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Australia and France bid for glory in Argentina
Will it be a first World Rugby U20 Championship title for Australia or will France go back-to-back in Rosario on Saturday? We preview the title decider and the other five matches – including the relegation battle between Scotland and Fiji – on the final day in Argentina.
France will bid to become only the third team to successfully defend the World Rugby U20 Championship when they face Australia in the 2019 final in Rosario on Saturday.
Les Bleuets earned their place in the title decider with an impressive semi-final win over South Africa last Monday but they have it all to do at the Racecourse Stadium if they are to overcome a hungry Australia side.
The Junior Wallabies have never lifted the U20 Championship trophy but head into the showpiece match full of confidence having also reached the final the last time the tournament was held in Argentina back in 2010.
THE NUMBERS GAME: U20 CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS >>
Away from the final there is plenty to play for with seeding for next year’s tournament set to be decided while for either Fiji or Scotland relegation to the World Rugby U20 Trophy looms large.
FINAL: AUSTRALIA V FRANCE
Australia captain Fraser McReight is determined to make history when the Junior Wallabies take on defending champions France in the U20 Championship final.
McReight will become only the second Australian to captain his country in the showpiece game – after Jake Schatz – when he leads the Junior Wallabies onto the Racecourse Stadium pitch on Saturday.
History makers?— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 21, 2019
Only their 2nd #WorldRugbyU20s Championship final ever and first since 2010 in Argentina. Will there be a new name on the trophy this year? Australia will be hoping so. pic.twitter.com/amHtg7nLQo
Coincidentally Australia’s only previous appearance in an U20 Championship final came nine years ago, when the tournament was last held in Argentina’s third-largest city.
On that occasion a Junior Wallabies side featuring the likes of Matt To'omua and Liam Gill were resoundingly beaten by New Zealand, who like France this year were defending champions, but McReight is confident Australia can become the fifth team to etch their name on the distinctive trophy.
“Being the first Australian to lift that trophy would be something very, very special. Not only to myself but Australia, my family, my friends,” he said. “Hopefully we can do one better than that  group and actually get the win.”
Australia and France have not met at the U20 Championship since a 34-27 fifth-place play-off victory for the Junior Wallabies five years ago that left their head-to-head record tied at 3-3.
McReight, on the four-man shortlist for Breakthrough Player of the Tournament alongside France playmaker Louis Carbonel, expects Les Bleuets to “play with passion, play with fire” as they bid to become only the third team – after New Zealand and England – to successfully defend their title.
“We have to not really manage the French team but play how we want to play: uptempo, attacking style of rugby with great defence,” McReight added.
Australia coach Jason Gilmore has made two changes to the side that beat Argentina in the semi-final. Will Harrison returns at fly-half and will partner Michael McDonald at half-back after the scrum-half was cleared to play following his red card against the hosts. Triston Reilly comes in on the right wing in the only other personnel change with Mark Nawaqanitawase restored to the No.11 shirt.
France coach Sebastien Piqueronies, meanwhile, has named an unchanged starting XV as Les Bleuets attempt to retain the title they won on home soil in Béziers.
Six players selected by Piqueronies were involved 12 months ago, including 2018 Player of the Tournament Jordan Joseph and Carbonel, who is two points away from bringing up a century in the U20 Championship history and England's chief tormentor in the final with 23 of their points in the 33-25 victory.
Captain Arthur Vincent is one of them, but he insists that “even if we played last year, the motivation is unique and something special every year.”
“Playing a final on Saturday presents us with a huge opportunity and it's a huge accolade for the group. It would be an exceptional achievement to retain the trophy, it would really show that this is a great generation of French players,” the centre added.
“We need to be in the same state of mind as we were against South Africa and make sure we don't falter for 80 minutes because Australia are one of the best teams in the competition.
“It's difficult to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses because they're such a complete, all-round team. Everything we do we're going to have to do well to come out on top because it will be an intense match.”
THIRD PLACE PLAY-OFF: ARGENTINA V SOUTH AFRICA
Hosts Argentina will hope history repeats as they end their home tournament with a third-place play-off against South Africa.
