Portugal, Uruguay and Japan made their intentions clear in the opening round of the World Rugby U20 Trophy on Tuesday with convincing wins setting them up nicely for a serious tilt at promotion to the World Rugby U20 Championship.
Japan, who were relegated after finishing bottom of last year's U20 Championship, started their bid to bounce straight back up as champions of the Trophy with a 56-24 win against tournament debutants Brazil, while Uruguay overcame Kenya 63-11 and Portugal were similarly comfortable winners against Hong Kong, 59-27.
Tonga were also victorious on day one at the Estadio Martins Pereira in São José dos Campos, but they were pushed all the way by a Canadian side who were left rueing five missed kicks at goal in a 26-25 defeat. Canada at least had the consolation of picking up two bonus points after scoring four tries, two of them coming late on as they threatened to stage a dramatic comeback.
The action resumes on Saturday when Tonga again open up proceedings against Hong Kong at 12:00 local time (GMT-3) in Pool B. In a game of two former champions, Uruguay and Japan will put their unbeaten starts on the line before Portugal take on Canada and Brazil play Kenya.
POOL A: JAPAN 56-24 BRAZIL
The experience of Japan was too much for debutants Brazil, the two-time Trophy winners getting their campaign underway with an eight-try display.
Japan showed their hunger early on but resilient defence by the home side kept them out for virtually the whole of the first quarter, and the pre-tournament favourites only had a Ryuto Fukuyama penalty to show for their efforts until captain and openside Shota Fukui scored the first of his two tries.
Lucas Spago opened Brazil’s account with a penalty but, soon after, winger Futo Yamaguchi scored from a great flat pass from Fukuyama and a quick inside step.
Yamaguchi scored again when he finished off a good backs move but Brazil, who'd been reduced to 14 men following a yellow card to centre Gabriel Zurca, found a response through second-row Filippo Bugno who dived over for the first of his side’s three tries.
Japan closed out the half on top, however, with a further try for number eight Takamasa Maruo taking the half-time score to 27-10.
Replacement kicker Takumi Aoki increased Japan's lead by three on 47 minutes before intense pressure at scrum time saw a penalty try awarded in their favour.
Hooker Leonardo de Souza scored in front of his home crowd after good build-up work from the forwards to give Brazil a much-needed lift close to the hour mark, but the relentless Japanese replied with three tries in the next 15 minutes. Fukui started the spree with his second of the match and he was quickly followed over the line by fellow back-row Halatoa Vailea and winger Moeki Fukushi.
With the game all but decided at 56-17, replacement back Gerónimo Olivares added five more points for Brazil with an intercept try from 55 metres that Carlos de Souza converted from in front of the posts.
POOL A: KENYA 11-63 URUGUAY
Kenya's first match at this level for a decade ended in a heavy defeat to South American champions Uruguay, who scored nine tries in a dominant performance.
Los Teritos' game-plan was evident from the first minute, as they scored almost from the kick-off, flanker Maxime Sonneveld powering over from a lineout move.
Another attacking maul yielded a second try just a couple minutes later through hooker Juan Martín Rippe. Dominic Coulson responded with a ninth-minute penalty for what would be the only Kenyan score of the half.
Uruguay then added three more tries before the break, through winger Baltazar Amaya, scrum-half Alfonso Cat and prop Fausto Etchegorry, to lead 39-3.
Felipe Acros Pérez and captain Juan Garese crossed after the restart and with Matias D'Avanzo converting the second of the tries, Uruguay brought up their half-century.
Coulson slotted a second penalty for Kenya but Los Teritos quickly regained control to post further scores with Rippe and Sonneveld grabbing their second tries of the match.
Flanker Samuel Were scored from a charged down kick in the 63rd minute to give Kenya something to celebrate but no further points were scored from that moment on.
POOL B: TONGA 26-25 CANADA
The tournament began with a nail-biting affair that so nearly saw Canada snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Tonga.
Tonga established a 21-3 lead after 34 minutes of play but a late revival from Canada saw the Pacific islanders hanging on at the end.
Canada started strongly but two missed kicks from the boot of scrum-half Will Percillier in the first six minutes let Tonga off the hook. Instead, it was the Tongans who were the first on the board, a brilliant run from Malakai Uasi setting up a try for fly-half Filipe Samate who duly added the conversion.
With his third attempt from the tee, Percillier got Canada up and running but full-back Hateni Tafolo then imposed himself on the match with two moments of brilliance leading to Tongan tries.
Tafolo gathered in his own chip to score in the 17th minute and then, on the half-hour mark, his break put Tonga deep into Canadian territory. Only an illegal tackle stopped him in his progress and from the quickly-taken penalty, winger Solomone Filimone touched down under the posts to put Tonga firmly in the ascendency.
In the final move of the half, Canada reduced the deficit to 11 points when number eight Nick Carson forced his way over and Percillier knocked over the conversion.
Samate was at the centre of the action from the restart, scoring his second try before being sent to the sin bin. Canada's forwards rolled up their sleeves to conjure up a try for hooker Michael McCarthy while their opponents were down to 14 men.
A second yellow card with eight minutes left, shown to replacement Falamani Mafi, looked like costing Tonga the game as Canada scored twice, through loose forwards Reid Davis and Will Mathews, the second coming with two minutes left to play. But Percillier was unable to convert either try, meaning Canada came up just short.
POOL B: PORTUGAL 59-27 HONG KONG
Losing finalists in 2017 and bronze medal winners in 2018, Portugal have high hopes of going all the way in this year's tournament and this display will have done nothing to dampen the optimistic mood in Os Lobitos' camp.
Under the fine leadership of fly-half Jerónimo Portela, whose accurate boot and good distributing skills were instrumental to his team’s win, the European champions set about their task with relish even if they fell behind to an early penalty from Hong Kong's test-capped fly-half Paul Altier.
Soon after, Portela cancelled out the three points with a penalty of his own before popping a pass over his shoulder for left-wing Raffaele Storti to score under the posts.
Another great pass under pressure from full-back Simão Bento put right-wing Francisco Salgado over in the right corner as Portugal played with width.
Following Altier's second penalty, the Portuguese wingers were again in action as Storti was stopped inches from the try-line but he had the presence of mind, and skill, to get an offload away and centre Rodrigo Marta, an emerging star of the senior team, raced over into the left corner. Portela, the son of Rugby World Cup 2007 veteran Miguel Portela, slotted both touchline conversions with aplomb.
Portela's cross-field kick created a second for Storti, who had his hat-trick five minutes later following a pass from his fellow wing, taking the score to 38-6 at the break.
After a subdued start to the second half, Portugal lost replacement José Madeira to the sin-bin but Os Lobitos still managed to increase their advantage while a man down, winger Salgado adding a second try after taking an inside pass from number eight José Roque.
At 45-6 it was understandable that Portugal’s intensity dropped off and that allowed Hong Kong to come back with three tries in a fast and furious 11-minute spell. Centre Kyle Kitney started the fightback and he was joined in the try column by Altier, who finished with 17 points in the match, and replacement Thaddeus Summers.
Order was restored as replacement Tomás Lamboglia converted his own try with five minutes to play while Altier was sat in the sin-bin. After a scrum that advanced 15 metres, nippy scrum-half Pedro Lucas took advantage of a penalty and, after a quick tap, he scored under the posts, Portela converting to take the final score to 59-27 and his own personal tally to 15 points.
Photo: Brasil Rugby / FotoJump