As the battle for the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 intensifies, the action has moved lock-stock to Rosario with the city’s Racecourse Stadium and Club Old Resian set to play host to Monday’s play-off action.
Following an enthralling final day of pool play, hosts Argentina, Australia, France and South Africa will contest the semi-finals. Los Pumitas will take on the Junior Wallabies before Les Bleuets attempt to keep their title defence on track against the Junior Springboks.
New Zealand were denied a semi-final spot thanks to Sanele Nohamba’s late penalty last Wednesday and will instead face Wales in Rosario in the first of the fifth place semi-final. Three-times winners England, meanwhile, will face Ireland for the second time at this year’s tournament after losing their opening day encounter 42-26.
Meanwhile Italy, Scotland, Georgia and Fiji all have the spectre of relegation to the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2020 hanging over them as the Azzurrini face Scotland and the Junior Lelos play Fiji in the ninth place semi-finals.
SEMI-FINAL: ARGENTINA V AUSTRALIA
Hosts Argentina have named an unchanged starting XV for their semi-final meeting with the Junior Wallabies. Los Pumitas, who qualified for the semi-finals for only the third time with a 47-26 defeat of defending champions France on match-day three, have made one change to their 28-man squad as Ignacio Ruiz comes onto the bench in place of injured second-row Agustin Toth.
That victory was earned thanks to a barnstorming start, set in motion by prop Thomas Gallo’s wonderful solo try, as Argentina built an imposing 34-7 half-time lead. Les Bleuets scored three unanswered tries in the second half but the win has given the hosts belief that they can go one step further than they have previously, and reach the final.
“The truth is we took a lot of confidence [from beating France],” Los Pumitas captain Juan Pablo Castro said. “We had a very, very, good first half. But there are also things to work on, like the first 20 minutes in the second half. If we correct those things I think we could have a great next game.”
If Argentina are to contest the final for the first time then the home support at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario is sure to play its part. “You really notice the public and the fans,” Castro added. “That is a plus for us in every game, so hopefully they will continue to support us as it is a great help.”
Australia captain Fraser McReight admitted the prospect of playing the hosts in front of their own fans was “unreal”.
“Their home crowd is going to be pretty much their 16th man. So, I think if we can kind of counteract that with how we want to play and slow their tempo down and play how we can play [we can] hopefully come out with the chocolates,” he said.
The Junior Wallabies played for almost 78 minutes of their final Pool B game, a 56-33 defeat to England, with only 14 men following an early red card for number eight Patrick Tafa. He is suspended for the semi-final – Australia's first since 2011 – and is replaced by William Harris at the base of the scrum. Harris is one of five players who come in for the Argentina game with Sione Tui and Mark Nawaqanitawase swapping wings.
SEMI-FINAL: SOUTH AFRICA V FRANCE
South Africa captain Phendulani Buthelezi is wary of facing a wounded France side in the U20 Championship semi-finals on Monday. The reigning champions conceded four first-half tries as they were beaten by Argentina their final Pool A match having lost Sacha Zegueur to an early red card, and Buthelezi believes defeat will only strengthen Les Bleuets’ resolve to reach a second successive final.
“Obviously them losing against Argentina will probably make them even more hungry to come out and perform for their country,” he said.
South Africa have twice made the final, in 2012 and 2014, winning the title seven years ago on home soil in Cape Town. Buthelezi is determined to lead the Junior Springboks – who name an unchanged starting line-up to the one that extinguished New Zealand’s hopes on match-day three – to a second U20 crown.
“It’s just a really big goal of ours but not just for us personally, for our country because we want to show the world that there’s something really special happening with all the South African young rugby teams,” he said.
France owe their place in the semi-finals to the late Nohamba penalty that denied New Zealand a losing bonus point on Wednesday. Not that captain Arthur Vincent and his players will be rolling out the red carpet in Rosario.
“It's thanks to South Africa that we are qualified for the semi-final,” he said. “But now it's against them that it will be played. South Africa are a very complete team. We watched them against New Zealand, they have very good players and are very powerful, very direct. It's going to be a tough match for us.”