Los Pumitas have competed in this match twice in U20 Championship history, winning the second of those 49-19 against the Junior Springboks in England three years ago. Argentina ran in six tries that day in Manchester, and they would take a repeat in Rosario on Saturday to round off hosting duties in style.
In pursuit of victory coach José Pellicena has made four changes to the side that lost 34-13 to Australia in the semi-finals as prop Estanislao Carulla and back-row Jeronimo Gomez Vara come into the pack while centre Tomas Acostal Pimentel and winger Francisco Jorge are included in the backline.
U20s Preview: Dallen Stanford and Sean holley discuss the battle for bronze between the @JuniorBoks and @lospumitasarg this Saturday. #WorldRugbyU20s— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 20, 2019
Comment below with who you think will win, either 👊 (South Africa) or 💪 (Argentina). pic.twitter.com/GBHgFyYZn9
Captain Juan Pablo Castro is sidelined for match-day five through injury, which means scrum-half Gonzalo Garcia will skipper Los Pumitas in what will be his record-breaking 15th match in the U20 Championship.
South Africa have finished in the top four in all but one U20 Championship, and won the third-place play-off in three of the past four tournaments - losing the other, of course, to Argentina.
Junior Springboks coach Chean Roux has made six changes to his starting line-up as his side chase an eighth bronze medal. Prop Kudzwai Dube and flankers Johannes Labuschagne and Celimpilo Gumede all start in the pack, while Sanele Nohamba and David Coetzer form a new half-back partnership and David Kriel comes into the centres.
“They [Argentina] will be very motivated, as always, and they will also have something to prove after losing in the semi-final in front of their home crowd. So it is going to be a tough game, but we are looking forward to it,” said Roux.
FIFTH PLACE PLAY-OFF: ENGLAND V WALES
Wales coach Gareth Williams has rung the changes ahead of their fifth-place play-off against England despite watching his charges beat New Zealand last time out.
Props Rhys Davies and Nick English have come into the front-row while the Welsh pack has also been bolstered by the inclusion of second-row Ed Scragg and flanker Iestyn Rees.
Harri Morgan takes over from Dafydd Buckland at scrum-half for his first start since the opening day, while Tomi Lewis will line up on the right wing with Deon Smith moving to outside-centre to cover for the injured Max Llewellyn. Smith will line up alongside Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, who had an appeal against an automatic one-match suspension for two High Risk Contact Technique Warnings upheld.
“We went through the appeals process and it’s great Tiaan is on the park,” Williams said. “I can’t wait for the game against England. Winning games is our goal but we obviously balance the development aspect of things as well but beating New Zealand is a massive part of these players’ development.”
England will be without Cameron Redpath, who has been suspended for six weeks for biting Ireland hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin in their last outing. Luke James will take his place against Wales while prop James Kenny and number eight Tom Willis also come in.
Steve Bates’ side are guaranteed their worst finish since 2012 when they finished seventh in South Africa, having competed in the previous six finals, winning three.
“This match is extremely important for us as a team,” he said. “For personal pride and making sure we finish the tournament in a positive way.”
SEVENTH PLACE PLAY-OFF: IRELAND V NEW ZEALAND
Four outstanding players have been nominated for the World Rugby U20 Championship Breakthrough Player of the Tournament in association with Tudor. Have your say by voting below! #WorldRugbyU20s— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 21, 2019
Voting ends on Saturday, 22nd of June at 16.15pm (GMT -3)
Ireland and New Zealand will end what has been a difficult U20 Championship campaign when they contest the seventh-place play-off at Club Old Resian on Saturday.
New Zealand coach Craig Philpott was forced to call up three players this week with six players unavailable due to injury, or in the case of Samipeni Finau, suspension.
Robb Cobb, Chay Fihaki and James Thompson have travelled to Argentina to supplement a squad that has lost captain Keanu Kereru-Symes, Devan Sanders, Lalomilo Lalomilo, Scott Gregory and George Dyer to injury.
