Georgia reaffirmed their status a rising power of the world game by making it through to their first World Rugby U20 Trophy final after a 19-8 win over tournament hosts Portugal in Lisbon on Wednesday, while Canada left it late to edge Tonga 13-11.
Taking advantage of the strong wind at the CAR Rugby do Jamor, Georgia took an early lead thanks to tries from second-row Otar Giorgadze and fly-half Rezi Jintchvelashvili, both of which were converted by the latter.
The Junior Lelos' forwards were dominant and set the tone during the first half, although the Portuguese backs did look dangerous with what little ball they had and full-back Jorge Abecassis' try right on the stroke of half-time – just after a Pedro Cordeiro penalty – gave them renewed hope.
Having successfully withstood concerted pressure at scrum time near their own line, Portugal eventually won a penalty and the kick to touch sailed well into Georgian territory on the stiff breeze. Vasco Ribeiro’s strong run set Andre Aquino free but Georgia managed to haul the scrum-half down metres short.
From there Georgia cleared the danger, Vasil Lobzhanidze’s box kick took a wicked bounce just inside Portugal's half and completely wrong-footed Ribeiro. Anzor Sichinava gathered the ball in and then showed great strength to hand off a cover tackle and squeeze his way over in the corner.
Abercassis’ 71st minute penalty was all Portugal had to show for their dominance in terms of territory and possession in the closing stages and the scoreline closed at 19-14 to a Georgian team who knew they’d been in a game.
“Portugal played very well and it was a very close match,” admitted Junior Lelos captain Badri Alkhazashvili. “But we can now look forward to the final, it’ll be a difficult match whoever we play.”
Portugal saved their best performance until last and despite suffering their third straight Pool A loss, coach João Pedro Varela remained upbeat. “It was a great experience for our players and now we’re looking forward to the play-off for seventh place, which will be another important test for our players," he said.
DU TOIT HOLDS HIS NERVE FOR CANADA
The Junior Lelos will now play 2013 finalists Canada in Sunday’s showpiece after the North Americans came out on top by 13-11 against Tonga as the curtain was brought down on World Rugby’s Keep Rugby Clean Day with the most dramatic of conclusions.
Camped near their own line after wave after wave of Tongan attacks and trailing 11-10 with time running out, Canada number eight Luke Bradley picked up from the base of the scrum and relieved the pressure with a quite brilliant 50-metre run down the left flank. Canada managed to keep the ball for sufficient phases to force a penalty and centre Giuseppe du Toit kept his nerve to step up and kick the all-important three points.
The match had been tight throughout with never more than a score separating the sides who had lost the two previous Trophy finals. Patelesio Oneone kicked Tonga ahead with a fourth minute penalty but the Pacific islanders were unable to build on their advantage and tries by Theo Sauder, on a 50-metre run, and flanker Ollie Nott made the half-time scoreline 10-3 in Canada’s favour.
Vunipola Fifita reduced the deficit to 10-8 with a try for Tonga five minutes into the second half, and last year’s beaten finalists sensed they might be back for another shot at glory once Oneone knocked over the simplest of penalties from in front of the posts to put Tonga back in front with 14 minutes remaining.
Both sides crossed the line in a frantic finale but referee Paulo Duarte ruled the ball carrier had been held up on each occasion. Just as it looked like Canada’s dreams would be dashed, Tonga were pinged for not rolling away in the tackle and du Toit booted the deciding kick to send Jeff Williams’ team into the final.
“I was trying to think about it as any kick in practice,” explained du Toit. “I've done it before so I had the confidence. I had the same chance against the USA and a few in high school so they helped me calm down and focus.
“We had to be up with them and tackle low and I think we did that. We needed that extra tenacity from everyone and commitment to achieving our goal of going four-for-four in the tournament.”
URUGUAY SURPRISE FIJIANS
Last year's World Rugby U20 Championship participants Fiji knew their chances of making the Trophy final had gone by the time their match with Uruguay kicked off, Georgia’s hard-fought win over Portugal having given them an unassailable lead at the top of Pool A.
With the prize of promotion back to the top level of junior international rugby taken away from them Fiji appeared to struggle for motivation against a fired-up Los Teritos side who snatched victory at the death thanks to an injury-time try for captain and centre Facundo Klappenbach, the younger brother of Uruguay national captain Nicolas.
Uruguay took an early lead through the boot of Felipe Etcheverry before Los Teritos extended their advantage with the first try of the game through number eight Manuel Diana, who dotted down on 11 minutes after showing good control at the back of an advancing scrum.
Etcheverry converted and added a drop goal as he enjoyed an armchair ride behind the dominant Los Teritos pack. Fiji recovered some ground though when winger Jone Cama finished a great team play to score a try which Sela Toga improved for a half-time score of 13-7 to Uruguay.
Now playing with the wind, Fiji scored first in the second half through flanker Rupeni Vakasilimi, but they were unable to stay on top for long, the lead going back and forth five more times before Klappenbach delivered the telling blow.
Etcheverry was probably the most relieved man on the pitch come the final whistle as his five missed kicks at goal, totalling a possible 12 points, nearly cost his side dearly.
Uruguay will now play Tonga in the third-place play-off while Fiji take on Namibia to determine fifth spot after the Africans signed off the pool stages with their first win of the campaign.
ROSSOUW SHINES IN NAMIBIAN VICTORY
A hat-trick of tries from full-back Divan Rossouw helped Namibia to a 36-12 win against Hong Kong at the Estadio Universitario de Lisboa.
Rossouw crossed twice early on, Henrique Olivier converting the second for a 12-0 lead but with less than 15 minutes to go in the first half, Hong Kong reacted, took control of the match and were rewarded with a try, scored by Tomos Howells.
Hong Kong drew level when the second half was only five minutes old after second-row Calvin Hunter crossed and Liam Owens added the conversion. But Namibia turned on the style in the final quarter to score four more tries of their own, one from second-row Johan Retief and two by captain Christo van der Merwe before man-of-the-match Roussow saved the best until last by completing his treble with a sensational 50-metre effort.
FINAL DAY FIXTURES
Sunday 24 May
Seventh place play-off: Portugal v Hong Kong - CAR Rugby do Jamor
Fifth place play-off: Fiji v Namibia - CAR Rugby do Jamor
Third place play-off: Uruguay v Tonga - Estadio Universitario
Final: Georgia v Canada - Estadio Universitario
Pool A – CAR Rugby do Jamor
20 May: Georgia 19-11 Portugal
20 May: Fiji 26-28 Uruguay
16 May: Uruguay 37-26 Portugal
16 May: Fiji 13-30 Georgia
12 May: Uruguay 12-46 Georgia
12 May: Fiji 34-19 Portugal
Pool B – Estadio Universitario de Lisboa
20 May: Namibia 36-12 Hong Kong
20 May: Tonga 11-13 Canada
16 May: Canada 24-15 Hong Kong
16 May: Tonga 45-11 Namibia
12 May: Canada 35-20 Namibia
12 May: Tonga 35-16 Hong Kong
Photo credits: Aguinaldo Vera-Cruz and João Peleteiro
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