Fiji stand between Samoa and a third World Rugby U20 Trophy success following a thrilling final day of pool action in Bucharest, Romania, on Wednesday.
Samoa have won every single match they have played in this competition but that proud record will be severely tested in the final against their fellow Pacific Islanders on Sunday.
The Samoans overcame a half-time deficit to beat Namibia 41-28 in the opening match of the day and secure top spot in Pool A.
Fiji, meanwhile, trailed Canada until the 66th minute but a late flurry of tries saw them home, sealing Pool B spoils and condemning their opponents to a third straight defeat, this time 53-26.
Namibia will play Portugal in the third-place play-off following an impressive 26-15 victory over Uruguay, while the defeated South Americans will face Hong Kong for fifth place after the Asian side beat Romania 56-33 in the final match of the day.
The hosts will play fellow Canada on Sunday with both sides hoping to end the tournament on a high with their first victory.
POOL A: SAMOA 41-28 NAMIBIA
Hooker Tim Lilomaiava gave Samoa the perfect start in their winner-takes-all clash with Namibia in Pool A as he finished off a fine team move within two minutes, beating the defender powerfully in the right corner.
The lead lasted less than five minutes, however, as Namibia hooker Jan Basson emulated his opposite number and a rare Denzo Bruwer miss from the conversion kept the scores level.
A nip and tuck half developed, Alex Tavita crossing for the second Samoan try before Bruwer and Simon Toleafoa traded penalties.
Momentum swung the African side’s way in the 33rd minute when Toleafoa was sent to the sin-bin. Namibia took full advantage, full-back Chad Plato scoring his side’s second try before another Bruwer penalty gave them a 18-15 half-time lead.
A third followed less than a minute after the restart, but when fly-half Toleafoa converted Sione Young Yen’s 49th-minute try Samoa took a lead they would not relinquish.
Wesley Patu and Pio Fuiono both crossed before the hour mark to stretch Samoa’s advantage to 13 points and break their opponents’ resolve.
Namibia rang the changes but it had little effect, Shammah-Anthony Solomona scored his side’s sixth try and even after Austin Faamausili had been shown a yellow card there was little respite.
But with Frank Sio and Sipaia Fetu taking the tally of sin-binned Samoans to four late on, Namibia grabbed a third try as replacement prop Gerhard Opperman touched down.
POOL A: ROMANIA 33-56 HONG KONG
Romania fans are still waiting to witness a home victory in this year’s competition after Paul Altier inspired Hong Kong to only their second ever World Rugby U20 Trophy win.
The fly-half racked up 36 points, including a hat-trick of tries, to secure a meeting with Uruguay on Sunday.
But things did not start so badly for Romania, as Iulian Hartig surged over for the game’s first try after Altier had given Hong Kong an early lead from the kicking tee.
The home side kept their noses in front until the 24th minute when Altier breezed through a gap in the Romanian defence and displayed impressive pace to score in the left corner.
Another Altier penalty stretched the Hong Kong lead before the playmaker finished a quick-fire counter-attack. Things got better for the Asian side on the stroke of half-time when captain Mark Coebergh took advantage of some slack tackling to touch down.
The half-time whistle could not come quick enough for Romania but the break provided little respite as within two minutes of the restart Altier spotted another hole in front of him and applied the boosters for a 32-7 lead.
Hong Kong might have wrapped up the win but their hosts refused to give in and were awarded a penalty try with just over 33 minutes left on the clock. In the final half hour the sides traded a further six tries as Sam Down and Jake Barlow both crossed the whitewash before Stefan Iancu and Alexandru Craciun touched down either side of an Altier penalty.
In the closing stages, the Hong Kong pack subsequently powered over the line – Gregor Ramage coming up with the ball to send his side sailing through the 50-point barrier – before home centre Cosmin Iliuta rounded off the scoring with a converted try.
POOL B: FIJI 53-26 CANADA
Ahead of the tournament Canada coach Jeff Williams admitted his side could play to their potential yet lose all three of their Pool B games. His words proved prophetic in Bucharest.
Canada led from the ninth minute until the 66th, and Fiji needed seven tries in the closing 25 minutes to seal victory. But that will matter little to the Pacific Islanders, who set up a final against traditional rivals Samoa on Sunday.
Having lost in agonising fashion to both Portugal and Uruguay, Canada started brightly on day three and built a 10-point lead as a Will Percillier penalty was supplemented by a smart try from Brandon Schellenberger.
Fiji hit back almost immediately as Ilikena Vudogo stepped off his wing and set up Lekima Nasamila to score under the posts in the 25th minute.
It looked as though it could prove a telling intervention, especially as Canadia’s fast start had taken its toll – the whole of their front row was replaced within the opening 27 minutes.
But after another Percillier penalty, and with replacement prop Apakuki Naivanawalu in the sin-bin, Schellenberger scampered over from close range to score his second try and give the North Americans a 20-7 half-time lead.
Forty minutes from a famous win Canada began the second half in the ascendancy and came within inches of a third try in the 49th minute as they camped on the Fijian line. Their opponents held out and it would prove a pivotal defensive stand.
Vilimoni Botitu kick-started the comeback within six minutes as he scored a wonderful solo try and although a Brenning Prevost penalty edged the Canadian lead to seven, just after the hour mark Fiji captain Saimoni Uluinakauvadra helped push Tevita Ikanivere over the try line.
Prevost’s second penalty minutes later looked like a plaster on a gaping wound and so it proved. Botitu turned provider as his audacious offload found Nabetelevu Turaganivalu on the right wing to score, and with the scores now level Fiji put their foot on the accelerator.
In the final 13 minutes they scored a further five tries as Simione Kuruvoli, Viliame Suwawa, Vudogo, Turaganivalu and Botitu all beat increasingly weary Canadian tackles.
POOL B: PORTUGAL 26-15 URUGUAY
Portugal will face Namibia in the third-place play-off following a hard-fought victory over 2008 champions Uruguay that secured second place in Pool B.
Uruguay had seen their hopes of topping the pool ended minutes before kick-off as Fiji’s fantastic finish sewed up victory against Canada, but Los Teritos took the lead thanks to a Jose Iruleguy penalty.
It was to prove an eventful day for the full-back, who finished the game with 10 points – via a try, conversion and penalty – two yellow cards and an early bath.
Portugal fly-half Joao Maria Lima had missed two penalties when he decided to kick a third to the corner. It proved to be a wise move as from the resulting pressure Gabriel Pop went over in the right corner. The melee that greeted the score resulted in Iruleguy heading to the sin-bin.
Uruguay managed to keep Portugal scoreless during his 10 minutes off the field, and remarkably within a minute of returning to the fray the full-back provided a fine finish on the right wing to give his side an 8-5 lead at the interval.
A tight contest ensued after the break, before replacement prop Jose Sarmento burrowed over from close range and Lima’s conversion edged the Portuguese back in front.
Having soaked up some Uruguayan pressure it was a lead they would increase in the 58th minute when referee Nika Amashukeli ran under the posts to signal a penalty try following a scrum on the South Americans’ five-metre line.
Within three minutes replacement playmaker Manuel Marta had wriggled through a couple of tackles and touched down to put Portugal within touching distance of victory.
Manuel Ardao scored in the left corner with around eight minutes remaining but despite Irlueguy’s conversion the 11-point deficit was too steep.
There was still time, though, for both sides to lose a player as Manuel Pinto and Iruleguy both received yellow cards for dangerous tackles in the final five minutes. As it was the Uruguayan’s second, his was upgraded to red to put a cap on a very mixed afternoon.
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