Philpott has made nine changes to the team that lost to a last-minute Cai Evans penalty against Wales, as Shilo Klein, Fletcher Newell, Cullen Grace, Elisaia Mua, Simon Parker, Rivez Reihana, Billy Proctor, Etene Nanai-Seturo and Cole Forbes are promoted to the starting XV with former New Zealand U19 cricket captain Kaylum Boshier again assuming the armband.
Six-time winners New Zealand have never previously finished lower than fifth at an U20 Championship but can end this year’s tournament no higher than seventh.
“We're all very disappointed in the results, but we're also acutely aware that we were only two points away from playing in the top four,” Philpott said. “Our focus for this last game is if we can nail our skill execution we know we are a very good team and we want to show people that.”
Ireland have suffered six injuries of their own while in Argentina but will want to rebound from a narrow 30-23 defeat to England last Monday when Tom Willis' last-minute try avoided the need for extra-time to separate the rivals. Victory would secure their highest finish since they came second in 2016.
Props Josh Wycherley and Thomas Clarkson as well as number eight Brian Deeny come into the pack, while Jake Flannery starts at fly-half with Ben Healy on the bench. Rob Russell and Angus Kernohan return to the wings, while Cormac Foley is handed a start at inside-centre and Max O’Reilly wears 15.
NINTH PLACE PLAY-OFF: ITALY V GEORGIA
Georgia coach Ilia Maisuradze has rung the changes as his side attempt to match their best ever U20 Championship finish with victory over Italy at Club Old Resian.
Maisuradze’s charges won three matches – including a 39-31 win over Scotland in the ninth-place play-off – to finish ninth in France 12 months ago, and have the chance to emulate that in Rosario after they went 23 phases with the clock in red to score the try to beat Fiji 12-8 on Monday.
To that end Maisuradze has changed his entire front-row, handing Nika Gvaladze, test-capped Vano Karkadze – the match-winning try scorer against Fiji – and Gia Kharaishvili starts. Tariel Gvimradze comes into the second row, while flankers Paata Burchuladze and Ioseb Gusharashvili are given the nod to start.
In the backs, Konstantine Marjanishvili has been handed the No.11 shirt while Irakli Simsive will start at inside-centre.
U20s Preview: It's @Scotlandteam v @fijirugby battling it out to stay in the competition next year. Who do you think will get the win? #WorldRugbyU20s pic.twitter.com/8QG5uoKRR6— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 20, 2019
Regardless of the result in Rosario, Italy are set to finish outside of the top eight for the first time since 2016, when they came 11th for the third successive year. Azzurrini coach Fabio Roselli has made just two changes to his line-up ahead of Saturday’s game. Both come in the pack where Matteo Nocera is given the nod at loosehead prop and Antoine Koffi is recalled at number eight.
11TH PLACE PLAY-OFF: SCOTLAND V FIJI
Scotland have never been relegated from the U20 Championship but put that proud record on the line when they face Fiji at Club Old Resian in the opening match on Saturday.
Already guaranteed their lowest ever finish in the competition, coach Carl Hogg has made two personnel changes to the side that lost to Italy in a lightning-affected contest on Monday.
Second-row Ross Bundy has come into the forward pack in place of Cameron Henderson, who misses out through injury.
London Scottish back Matt Davidson, meanwhile, has been named at full-back in a reshuffled backline with Lomond MacPherson dropping out. Cameron Anderson, who wore the No.15 shirt against Italy, will start at outside centre, with Rory McMichael switching to the right wing. Lions back-row Kwagga van Niekerk will sit out the 11th-place play-off due to an injury picked up during the defeat to the Azzurrini.
Fiji are aiming to avoid an immediate return to the World Rugby U20 Trophy, and have made six changes to the side that lost in such devastating fashion to Georgia on Monday. In come flanker Yabaki Seeto, scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli, centres Isaac Ratumaitavuki and Veresa Tuqovu while Kaminieli Rasaku has been handed the No.14 jersey.
“Fiji will bring an unpredictable element to the game on Saturday. They love to play with ball in hand and are very unconventional,” Hogg said ahead of his final match as U20 coach. “We believe we have the discipline and structure to overcome their undoubtable individual skill.”