Scotland, Samoa, Uruguay and Spain emerged victorious from the opening day of the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday.
In a classic game of two halves, Scotland ran out 64-33 winners over Zimbabwe in the opening game of the tournament, but a five-try second-half burst from the Junior Sables ensured it wasn't all plain sailing for the Scots.
Samoa, too, did not have things all their own way against hosts Kenya in the first Pool B match, but two quick tries from captain John Mata Samuelu and a double from winger William Hunt ensured the former champions opened their 2023 challenge with a 34-25 win.
The third match was a much cagier affair, with Uruguay edging the battle of the former champions against USA 33-31, thanks to a late try from Dante Soto and the accurate boot of Juan Carlos Canessa.
Spain then wrapped up the opening day's action with a 53-0 defeat of Hong Kong China with Eloy de la Pisa Cuadrado and Gabriel Rocaries both dotting down twice to take Los Leones U20 to the top of Pool B.
The action continues on Thursday, 20 July when the Pool B match between Samoa and Hong Kong China will open proceedings at 10:00 local time (GMT +2).
Uruguay then take on Zimbabwe at 12:00 before the other Pool A match between Scotland at USA at 14:00. Spain and hosts Kenya play in the final match of round two at 16:00.
POOL A: SCOTLAND 64-33 ZIMBABWE
Scotland kicked off the 13th edition of the World Rugby U20 Trophy with a 64-33 victory against Zimbabwe at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya.
Making their first appearance in the tournament after being relegated from the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2019, Scotland ran in 10 tries against the Junior Sables, whose last appearance came on home soil in 2016, when they lost all three games.
It took Scotland just three minutes to open the scoring, capitalising on a turnover on halfway to move the ball wide to co-captain and scrum-half Ben Afshar, who showed a good turn of pace to touch down.
The next try was simplicity itself. Scotland won a scrum penalty and, from the resulting lineout drive, hooker Jerry Blyth-Lafferty emerged with the ball as the Zimbabwe maul splintered.
The rest of the half was all about winger Geordie Gwynn. His first try came after a clever chip and chase to the corner; he then crashed over from close range following an attacking scrum.
With Zimbabwe losing key ball carrier Shingi Manyarara to injury and two players to yellow cards, Scotland made their numerical advantage pay with the last play of the half, Gwynn completing his hat-trick with a simple finish.
Gwynn made a barnstorming start to the second half, too, running half the length of the field before being brought down just short of the line. Scotland recycled quickly for second-row Eddie Erskine to score.
Afshar then got his second after a flowing team move before replacement hooker Corey Tait touched down from another driving lineout to make it 50-0.
Zimbabwe, who spilled the ball on the rare occasions they threatened during the opening hour, finally got on the scoresheet in the 53rd minute. They bundled Scotland into touch near their own line and from the resulting lineout drive, hooker Bryan Chiang broke away and stretched over.
With Scotland becoming uncharacteristically ragged, Zimbabwe then scored three more tries in quick succession – and how.
First, winger Edward Sigauke took advantage of slick hands and great running lines in midfield. Then Leo Mutendi and Tawanda Matipano finished length-of-the-field moves to send the small but vocal Zimbabwe support in the crowd wild.
Normal service was resumed when Scotland intercepted another Zimbabwe counter-attack for Ben Salmon to score.
Replacement Shadreck Mandaza responded with a joyful diving finish after forcing a Scotland mistake with his kick ahead, but Scotland had the final say as Erskine crashed over for his second.
POOL A: URUGUAY 33-31 USA
The boot of Uruguay full-back Juan Carlos Canessa was the difference against USA as – after two free-scoring, up-tempo matches – two former champions played out a nip-tuck affair in the third match of the opening day.
Canessa was accurate with the boot all game, and coolly held his nerve to nail a tricky late conversion out wide and pull Los Teritos back into the lead after they had earlier let slip a 13-point advantage.
It had been all Uruguay in the opening exchanges. The try-line was definitely the way for Icaro Amarillo after just six minutes as Los Teritos opened their campaign in style. The fly-half burst through two tackles on his way to the line after his pack had turned over the ball in USA’s 22.
Two penalties from Canessa either side of Amarillo’s touchdown helped Uruguay race into a 13-0 lead in as many minutes. They perhaps should have had more, such was their early dominance.
But USA, against the run of play at the time, found a way back into the game before the end of the opening quarter. Captain Dominic Besag scored after a breakout from inside his own half. He fed winger Sosaia Pongi, who eased to within a couple of metres of the line before shipping the ball back over the top to his captain.
