Defending champions France set up a World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 final against Ireland at the end of a stunning day of action on Sunday.

Les Bleuets came from 17-0 down to win the highest scoring semi-final in U20 Championship history, beating England 52-31 to maintain their pursuit of a third successive title. U20 Six Nations 2023 champions Ireland stand in their way, following a hard-fought 31-12 defeat of hosts South Africa.

But it was not only the semi-finals that contained intrigue as Fiji and Argentina secured their places in next year’s tournament, at the expense of Italy and Japan, who face a relegation play-off.

There were also victories for Australia and Wales on day four. Here is what we learned from a brilliant day of rugby.

French resilience on display against England

For more than 45 minutes it looked as though France’s five-year reign as U20 Championship winners would come to an end on the Western Cape.

With the wind at their backs, England raced into a 17-0 lead inside 15 minutes and when Chandler Cunningham-South added a third try just before half-time the score was 24-14.

Even though captain Lenni Nouchi had been instructed to play into the wind if he won the toss, trailing for so long could have knocked France psychologically. But Les Bleuets refused to panic, their belief never wavered.

“What turned the tide in the second half was our state of mind,” Nouchi said afterwards. “We went into the dressing room calm and collected. We knew what we were capable of and what to do in the second half.”

England began the second half on the front foot but from the moment France were awarded a 47th-minute penalty try, there was only going to be one winner. Nouchi scored his side’s fourth try seven minutes later and Les Bleuets crossed three more times to secure a 52-31 win and their place in Friday’s final.

Irish defence stands firm

It was not only the defending champions who had to dig in to book their place in the final. Ireland soaked up an incredible amount of pressure from the hosts during the first half of their encounter at Athlone Sports Stadium.

South Africa spent much of that time camped inside the Irish half but were unable to come away with any points. And it was the U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winners who went into half-time leading 7-0 after James Nicholson crossed the whitewash in only Ireland’s second entry into the South African 22.

The Irish pulled away in the second half, scoring three more tries and would end the match having made twice as many tackles as their hosts while restricting the Junior Springboks to just 12 points from their 13 visits to their 22.

“I thought South Africa came out strong and threw a lot of stuff at us but our boys showed great character to stay in the fight,” Ireland coach Richie Murphy said following his side’s win.

“I thought system-wise we actually did quite well and were obviously delighted to get out of that onslaught of pressure and soak it all up, and then actually go into half-time seven points up, which I thought was a massive turning point in the game.”

Ireland captain Gus McCarthy added: “That defence we put in there was unbelievable, the performance we put in there.

“Not everything was pretty, not everything went how we wanted it to go but we stuck in and fought hard for each other. I’m just really, really proud of the boys.”

Perfect 10s to meet in final

Whoever is fortunate enough to have a ticket for Friday’s showpiece match at Athlone Sports Stadium is in for a treat, not least when it comes to the battle of the number 10s.

According to coach Richie Murphy, Ireland fly-half Sam Prendergast “came into his own” amid the pressure of the semi-final and he contributed 11 points to the victory.

Prendergast kicked four penalties and three conversions to help Ireland edge a 64-point thriller 33-31 in the U20 Six Nations and the Leinster man is set to have a bright future.

But France fly-half Hugo Reus will be confident that he can more than match his opposite number when the final gets underway.

Reus was equally as metronomic with the boot on Sunday, scoring a try, six conversions and a penalty to help his side come from behind to claim a brilliant win against England.

Japan must find 80-minute performance v Italy

It was a similar story for Japan on Sunday, who started brightly against Argentina before fading in the final quarter as Los Pumitas won 45-20.

Japan must find an 80-minute performance if they are to avoid relegation back to the U20 Trophy in 2024, having lost both previous 11th-place play-offs they have contested, in 2016 and 2018. They will play Italy with the winner making sure of their place in the U20 Championship for at least another year.

In captain Yoshiki Omachi, full-back Yoshitaka Yazaki and flanker Tomoki Kusuda they have players who can mix it with the very best and coach Toru Korihara insists they are determined to maintain their U20 Championship status.

Korihara said: “We want to stay here; we want to stay in the Championship. The boys have the skill, the boys have the ability, so we believe we can stay here."

Italy's only defeat in their five previous relegation play-offs came in Cape Town, against Fiji 11 years ago.

Australia made to work for bragging rights

Australia secured trans-Tasman bragging rights on day four, but they were pushed all the way by a New Zealand team reduced at two different times to 13 players.

New Zealand lost Tom Allen to a first-half yellow card that was upgraded to red by the TMO bunker and had to cope with periods in which Malachi Wrampling and later Xavi Teale were sent to the sin bin.

Even then it was not until the final three minutes that captain Teddy Wilson scored the Junior Wallabies’ seventh try to finally put the game out of New Zealand’s reach.

“I'm very relieved and really happy for the playing group and all the staff who have been working hard for a long time,” Australia coach Nathan Grey said. “The boys stuck to our style of footie. We scored some good tries and it’s a great finish for us.”

Wales await Australia in the fifth-place play-off having had to bide their time themselves before coming through to beat Georgia 40-21. New Zealand, meanwhile, can at best match their worst finish of seventh place in 2019 if they beat the Junior Lelos on Friday.