Played under blue skies at the Harare Sports Club, the opening round of matches at World Rugby U20 Trophy 2016 produced no less than 39 tries and 302 points and wins for Namibia, Spain, Fiji and Samoa.
USA 44-46 NAMIBIA
USA captain Hanco Germishuys’ hat-trick was in vain as Namibia snatched victory in a riotous game of running rugby that was settled deep into stoppage time.
The Junior All-Americans looked on course to repeat their narrow Trophy win over the Namibians in 2009 until replacement Stiaan van der Merwe levelled the scores with his side’s sixth try and Cliven Loubser kicked the all-important conversion.
Only once before (Zimbabwe in 2012) has a team scored so many points and lost an U20 Trophy fixture, although that game was played under the five points for a try ruling not the six-point system being trialled in the World Rugby U20 Trophy.
The lead changed hands three times in a breathless opening 25 minutes as USA scored three tries to Namibia’s two to lead 22-16.
The score remained that way until half-time but it wasn’t long before the points came thick and fast again after the break, Germishuys grabbing his second within a minute of the restart.
Namibia worked some space for winger Unomasa Kavita to score another but the blue-shirted Americans came up with a quick response as Germishuys completed his hat-trick to make the scoreline 34-24 with 54 minutes gone.
Back came Namibia again with a try under the posts for second-row Johan Luttig, which Loubser converted.
The match continued to sway one way and then the other, with a close-range try for USA flanker Mahon Al-Jiboori cancelled out by Gino Wilson, who finished well in the corner after a long period of pressure inside the USA 22.
Even so, the Americans still led by four and they improved that advantage further when replacement kicker Roddy Giles knocked over a penalty from 30 metres after Namibia strayed offside at the breakdown.
The USA were penalised twice for going off their feet as they attempted to run the clock down and a quick tap provided the launchpad for Namibia to play their get out of jail card. Luttig made good yards with a run inside the USA 22 before the ball was quickly recycled and swung right. Allie Emamdien found the onrushing van der Merwe with a well-timed pass and there was no stopping him from 20 metres out, Loubser adding the simplest of conversions from in front of the posts to seal a dramatic victory.
SPAIN 44-8 HONG KONG
Tournament debutants Spain made an impressive start to life at this level by despatching Hong Kong 44-8.
Using their driving maul to good effect, Spain were on the front foot for the majority of the contest and outscored Hong Kong six tries to one.
Early tries from wingers Jordi Jorba Jorge and Samual Parry saw Spain race into a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Determined defence, led by tough-tackling full-back Liam Owens, kept the Spanish at bay for the next 15 minutes until captain and tight-head Jon Zabala barged his way over from close range.
It took just three minutes of the second half for Spain to add to their tally, a neat passing move involving impressive centre Andrea Rabagao and full-back Guillermo Dominguez resulting in Parry dotting down for his second of the game.
With a string of replacements being made by both sides play became fractured, and there was no further scoring until Rabagao strode through a large gap in midfield to make it 34-0 with just over 20 minutes to go.
Rabagao then kicked a penalty, after Hugo Stiles had been penalised for illegally playing the ball at the breakdown, to increase the advantage by two, before Hong Kong finally got on the board through captain Matthew Worley.
There was still time for Spain to add a sixth try, replacement Jose Lerin supplying the finish.
URUGUAY 34-38 FIJI
Fiji conjured up three late tries to beat Uruguay 38-34 and gain revenge for their narrow loss to Los Teritos in last year’s Trophy.
At 28-14 up with less than a quarter of the match to go, Uruguay looked destined for victory, even with six points awarded for a try, but diminutive Fijian fly-half Jone Manu produced a couple of moments of magic to turn the game on its head and send the Fijians into raptures.
The Uruguayans will be kicking themselves at letting a game they’d been in control of for long periods slip from their grasp.
A penalty from Felipe Etcheverry, brother of Rugby World Cup player Jeronimo, put the South Americans in front with three minutes on the clock.
But Fiji hit back with two tries in the space of six minutes, flanker Kitione Kamikamica getting the first from a smart lineout move with the second for winger Viliame Tuidrak coming in more traditional Fijian fashion, via a couple of offloads.
