Japan and Portugal will contest the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019 final on Sunday after completing the pool stages unbeaten and with maximum points.
The two sides met in the title decider two years ago in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, when the match was brought to a premature conclusion due to thunderstorms. Japan were leading 14-3 at the time and crowned champions as a result, earning promotion to the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2018.
A captivating third round which doubled as Keep Rugby Clean Day at the Estadio Martins Pereira in São José dos Campos, Brazil, on Wednesday saw Portugal demonstrate their class against a previously unbeaten Tonga, winning 40-3, while Japan were put under a lot of pressure from Kenya before coming out on top, 48-34.
Canada recorded their first win of the campaign in some style, 78-26 against Hong Kong, while Uruguay beat Brazil 52-10.
The action continues with the rankings matches on Sunday, with the fifth place play-off between Canada and Kenya, before Uruguay and Tonga battle for the bronze medal. Hosts Brazil will then tackle Hong Kong in the seventh place play-off, before Portugal and Japan take to the field at 19:00 local time (GMT-3) in the final.
POOL A: JAPAN 48-34 KENYA
Japan were pushed all the way by Kenya in a match that produced 13 tries and no little drama as the African side threatened at one point to pull off one of the biggest upsets in U20 Trophy history.
After racing into a 19-3 lead inside the first quarter following tries from powerful winger Halatoa Vailea, tight-head prop Shohei Tsujimura and centre Taihei Kusaka – a quite brilliant team effort that started well inside their own 22 – and five points from the boot of Takumi Aoki, Japan looked set for a convincing victory.
That remained the case at half-time, despite Kenya replying with tries for second-row Hibrhim Ayoo and winger Timothy Omela, as Vailea ran in two more tries to bag a hat-trick and send his side into the break 31-15 up.
A yellow card to centre Tomoki Osada immediately after the restart put a spring in Kenya's step and after spurning a chance when number eight Georga Kyriazi dropped the ball over the line, they capitalised on their numerical advantage to work a try for tight-head Ian Mashet, which Dominic Coulson converted to bring his rapidly improving side to within nine points of the pre-tournament favourites.
And when winger Geofrey Okwach took the ball at speed from the back of a lineout to add his name to the scoresheet approaching the hour mark, Coulson supplying the extras, it was definitely game on.
The power of the Japanese pack saw them awarded a penalty try but the respite was only temporary as the Chipu fashioned another superb counterattack try for Okwach, who beat two defenders on the outside after Japan had failed to find touch. This time Coulson was unable to add the conversion and Kenya still had a four-point deficit to make up, trailing 38-34.
Japan took the score to 43-34 with a try for Aoki but they would play out virtually the rest of the match down to 14 men after replacement front-row Terutaka Oka was sent to the sin-bin six minutes after entering the fray.
Kenya pressed hard to score again but another handling error from Kyriazi, five metres out, let Japan off the hook. Two yellow cards in as many minutes – to Kenya's Samuel Asati and two-try speedster Okwach – meant the match ended with 14 v 13.
Japan can now look forward to competing in their sixth U20 Trophy final, having finished runners-up from 2010-12 and claimed the title in 2014 and 2017.
POOL A: URUGUAY 52-10 BRAZIL
Los Teritos were able to showcase their superior experience at this level against a home team that continues to learn with every match in what is their first international tournament.
Uruguay’s 52-17 win puts them in contention for a third bronze medal, having finished third in 2015 and 2017, to add to their one and only title when the competition was first played in 2008. While Los Teritos prepare to take on Tonga, Os Curumins will play Hong Kong with both sides seeking a first victory.
The first Uruguay try came from the tried and tested lineout-maul formula, with loose forward Maxime Sonneveld coming up with the ball.
Strong-running centre Manuel Barreiro perfectly angled his run to crash through three tackles from short range for the second try and the third came after Juan Pablo Costábile won the race to dive on the ball in the 24th minute after fly-half Federico Slinger's well-weighted kick had out-manoeuvred the flat Brazilian defence.
An ill-tempered melee cost Brazil two players to the sin-bin to Uruguay's one on 32 minutes and Los Teritos wasted no time in punishing their 13-man opponents, number eight Santiago Nicolich scoring to hand his side a 24-0 lead at the break.
