France head into Sunday’s knockout phase of the World Rugby U20 Championship as top seeds, and the only team with a perfect record after easing through the pool phase in South Africa.

The 2018 and 2019 champions finished top of Pool A with a maximum 15 points, rounding off the opening stage of the competition with a 43-19 win over Wales, despite being reduced to 14 players for more than an hour after hooker Barnabé Massa’s yellow card was upgraded to red.

Despite their discipline issues, Les Bleuets will be strong favourites when they meet fourth seeds England – who they beat 42-7 when the sides last met in the U20 Six Nations in March (kick-off 19:00 local time, GMT+2).

But France coach Sébastien Calvet refused to underestimate the scale of the challenge facing his side. “They're strong in the set-piece, they're strong at the breakdown,” he said of Mark Mapletoft’s England. 

“They're capable of forcing us into errors and everyone knows that's an area where we have to be vigilant. It's going to be anything but an easy game.”

Consistency key

In the earlier semi-final at Athlone Sports Stadium, U20 Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland face hosts South Africa (kick-off 16:30 local time). 

Ireland coach Richie Murphy said that he knows what to expect from Bafana Nhleko’s Junior Springboks: “South Africa's pack are big, they're strong. It's a very typical South African team – plenty of speed in the backline, loads of elusive runners. But up front you're going to have to get at least parity in order to be able to be in the game.”

Opposite number Nhleko, meanwhile, who has opted for consistency in selection by picking the same 23 that beat Argentina last time out, expects a tighter match than last year’s U20 Summer Series in Italy, when South Africa beat Ireland 33-24 – and has set his side one goal.

“The fact that we beat them last year does not count for much,” he said. “The occasion is different and so are our players. The reality this time is that it is a knockout game and whatever you do on the day, you just need to win.”

Race for fifth

The Junior Springboks’ comeback 24-16 victory against Argentina in the final match of the pool phase had denied Georgia what would have been a deserved first-ever U20 Championship semi-final.

Whatever happens in the fifth-place semi-final against Wales on Sunday, this has been Georgia’s best-ever U20 Championship. Having never finished higher than ninth previously, they will finish somewhere between fifth and eighth.

Georgia coach Lado Kilasonia also knows what to expect from his side’s opponents in Paarl on Sunday – for very good reason. “We’re staying in the same hotel, so we can see they have a good team culture, a good team spirit," he said.

"They have a mobile team, a young team, an aggressive team, and [they are] quick. They are well coached. It will be a really interesting game for us.”

Six-time champions New Zealand face Australia in the other fifth-place semi-final – a match that’s something of a 2023 decider between the two sides, who have each won one of their two meetings this year.

Junior Wallabies captain Teddy Wilson summed up the rivalry between the two nations separated by the Tasman Sea. “Every time you play New Zealand, it's a big rivalry, so it doesn't take much to get up for these games,” he said.

“In our first game, we were really physical in that first 10 minutes and it set the tone for the rest of the 80. So, if we can bring that physicality and be on top of them in that first 10, I'm sure we'll be able to do it the whole 80.”

Paarl openers

A full day of World Rugby U20 Championship action kicks off in Paarl, where Italy and Argentina – who finished third and fourth in a tough Pool C with one win apiece – meet Fiji and Japan, both winless so far in the Championship, in the ninth-place semi-finals.

But Italy head coach Massimo Brunello has no illusions about the difficulties of taking on the Pacific Island nation.

He said: “Facing Fiji, our best performance will be needed, paying close attention to every detail and to discipline, starting the match with the right attitude from the very first minute, clear-headed but ready to fight.”

Matches will be live streamed in each match centre on the World Rugby website if not aired by the following broadcasters: ESPN, Fancode, Georgia Public Broadcaster, ITV, L'Equipe, NBC, S4C, Sky NZ, Stan/Nine, Supersport, Virgin.