Uruguay belied the loss of centre Inaki Ormaechea to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle to end the half strongly.
They spent the best part of the final 10 minutes camped on the Fijian line and the pressure told with Fiji conceding two tries and losing two men to yellow cards in the process.
Uruguay were awarded a penalty try when centre Tomas Inciarte was taken out off the ball by Filimoni Savou while attempting to chase his grubber kick into the in-goal area, which denied Fiji of their captain for 10 minutes, meaning the young Islanders finished the half down to 13 men as flanker Serupepeli Uru had already seen yellow.
Livewire scrum-half Santiago Arata rubbed salt into the Fijian wounds when he sniped over from close range to hand Los Teritos a half-time lead of 16-14.
All the momentum continued to be with Uruguay after the restart and they were pressing for a further score when Fiji won turnover ball inside their 22 and Wame Naituvi raced downfield. Arata, however, showed great determination – and no little pace – to track back and bring the winger to ground 15 metres out.
Los Teritos’ dominance of territory and possession was finally turned into points when Guillermo Williamson went over in the corner after receiving a flat pass from Etcheverry.
Shortly after having a superb team ‘try’ chalked off for a forward pass, there was no stopping Uruguay openside flanker Matias Brignoni as he drove over to make the score 28-14 to Uruguay with 67 minutes gone.
Then came the Fijian fight-back with 24 points scored without reply. Manu pick-pocketed his way through the middle of the Uruguayan defence with some lovely footwork before finding replacement prop, Wame Waqanaceva, up in support. Five minutes later, Manu went all the way himself and Fiji reclaimed the lead following Jone Naqoru’s conversion.
Naituvi ran virtually the length of the field to score Fiji’s fifth try. The conversion put Fiji 38-28 up with time almost up.
Shell-shocked Uruguay threw everything they had at Fiji and a fierce forward onslaught resulted in a try with the last play of the game for replacement Mike Johnson.
SAMOA 54-24 ZIMBABWE
Samoa’s bid to win promotion back to the U20 Championship got off to the best possible start after they overpowered host nation Zimbabwe in the concluding match of the day.
There was very little evidence of the sickness bug that had affected several players before kick off as Samoa tore into Zimbabwe from the off.
The Samoans’ edge in the physicality stakes was evident as centre Augustine Mafoe was followed over the whitewash by scrum-half Morrison Siliko, powerful number eight Elia Elia, so good they named him twice, and second-row Darren Tiumalu inside the opening half an hour.
The Young Sables dusted themselves down, however, and ended the half on top. A try went begging when scrum-half Ernest Mudzengerere was unable to take a pass from a short lineout move close to the Samoan line. But there was no stopping hooker Tinotenda Musasanura who took the route one approach and barrelled his way over from a tap penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Kudzaishe Munangi brought the enthusiastic home crowd to its feet within two minutes of the restart when Zimbabwe turned defence into attack. Samoa had been pressing hard for the first score of the second half when a dropped pass was hacked downfield and Munangi got up in support. The centre was half-stopped by a Samoan defender but he managed to get back on his feet and stumble over the line.
It didn’t take long for Jonah Refiti to silence the home faithful though, when he cut back inside a drifting defence to score Samoa’s fifth try. The odds on a Zimbabwean comeback were by now long as the shadows starting to appear on the playing surface at the Harare Sports Ground, and such thoughts were categorically dismissed when midfield partner Mafoe slipped off a couple of weak tackles to score his second.
Elia took a sweet left-handed pass from back row colleague Uini Fetalaiga at pace to bag a brace of his own, before Zimbabwe countered with a try for replacement Daniel Nyamugama who used his considerable bulk to shrug off Fred Apulu’s attempted tackle.
The final word went to Samoa, when, with the last act of the game, full-back Salesi Rayasi nonchalantly strode over with the ball in one hand.
Photo: Marie-Louise van der Sandt
RWC 2019 Tickets
RWC 2019 Official Ticketing site NOW LIVE
Fans can now register interest to apply for Rugby World Cup 2019 tickets