Australia's nine-year wait for a second World Rugby U20 Championship final is over after they ended Argentina's hopes of a first appearance in the title decider on home soil on Wednesday.
The Junior Wallabies, who were beaten 62-17 by New Zealand in the first final held in Argentina in 2010, played the entire second half with a man down after try-scorer Michael McDonald received a second yellow card trying to prevent a Los Pumitas' try, but scored the only tries of the second half to triumph 34-13.
They will meet defending champions France in the final on Saturday after Louis Carbonel inspired Les Bleuets to a 20-7 defeat of South Africa, the 2012 champions who were bidding to reach their first final since 2014.
With all 12 teams now based in Rosario for the knockout stages, the weather played its part on semi-finals day with heavy rain for the opening matches with New Zealand, Wales, Scotland and Italy being forced off the field on safety grounds with lightning strikes in close proximity to the Racecourse Stadium and Club Old Resian.
Wales led for the majority of their fifth place play-off with New Zealand but had to endure a nervy finish as Fergus Burke had a kick to win the match only to see his effort drift wide of the uprights, Cai Evans' penalty ensuring it was the Welsh celebrating an 8-7 victory instead. They will face England in the fifth place play-off after Tom Willis's try with the final play secured a 30-23 victory over Ireland after extra-time looked to be on the cards.
New Zealand's defeat means the six-time champions will finish outside the top six for the first time in the 12-year history of the competition.
There was just as much drama in the ninth place semi-final between Fiji and Georgia, the Junior Lelos going through more than 20 phases with the clock in red before test-capped hooker Vano Karkadze found his way over the line to seal a 12-8 victory and condemn the Pacific Islanders to a final-day shootout with Scotland to avoid relegation to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2020.
Scotland had also staged a late rally in the day's opening match at Old Club Resian, but despite scoring two late tries it was Italy who triumphed 26-19.
The final day of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 gets underway at 10:30 local time (GMT-3) with the 11th place play-off between Scotland and Fiji, followed by Georgia and Italy's contest for ninth place and the seventh place play-off between New Zealand and Ireland. Across the city at the Racecourse Stadium, the fifth place play-off between Wales and England opens proceedings at 10:30, followed by Argentina and South Africa's battle for bronze and the title decider between Australia and France, which kicks off at 15:30 local time.
SEMI-FINAL: ARGENTINA 13-34 AUSTRALIA
Australia ended Argentina’s hopes of a World Rugby U20 Championship final on home soil by booking their place in the title decider with a 34-13 victory that was earned despite playing with 14 men for 50 minutes.
The hosts had tasted defeat in their two previous semi-finals in 2012 and 2016, and following a frenetic opening at the Racecourse Stadium it was the Junior Wallabies who took the lead, thanks to a Ben Donaldson penalty.
Donaldson missed a presentable chance to double Australia’s lead soon after, and his miss looked costly when scrum-half Michael McDonald was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Rodrigo Isgro.
Los Pumitas fly-half Joaquin de la Vega Mendia levelled the scores from the kicking tee, but it was Australia who breached the try-line first as hooker Lachlan Lonergan picked a wonderful line before popping a pass to Harry Wilson to touch down.
Donaldson added the extras before De la Vega Mendia reduced Argentina’s deficit just as McDonald returned to the field. And the Junior Wallabies scrum-half would be at the centre of the action before half-time.
Initially he was the hero for Australia as he collected Noah Lolesio’s smart offload to score under the posts with a little under four minutes of the half remaining, Donaldson’s conversion making the score 17-6. But McDonald was soon the villain, the scrum-half shown a second yellow card, and automatic red, while conceding a penalty try for a high tackle on Isgro as the Argentina winger attempted to score in the right corner.
Los Pumitas were back within four points, but Australia had coped well with 14 men in the first half and they made light of their numerical disadvantage at the start of the second as Lonergan profited from a lineout drive to score his side’s third try.
And following a period of Argentine pressure, in which the hosts were denied a try by a brilliant Isaac Lucas tackle, things got even better for the Junior Wallabies.
Captain Fraser McReight secured a turnover inside his own half and then launched a counter-attack from which Donaldson hacked forward. The fly-half chased his own kick into the Los Pumitas in-goal and just beat Matteo Carreras to the bouncing ball.
