World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 revisited: France defend title
Ahead of the return of the World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa this month, we take a look at what happened at the last tournament in Argentina.
Later this month, the World Rugby U20 Championship will return for the first time in four years as 12 teams compete to lift the coveted trophy.
When the action gets underway at Paarl Gymnasium and the Danie Craven Stadium on 24 June it will also signify the first time the U20 Championship has been held in South Africa since 2012.
On that occasion 11 years ago, a Junior Springbok team featuring a host of future test stars won a memorable final against New Zealand at a sold-out Newlands to claim the title for the first time.
So, as South Africa’s Western Cape prepares to welcome the best men’s U20 talent once again, we run through the story of a tournament that unearthed the likes of Handré Pollard, Tadgh Furlong, Finn Russell, Pablo Matera and Kyle Sinckler.
A tournament that would culminate in glory did not start well for the hosts, who were beaten 23-19 by Ireland at Danie Craven Stadium on match-day one.
The Junior Springboks had beaten their opponents 57-15 only 12 months previously but tries from Jordon Coghlan and Iain Henderson, and 10 points from the boot of JJ Hanrahan, powered Ireland to a first victory in the fixture.
Around 27 kilometres to the west, Argentina were also celebrating having secured a maiden win against France at U20 level, at the University of Western Cape Stadium.
Los Pumitas captain Sebastian Poet kicked eight points, which added to tries from Leandro Ramella and Juan Cappiello, confirmed a narrow 18-15 defeat of Les Bleuets.
Earlier on the opening day, Australia had enjoyed a comfortable win against Scotland, while Wales beat Fiji, England defeated Italy and New Zealand started their title defence with a 63-0 victory against Samoa – their 21st consecutive win in U20 Championship history.
Argentina maintained their winning start to the tournament four days later, Matera scoring one of his side’s two tries in a 15-3 defeat of Australia.
France, though, needed a 77th-minute Sebastien Taofifenua try to edge past Scotland 30-29 and kickstart their own campaign.
There was another first in Pool A on match-day two as Matthew Morgan and Tom Prydie kicked Wales to their first win against New Zealand at U20 level, edging a tight contest 9-6. The Junior All Blacks had won the same fixture 92-0 in 2011 en route to a fourth successive title.
Earlier, Fiji earned their first win of the championship, Samu Kerevi scoring two of their three tries in a 15-3 defeat of Samoa.
Home fans were given reason to cheer at the end of day two as South Africa reignited their title hopes with a 52-3 win against Italy. Future Springbok Jan Serfontein scored two of his side’s eight tries.
Ireland’s 20-15 defeat to England, in which Sinckler scored his side’s decisive second try, ensured the Junior Springboks had their destiny in their own hands heading into the final round.
It was an opportunity the hosts grasped, Pieter-Steph du Toit scoring one of his side’s four tries as they beat England 28-15 at Cape Town Stadium, a new venue for the tournament after torrential rain on match-day two made the Danie Craven Stadium pitch unplayable.
The try-scoring bonus-point, and margin of victory, proved crucial as the Junior Springboks edged Ireland to a place in the semi-finals. The Irish had earlier beaten Italy 41-12 to maintain their hopes of qualification but ultimately finished a point behind South Africa, who topped Pool B on 11 points.
Argentina had become the first team to book their ticket to the semi-finals as they completed a perfect pool stage, beating Scotland 17-12 at the University of Western Cape Stadium.
France beat Australia to finish their Pool C campaign a point adrift of Los Pumitas on 11 points, but their semi-final fate would be decided by what happened in the Pool A finale.
Prydie was again the star of the show for Wales as they confirmed top spot in Pool A, and a place in the semi-finals, contributing 29 points as Samoa were beaten 74-3.
Ultimately, it was New Zealand who would join the three pool winners in the knockout rounds as the best runner-up across the three pools. Their 33-12 defeat of Fiji, which came with a try-scoring bonus-point thanks to the first of Jason Emery’s two late tries, ensured the Junior All Blacks joined France on 11 points but their superior points difference proved decisive.
Only two unbeaten teams remained after the pool stage but neither Argentina nor Wales would compete in the 2012 final.
Prydie again kicked two penalties for Wales in their rematch with New Zealand, but the Junior All Blacks responded with four tries to seal a 30-6 win.
The second semi-final, played in front of a crowd of 17,295 at Newlands, belonged to the hosts as Serfontein, Mark Pretorius and Raymond Rhule (twice) each crossed the whitewash in a 35-3 victory. Future Rugby World Cup winner Pollard, only a few months past his 18th birthday, kicked 12 points.
Like New Zealand, Samoa gained revenge for a pool-stage defeat as they ran in four tries to beat Fiji 29-20. The result meant the Fijians would compete in a relegation play-off against Italy, beaten 34-17 by Scotland.
France were thankful to a late Thomas Laranjeira drop goal as they beat Australia for the second time in five days in the first fifth-place semi-final, edging a much closer contest 19-17. Les Bleuets would play Ireland, who beat England 27-12.
In front of nearly 35,000 people packed into Newlands, Junior All Blacks winger Milford Keresoma scored the opening try of the final to help give the defending champions a 10-9 lead at half-time.
Vian van der Watt crossed for the Junior Springboks early in the second half but thanks to Ihaia West’s second penalty of the night, New Zealand led 16-14 when both teams were reduced to 14 players in the 58th minute.
Paul Willemse and Ofa Tuungafasi were sent off for their actions during a South Africa drive, and it was the hosts who coped better following the incident. Shortly afterwards, Pollard edged South Africa in front with a drop goal and then Serfontein, named Junior Player of the Year following the final, confirmed a 22-16 win and the title with his fourth try of the championship.
Earlier, Prydie kicked 20 points to secure a 25-17 bronze final victory for Wales against Argentina, finishing as the tournament’s top points-scorer in the process, with 61.
Italy outscored Fiji two tries to one but were relegated to the World Rugby U20 Trophy for 2013 as 14 points from Tikilaci Vuibau gave his side a 19-17 victory.
Meanwhile, Ireland finished fifth with an 18-7 win against France, England beat Australia 17-13 to claim seventh and Scotland ran in nine tries to win the ninth-place play-off 62-28 against Samoa.