James Nicholson after a floated pass from Prendergast followed some hard carries from the forwards. The remainder of the half was largely played in the air with a series of kicks for territory but Ireland did force a penalty on the stroke of half-time, which Prendergast put through the posts, to make the score 11-10 to Ireland.
As the rain intensified, the game became even more of an attritional battle in the second half, play predominantly taking place between the 22s. However, Australia did butcher one golden opportunity to score in the 48th minute when winger Tim Ryan dropped a pass just as it looked like he’d have a simple run in.
Ireland’s pack increasingly began to take control, winning set-piece penalty after set-piece penalty, and close-range tries from Mastercard Player of the Match Gleeson and captain Gus McCarthy, 10 minutes apart, with Prendergast converting the first, gave Ireland a 13-point cushion.
Twice Ireland were held up over the line as they dominated the final quarter, and it looked as though they were going to miss out on a bonus point. But just as the clock went red, replacement flanker Diarmuid Mangan burrowed his way over and Jack Oliver converted for a 30-10 win.
For the second match in a row, Ireland played the final few minutes down to 14 men and shortly after the final whistle, it was confirmed that Rory Telfer’s yellow card for a dangerous tackle has been upgraded to a red by the TMO bunker.
POOL B: ENGLAND 53-7 FIJI
England’s total forward dominance stifled Fiji’s dangerous backs and laid the foundations for an emphatic bonus-point victory at the Danie Craven Stadium.
With James Halliwell a muscular presence at tight-head prop, England successfully dominated Fiji’s set-piece which forced them to live off just scraps of possession.
Having conceded only five penalties in 80 minutes in their narrow defeat against Australia in their opening match, Fiji were penalised nine times in the first 30 minutes here, mostly for scrum offences.
That presented England with plentiful attacking opportunities which they capitalised on to score eight tries, five of them without response in a one-sided second period.
After a draw with Ireland in their opening game, England needed a win to keep alive their hopes of a fourth title and they delivered in some style.
Fly-half Connor Slevin gave England the initiative with a penalty before he set up Cassius Cleaves for the opening try with a deft grubber kick which bounced awkwardly for Fiji but kindly for the England wing.
Fiji responded with a try from their loose-head prop Moses McGoon which rewarded their enterprise when they tapped and ran a close-range penalty instead of taking three points.
But that was as close as Fiji got. England pulled away with a penalty try when a scrum crumpled under pressure and a close-range one from hooker Nathan Jibulu after Fiji lost centre Maika Tuitubou to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on.
No sooner had Tuitubou returned than McGoon was shown a yellow card after another scrum went down and from the penalty, livewire scrum-half Nye Thomas went over for England’s bonus-point try.
Thomas turned provider for centre Toby Thame three minutes later and Slevin capped a masterful display with a superb kick that was snaffled by blindside flanker Nathan Michelow, the Mastercard Player of the Match, who clearly enjoyed side-stepping his way out of two tackles before dotting down.
England’s forwards kept the ball to themselves to drive openside flanker Tristan Woodman over and replacement number eight Greg Fisilau brought up the half-century when he drove over from a scrum in stoppage time.
POOL C: SOUTH AFRICA 26-34 ITALY
Italy produced a superb display of wet weather rugby to stun hosts South Africa and the majority of spectators at a rain-soaked Paarl Gymnasium.
On a pitch that had become heavy going after incessant driving rain all day, Italy used their driving maul to devastating effect to secure a famous bonus-point victory.
It was a contrast of styles as South Africa played the more adventurous rugby but Italy’s pragmatic approach was better suited to the conditions with all four of their tries coming from pick-and-drive attacks.
Having gone 17 points down in the first 24 minutes and found themselves 19 points adrift at one stage in the second period South Africa fought hard but ultimately left themselves with too much to do.
South Africa did score the try of the match when centre Damian Markus picked up 15 metres from his own line and surefootedly picked his way through the mud but that, and a try bonus point, were of little consolation to the Junior Springboks.
Poor discipline and a malfunctioning lineout meant that South Africa spent too long on defensive duties and they struggled to find ways of legally checking Italy’s driving maul.
An early penalty try, after South Africa collapsed a maul, was followed by one from hooker Nicholas Gasperini with fly-half Simone Brisighella adding the conversion followed by a penalty.
South Africa responded with well-worked tries from centre Kat Letebele and replacement wing Jurenzo Julius but Italy regained control and composure at the start of the second half with scrum-half Lorenzo Casilio, the Mastercard Player of the Match, marshalling his pack.
Gallorini’s brace of tries stretched the lead before Markus’s flash of individual brilliance was followed by a moment of opportunism from hooker Juann Else, who picked up a loose ball and found a huge hole in Italy’s defence.
But South Africa struggled to find further attacking opportunities and it was Italy’s forward power that forced a penalty under more pressure that allowed Sante to seal the win with a kick from in front of the posts.
The Junior Springboks had a chance to snatch a second bonus point with the final kick but Imad Khan’s penalty missed the target.
POOL C: ARGENTINA 0-20 GEORGIA
On a day in which the race to top Pool C was blown wide open, Georgia did their bit by claiming their first U20 Championship win against Argentina on foreign soil.
Having come up short despite pushing South Africa all the way on the opening day, Georgia’s second match could not have got off to a much worse start.
Barely two minutes were on the match clock when fly-half Petre Khutsishvili was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle with Los Pumitas pressing towards the Georgian line.
However, the 14 Junior Lelos stood firm and with Khutsishvili back on the pitch, they took the lead in the 18th minute when winger Luka Khorbaladze snaffled an interception and sprinted under the posts to score.
Chances were at a premium for the much of the first half but when they arrived, they invariably did so for Georgia.
The Junior Lelos had been denied a second try due to a brilliant piece of defensive work by Los Pumitas hooker Tomás Bartolini on the half-hour, but five minutes later they did find a way over the try-line again.
Replacement hooker Basa Khonelidze was the player who came up with the ball after a powerful lineout drive bore a whole through the Argentine defence on the right wing.
Georgia stretched their lead further in the opening quarter of the second half through two Khutsishvili penalties, which came either side of a miss from the kicking tee from Los Pumitas fly-half Juan Baronio.
And although Argentina enjoyed more possession and territory as the half wore on, the Junior Lelos managed the match brilliantly to see out a fully deserved victory.