His conversion gave the Junior Wallabies a 31-13 lead with around 25 minutes remaining and although Los Pumitas spent much of that time camped inside the Australian half they were unable to breach the try-line.
In fact it was Donaldson and Australia who had the last say in Rosario as the fly-half’s late penalty added a bit more gloss to victory and secured their spot in a first U20 Championship final since Argentina hosted the tournament last in 2010.
Australia captain Fraser McReight: “We were really on the ropes, especially at the end of that first half. Credit to Argentina they played some really good footy but I’m proud of the boys to win with 14 men.”
Argentina centre Geronimo Prisciantelli said: “It was a very close match but today they made the points they had to make and we couldn’t.”
SEMI-FINAL: SOUTH AFRICA 7-20 FRANCE
Fly-half Louis Carbonel kicked France into their second successive final with only Australia now standing between them and back-to-back titles.
Les Bleuets had owed their place in the last four thanks to the margin of South Africa’s win over New Zealand in the pool stages, but they needed no favours in a game they controlled for long periods.
Carbonel was in the action early kicking two straightforward penalties to hand his side a 6-0 lead after only seven minutes.
South Africa only briefly threatened in the first quarter, second-row pairing JJ van der Mescht and Elrigh Louw combining well to put Rikus Pretorius in space but Les Bleuets defended the edge well and bundled him into touch.
Carbonel then hacked the ball downfield after a mix-up at the back of a South African scrum and France spent the best part of the second quarter camped inside Junior Springboks’ territory. Eventually the pressure told, and Jordan Joseph went over from the back of a rolling maul for his fifth try of the tournament to make it 11-0.
Superb South African defence stopped another dangerous maul a few minutes later but an uncharacteristic handling error behind his own line from fly-half James Mollentze meant the heat stayed on the Junior Springboks. But, from the resulting five-metre scrum, Joseph knocked on at the base and a golden opportunity to put more points on the board had gone.
Carbonel didn’t have to wait long, though, to add a third penalty and enhance his chances of winning back-to-back golden boots after top-scoring in France's title success on home soil in 2018.
Starved of possession, South Africa desperately tried to find a way into the game and after a series of pick and goes had been thwarted, they kicked another penalty to the corner and hooker Fezokuhle Mbatha dotted down at the bottom of a maul with two seconds of the first half remaining. Jaden Hendrikse added the conversion.
In direct contrast to what had gone before, South Africa were firmly on the front foot after the restart but determined defending and a missed penalty from Hendrikse meant they had no reward for their efforts and there remained seven points between the sides.
In the face of relenting pressure and a high tackle count, France went to their bench to get fresh legs and hooker Rayne Barka made an immediate impact in helping to turn the tide. A scrum penalty was kicked by Carbonel as the hour mark approached and Les Bleuets had a two-score lead.
As the sun set in Rosario, France’s dominance at scrum time continued and a fifth penalty from the boot of Carbonel in the 69th minute gave his side even more breathing space.
While Carbonel skewed one last attempt wide, it was another memorable match from the Toulon player who will now be hoping to repeat his match-winning performance from the 2018 final when they take on the Junior Wallabies on Saturday.
South Africa captain Phendulani Buthelezi said: “I’ll be honest, it’s really not a good feeling, but I think they played really well. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and have a hard look at ourselves. I don’t think we pitched up today.”
France captain Arthur Vincent said: “It’s unbelievable for the team. It was a very hard game, credit to South Africa.”
FIFTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: NEW ZEALAND 7-8 WALES
Cai Evans was the hero as his last-minute penalty saw Wales beat New Zealand for only the second time and condemn the six-time champions to a finish outside the top six for the first time in the history of the World Rugby U20 Championship
Fly-half Evans had missed his first three attempts at goal in a stop-start game punctuated by a 75-minute break due to adverse weather conditions, but he came good when it mattered most to kick Wales into the fifth place play-off.
New Zealand still had a chance to win it at the death but Evans’ opposite number Fergus Blake pulled his attempt just wide.
For 70 minutes, the score stood at 5-0 to Wales, a slippery ball and Wales’ strong work at the breakdown resulting in a high turnover count going against New Zealand who bossed possession and territory.