France coach Sebastien Piqueronies has made eight personnel changes to his side to face the Junior Springboks, including a recall for 2018 World Rugby Junior Player of the Year Jordan Joseph. He lines up at number eight with Thibaut Hamonou shifting to openside flanker in place of the suspended Sacha Zegueur.
FIFTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: NEW ZEALAND V WALES
New Zealand and Wales have both rung the changes ahead of their fifth-place semi-final at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario.
Following the agony of their 25-17 defeat to South Africa, in which they were minutes away from qualifying for the top four, New Zealand coach Craig Philpott has promoted seven players to his starting XV. In come Tamaiti Williams, Taine Plumtree, Kaylum Boshier, Taufa Funaki, Quinn Tupaea, Lalomilo Lalomilo and Scott Gregory and Philpott expects his side to be tested in the air.
“Wales like to kick the ball a lot so we can expect to get a fair bit of ball put on top of our back three,” he said. “They've got a very strong lineout drive and they've scored a number of tries in their games through that part of their play so we've rehearsed around that stuff. They're a team who will try and get off the line and have a crack at us so we want to make sure we're using the ball wisely.”
Wales have made six personnel changes for the game, with Kemsley Mathias, Ben Warren, Morgan Jones, Lennon Greggains, Ryan Conbeer and Max Llewellyn all set to start in Rosario.
FIFTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: IRELAND V ENGLAND
Ireland will attempt to complete an U20 Championship double over England when the two sides meet at Club Old Resian.
The Irish, who also beat their rivals in the U20 Six Nations, ran in six tries to secure a 42-26 victory in Santa Fe on day one. It will be a different looking Ireland that line up in Rosario, though, as eight changes have been made to the starting XV that faced Italy last time out. Hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin and captain Charlie Ryan are among those who return for the match, while Ryan Baird has been shifted into the back-row.
England beat the Junior Wallabies 56-33 to restore some pride in their campaign having seen their run of six consecutive finals end, and will be keen to avoid a third successive defeat to Ireland as they begin the play-offs outside the top four for only the second time in U20 Championship history.
Steve Bates’ side will hope to avoid the lapses in discipline that cost them on match-day one. “We felt it was important to give the majority of the side that played against Australia another go as it was by far our best performance of the tournament,” Bates said. “The challenge for our squad now is to back up that performance with one that is better.”
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: SCOTLAND V ITALY
Scotland coach Carl Hogg has tweaked his backline as he attempts to mastermind his side’s first win at the U20 Championship 2019.
Lomond MacPherson and Rob McCallum have both been promoted to the starting line-up for the Scots’ ninth-place semi-final against Italy. The inclusion of MacPherson and McCallum means that Rory McMichael has shifted into the centres, with Cameron Anderson moved to full-back.
Scotland find themselves in the bottom four following a narrow 17-12 defeat to Georgia on day three.
“Throughout this year’s Championship there have been glimpses of the potential that this squad can achieve but we need to focus on doing the simple things well under the pressure of international competition,” Hogg said.
Italy have made eight changes for the game at Club Old Resian, while Jacopo Trulla has been moved to full-back from the right wing. Having impressed in patches against Australia, England and Ireland in Pool B, the Azzurrini will be keen to avoid a relegation play-off.
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINALS: GEORGIA V FIJI
Georgia are the only team in the bottom four to have registered a win in Argentina, but that has not saved the squad from rotation.
In total, nine players have come into the side that beat Scotland last Wednesday – including Luka Nioradze, who scored the all-important winning try. Tedo Abzandadze, who converted Nioradze’s late try,day three has also been recalled, and the seven-test fly-half will hope to pilot the Junior Lelos to a second win of the tournament.
However, despite ending their Pool A campaign winless, Fiji competed for long periods with France, Wales and Argentina, and will be determined to avoid slipping into the relegation play-off in their first year back in the U20 Championship.
Nine changes have been made to the line-up that lost 44-28 to Wales last Wednesday, with Etonia Waqa, Caleb Muntz and Ratu Waqaninavatu among those returning to the starting side. Injury replacement Osea Natoga, who impressed from full-back against Wales, has been moved to the right wing to allow for Waqaninavatu’s inclusion.
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