Brazil finally got on the board within two minutes of the restart when Lucas Spago sent a penalty through the posts, but Uruguay responded with a try from fly-half Federico Slinger which full-back Santiago del Cerro improved.
Os Curumins then unloaded their whole bench in an attempt to get back into the match and the tactic worked, loose-head and captain Naasson Porto crashing over following a number of phases after Uruguay had been reduced to 14 men for the second time in the match with a yellow card to Costábile.
A brace of tries from left-wing Baltazar Amaya, either side of another yellow card – this time to Brazilian centre Alisson Kalkmann – and a penalty try underlined Uruguay's superiority.
POOL B: HONG KONG 78-26 CANADA
Captain Will Percillier scored four tries in a record 32-point haul for his country at this level and Lachlan Kratz grabbed a hat-trick as Canada beat their previous best U20 Trophy score.
After a slow start to the competition, Percillier is now the top points scorer with 48, just ahead of Portugal's Portela on 44.
Livewire scrum-half Percillier, already capped at test level, had a hand in everything that was good for Canada, allowing his team to play expansive, quick rugby and the North Americans piled on the points at regular intervals to score 12 tries – including one apiece for the Carson cousins, David, Frank and Nick.
With 25 minutes on the clock, the scores were level at 14-14, after a Kratz brace, converted by Percillier, was single-handedly cancelled out by Hong Kong's own test-capped full-back Paul Altier, who converted his own tries, each from distance.
The game was only finely balanced for a short period though, as Canada scored on four more occasions, a Percillier brace being punctuated by a try from half-back partner Brock Webster, before the Carson show was started by second-row Frank.
A third try from Percillier and one from David Carson, each of them converted by the scrum-half, sent Canada through the 50-point barrier within five minutes of the restart. Then Percillier scored his fourth try as he worked a give-and-go with Antoine de la Fontaine for another long-range strike.
Replacement winger Tomek Tsang responded with Hong Kong's third try at the end of a wide attacking move but the score was cancelled out by winger David Richard in similar fashion moments later.
Nick Carson piled on the agony for Hong Kong with another before Kratz got his third after a break from David Richard.
At least the Asian side had the final word, winger Sam Down scoring a consolation try five minutes from time. Canada finished the match down to 14 men following a yellow card to Frank Carson but that did not detract from what was a very good team performance.
Canada will now play Kenya for fifth place and are assured of their best finish since losing to Georgia in the 2015 final.
POOL B: TONGA 3-40 PORTUGAL
If there was any pressure on Portugal going into this winner-takes-all Pool B encounter, Luis Pissarra's side did not show it.
With the prize of a final appearance at stake, Os Lobitos rose to the challenge in style to dispatch a Tongan outfit that lost their heads – and four men to the sin-bin – with flying winger Raffaele Storti showing once again that he is a world-class operator on any level.
Like Japan, a third bonus-point win sent Portugal into the final, their second in three years, with a perfect record.
While Tongan ill-discipline was a feature of the match, it was Portugal who saw yellow first when they lost tight-head Antonio Cunha within the first 10 minutes.
A slow-burner of a match then burst into life on 17 minutes with an electric run from Storti that took him past several defenders and to the line. Jeronimo Portela added two points with the conversion.
Tonga got what proved to be their only points of the match when Portela's opposite number, Filipe Samata, slotted a penalty on 21 minutes but tries from forwards Manuel Maia and Martim Belo and a second from Storti, who popped up on the opposite wing to brilliantly finish off a first phase move for his seventh of the tournament, while Tonga were down to 14 men, helped send Os Lobitos into the break with a 26-3 lead.
Portugal scored their fifth try through number eight and captain Jose Roque shortly after dangerous Tonga full-back Hateni Tafolo had returned from the sin-bin. However, the Islanders did not have a full complement of players for long as winger Solomone Filimone became the second man to be given a 10-minute breather.
Portugal stepped on the gas and winger Francisco Afra Rosa scored after a long attacking sequence in which the ball went through many pairs of hands, Portela converting for what proved to be the final scoring act of the match.
With the result secured and Tonga unable to find ways of breaking down Portugal’s defence hampered by the loss of forwards Aisea Maksini and Mesake Toumohuni to the sin-bin, the intensity of the match dropped off, although there was nothing understated about the joyous Portuguese celebrations at the final whistle.
Photo: Brasil Rugby / FotoJump