Fittingly, the only score of the first half came from a couple of handling errors on 18 minutes. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler showed good footballing skills to dribble the ball forward not once but twice after Dallas McLeod dropped a pass in centre field and then Kaylum Boshier failed to get it under control when sweeping up in defence.
Then, with the score at 5-0 to Wales, play was suspended just short of the half-hour mark in the interests of player safety due to lightning strikes in close proximity to the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario.
Following the prolonged break, the match continued in much the same vein with the only clear try-scoring opportunity falling to Wales. Unfortunately for the men in red Cai Evans could not hang onto Ryan Conbeer’s pass after the winger had bumped off Lalomilo Lalomilo to put them into a promising position. Evans was also just short with a 45-metre penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Despite making an incredible 98 tackles in the first half, Wales’ appetite for defence remained undimmed as New Zealand remained on top. But the odds were tipped in Wales’ favour when replacement Samipeni Finau was sent to the sin-bin in the 48th minute for a high tackle on full-back Ioan Davies.
Evans failed with another long-range attempt, on 54 minutes, and then hit the post six minutes later, and they were made to pay when Tupou Va’ai crashed over from close range with 10 minutes left to play. Burke’s conversion put his side into the lead for the first time in the match.
Just when it appeared that New Zealand would see the game out, they were penalised for closing the gap at the lineout and this time Evans held his nerve to strike the ball cleanly through the posts.
FIFTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: IRELAND 23-30 ENGLAND
Tom Willis scored a last-minute try to hand England a dramatic win over Ireland that sets up a fifth-place play-off against Wales on Saturday.
Ill discipline had hurt England when they were beaten by Ireland on day one, and it was an issue for Steve Bates’ side again during the opening 40 minutes in Rosario.
However, despite playing for 20 minutes of the first half a man light as first Ted Hill and then Kai Owen were sent to the sin-bin for dangerous tackles, Ireland did not punish them as they had done in Santa Fe 13 days earlier.
It was Ireland who had begun the game in the ascendancy. But while they spent the majority of the opening quarter in English territory, their lead was just 6-3 after 21 minutes as Ben Healy’s two penalties sandwiched a Josh Hodge three-pointer.
Healy then missed the shot at goal that resulted from prop Owens’ errant tackle on opposite number Michael Milne and England appeared buoyed by the fly-half’s first wayward attempt of the tournament.
Hodge’s second penalty levelled the scores and with Owen still in the bin the Newcastle Falcon finished well, slaloming through attempted Irish tackles to score the game’s opening try following good work from Manu Vunipola and Tom de Glanville.
Healy and Hodge traded penalties as the second half got underway, before Sam Maunder gave England a two-score lead with 25 minutes left as he darted over from close range to touch down a try that was again converted by Hodge.
When Dylan Tierney-Martin was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Hodge it looked as though England might canter to victory, but like Ireland in the first half they struggled to make their numerical advantage count.
Tierney-Martin’s time off the pitch ended with a series of attacking scrums for his side on the English five-metre line and it was from the first set-piece with their hooker back on the field that Craig Casey and Healy worked the space for Jonathan Wren to score in the left corner.
England – who made more than double the number of tackles that Ireland had in the first hour – were perhaps beginning to tire, and within two minutes of Wren scoring their lead had been wiped out as Brian Deeny, only called up this week as an injury replacement, charged down Maunder before scooping up the ball and galloping over the line.
Ireland ended normal time with a man advantage as Rus Tuima became the fourth player to see yellow, for a high tackle, but with extra-time looming it was England who claimed victory as Willis powered over to avenge his side’s pool-stage loss.
England captain Fraser Dingwall said: “We’re really happy. Realistically these conditions are pretty horrible but I’m proud with the way we dogged it out at the end.”
Ireland captain Charlie Ryan said: “It would have been easy for us to tap out, so [I’m] really happy for the boys to come back.”
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: SCOTLAND 19-26 ITALY
Italy made sure of their place in next year’s World Rugby U20 Championship with a 26-19 defeat of Scotland, who will now face a relegation play-off on Saturday.
Azzurrini second-row Andrea Zambonin set the tone for an error-strewn and lightning-interrupted first half at Club Old Resian as he spilled the kick-off amid a torrential downpour.
Both sides, meeting for the third time in an U20 Championship ninth-place semi-final, were searching for their first win of the 2019 tournament and it was Italy who first threatened the scoreboard.
