New Zealand followed up their 53-7 victory over Fiji in the opening round of the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship with an even more emphatic 87-12 win against Japan on Tuesday.
By extending their winning run in the competition to eight matches, the Craig Philpott-coached side will now play off against Australia, who scraped past Fiji 16-0 in their second match, for the title.
NEW ZEALAND 87-12 JAPAN
Rivez Reihana contributed 27 points and openside flanker Kohan Herbert scored a hat-trick as New Zealand brushed aside the challenge of Japan in a performance that will have made their Pool C rivals at the upcoming World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 sit up and take notice.
Coach Philpott made 13 changes to his starting line-up and it took a few minutes to click, while Japan came out firing from the get-go and put heat on in the scrums, earning a penalty try in the opening quarter and scoring an opportunist try via full-back Ryosuke Kawase.
Captain Kaylum Boshier opened New Zealand’s account from a Fletcher Newell offload, Boshier’s second touch in that phase. That was a feature of the play throughout the game, with New Zealand’s support play and high quality handling too strong for their opponents.
Seven tries were run in during the first half. Left wing Scott Gregory, who was subbed at the break, got in on the act, crossing in the corner off some nice lead-up work by Herbert and prop George Dyer.
Dallas McLeod arguably scored the best try of the half, though, regathering the ball from a chip to score from halfway, while an astute kick from scrum-half Taufa Funaki led to another score for full-back Cole Forbes.
Forbes, double try-scorer Lalomilo Lalomilo and Reihana were all prominent in the second half. Reihana, who kicked 11 from 13 off the tee, including his last 10 attempts, showed good strength to rip the ball and score a try himself.
By now New Zealand's pack had turned the tide on the opposition eight and were in the ascendency and Herbert’s hat-trick try capped a fine all-round display.
AUSTRALIA 16-0 FIJI
Australia made heavy weather of beating Fiji in tough conditions in the second match of the day, second-row Michael Wood scoring the only try of a scrappy encounter.
After making several changes to their starting team with the final fixture against reigning champions New Zealand in mind, Australia struggled to find continuity in the opening half and while things improved in the second, Fiji refused to roll over.
As they did against New Zealand in round one, Fiji competed hard in the first half and could have easily been in front had they kicked their goals. Simioni Kuruvoli missed two attempts and Caleb Muntz another, just before the break, as Australia took a 7-0 lead into half-time thanks to Wood's converted try in the 24th minute.
Coach Jason Gilmore made wholesale changes of personnel at half-time and while the defensive solidity of his team will have pleased him, especially as they kept their line intact despite losing Joe Cotton to the sin-bin, he will want to see more from them in an attacking sense in Saturday's title decider against New Zealand.
As it was, the Junior Wallabies had to rely on three penalties from the boot of scrum-half and captain Michael McDonald to keep the Fijians at bay.
"Obviously we had to play to the conditions and we were up against a tough Fijian side, we got away with the win and that was all we had to do," said McDonald.
"Full credit to the boys, we just had to toughen up in defence, especially in that first half when we were under pressure and we did really well.
"We're looking really forward to playing New Zealand, it's the one we've been building up to. Obviously, they're a quality side but everyone's really excited for Saturday and can't wait to rip in.
"As a team, we've only been together for a couple of camps now and we're really looking to build into this World Cup ... that's our main focus."
Photos: Stuart Walmsley