The Azzurrini got a driving maul rolling towards the try-line from a 12th minute attacking lineout but despite winger Cristian Lai adding his weight to it, Scotland stood firm and secured the turnover.
A series of penalties from the resulting scrum allowed the Scots to move play into the Italian 22, where their pack ultimately showed their opponents how it’s done as hooker Ewan Ashman scored the game’s opening try.
Ross Thompson converted but Italy, who have found tries hard to come by in Argentina, levelled the score in the 26th minute as full-back Jacopo Trulla raced onto a smart grubber kick from Matteo Moscardi before dancing around Cameron Anderson and Lomond MacPherson to score under the posts.
And by the time play was suspended in the 37th minute due to thunder and lightning overhead, the Azzurrini had taken the lead. In the last meaningful action before the players headed off, Moscardi again proved the architect as his flicked pass found Andrea Mastandrea to touch down.
Paolo Garbisi converted both tries to give Italy a 14-7 advantage, and when play resumed around 50 minutes later the Azzurrini stretched it further as Damiano Mazza scored in the left corner.
The sides turned around immediately due to the time lost, and the momentum was with Italy as they hunted a fourth try in Rosario. Thompson was charged down by Garbisi before Trulla carved through the Scottish defence, but both times possession was ultimately coughed up.
Garbisi made no mistake in the 62nd minute, though, as he took possession following a strong Italian scrum and cut an angle through the Scottish defence to score a try he then converted.
It gave the Azzurrini a 26-7 lead that looked unassailable until the final five minutes when Scotland took advantage of Antoine Koffi’s yellow card to score two tries, a second for Ashman before a stunning solo effort from Jack Blain gave them hope.
Scotland ended the game in possession and with their sights firmly on the Italian line but following multiple phases the final pass went astray, meaning they must win on the final day or be relegated to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2020.
Italy captain Davide Ruggeri said: “I’m very happy for me, for my team. We worked a lot and this was the result. Yeah [it was a] fantastic match against England but one point and now is the time to do something, to take something.”
Scotland captain Connor Boyle said: “Yeah [the last five minutes] shows a lot of resilience but it’s just too late. We played a whole game and we didn’t play well enough for the whole game. You can’t finish bottom in this competition and we’ve got to go home and work hard.”
NINTH PLACE SEMI-FINALS: GEORGIA 12-8 FIJI
Georgia are assured of their place in a fifth straight U20 Championship after a dramatic last-gasp win over Fiji.
Vano Karkadze’s try with the last play of the game, after 23 phases, gave Georgia the lead for the first time in the match and broke Fiji’s hearts.
Fiji had defended for their lives up to that point, but they must now beat Scotland in Saturday’s 11th place play-off to avoid an immediate return to the World Rugby U20 Trophy, a competition they won last year to return to the elite tier after a five-year absence.
Both sides gave it a real go despite playing in heavy rain and on a muddy track and it was Fiji who crossed first, Epeli Momo stretching over in the corner in the ninth minute after a patient build-up to underline their early dominance.
It wasn’t until the end of the first quarter that Georgia got involved in an attacking sense and after a flowing move that twice involved centre Lasha Lomidze, the Junior Lelos thought they’d got back on level terms when Beka Koriauli dived over in the corner. However, on closer inspection, the flanker had put a foot in touch before grounding the ball.
Shortly after, Fiji also went agonisingly close, a busting run from long-striding second-row Etonia Waqa, following a quick tap penalty from full-back Osea Waqa, setting up hooker Tevita Ikanivere for what seemed a certain score until the captain dropped the ball two metres out when challenged by Georgian winger Otar Lashki.
After a breathless end to the first half that went three minutes into overtime, Fiji had to settle for a 5-0 lead at the break.
There was no let-up in the intensity or the intent in the second half, but it was 14 minutes before any more points were scored, Fiji fly-half Caleb Muntz landing his first penalty from around 30 metres out.
Alivereti Loaloa’s yellow card for a dangerous tackle allowed Georgia a route back into the game and a converted try from bruising number eight Ioane Iashagashvili brought them to within one point of the Pacific Islanders.
Fiji were forced to play the last five minutes with 14 men as they’d used all their front-row replacements and eventually their heroic goal-line defence cracked as Georgia came from behind to win their second match in a row.