Canessa and USA fly-half Hugh O’Kennedy traded further first-half penalties, before USA loose-head John Wilson was yellow carded for one infringement too many. Uruguay kicked to touch and from the resulting lineout just inside USA’s 22, mauled their way ferociously to the line. Second-row Franco Bertini got the try-scoring credit, but it was very much a pack try on the half-time whistle.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, USA scored first after the restart, Hayden McKay – who switched from flanker to hooker due to Caden Crist being ill – coming up with the ball after a maul early in the second period to reduce USA’s arrears to just three points. That advantage was eradicated completely by O’Kennedy with half an hour to go before he added another penalty six minutes later to take USA into the lead for the first time.
McKay broke off from the back of another maul for his second try in the 62nd minute, after USA had chosen to kick a penalty to touch rather than go for the posts. O’Kennedy, unusually, missed from the touchline.
Canessa cut the deficit to five points a few minutes later as a cagey match in which neither team could break away edged to a close.
Replacement Dante Soto’s 75th-minute try – with his first touch of the game – levelled the scores, and gave Canessa a tricky shot at goal to restore Los Teritos' advantage. He didn’t miss and Uruguay could celebrate at the final whistle.
POOL B: SAMOA 34-25 KENYA
Two quick tries from captain John Mata Samuelu and a double from winger William Hunt ensured former U20 Trophy champions Samoa opened their 2023 challenge with a win to maintain their near-perfect record in the tournament.
Heading into their opening match in Nairobi, they had won 11 of 12 matches they had played in the second-tier U20 competition – their only defeat coming in the 2018 final.
But they didn’t have things all their own way. Indiscipline cost them, while hosts Kenya sent a clear warning to their Pool B rivals as they troubled the larger Samoan squad with their pace and elusive running.
It was Kenya who opened the scoring, as rangy second-row Stanslas Shikoli powered over the corner on their first entry into Samoa’s 22, after they had soaked up 10 minutes of early pressure at the other end of the pitch.
Their lead, however, did not last long. Afa Moleli picked up a loose ball after his pack had shoved Kenya off the ball in a scrum, fed Paul Stanley out of the tackle and he raced clear to the corner. Moleli missed the conversion, but added a penalty soon after to give Samoa the lead.
Kenya were being driven back at the scrum, but gave as good as they got in the loose. As the clock ticked past the half-hour mark another attack was turned over and Samoa demonstrated how dangerous they were on transition. It was simple, devastating rugby. A break, and a footrace to the line pulled up just short. Recycled, the ball went through the hands, before a long pass to Hunt, who dived – spectacularly – over.
An early second-half penalty for Kenya’s Eddy Murage appeared to kick Junior Manu Samoa up a gear. Stanley, back in the fray after a yellow card, ripped through the Chipu defence and deep into their 22. A quick penalty later and second-row Samuelu crashed over from short range. He added a second, from a similar distance, a few minutes later to extend Samoa’s lead.
It looked as if that would open the floodgates. But Kenya weren’t done and were still causing problems with their speed in the loose. Then, just after the hour, they played against type, patiently phasing their way to Samoa’s line, and Wicklife Otieno flopped over from close range after Samoan back-row Benjamin Faavave was yellow carded.
There was time left for more excitement from the Nairobi crowd as livewire Kenya gave the tiring Samoans – who picked up four yellow cards to play 40 minutes with a numerical disadvantage – the runaround.
With 74 minutes on the clock, Hunt skirted round three defenders for his second as he took a scenic route to the try-line from inside his own half, and proved that there’s much more to them than power alone. It ended the match as a contest.
But Kenya had the final say, mauling over for a deserved pack score from a five-metre lineout with just a couple of minutes remaining, before Raphael Wanga benefited from a Samoa error to score the final try.
POOL B: SPAIN 53-0 HONG KONG CHINA
Spain made a flying start to the World Rugby U20 Trophy and brought the opening day of the tournament to a close with a 53-0 win over Hong Kong China in Nairobi.
The 2016 runners-up scored the first of nine tries in the seventh minute. Hong Kong China failed to gather a kick ahead allowing blindside flanker Ignacio Pineiro Molla to touch down.
In an error-strewn opening, neither team managed to nail their set-pieces. That finally changed in the 15th minute when Spain got their rolling maul going from a lineout and captain Alvaro Garcia Albo touched down.
A similar opportunity went begging shortly afterwards as Spain knocked on but the third try eventually came after a dominant scrum left the Hong Kong China defence back-peddling. Openside flanker Borja Ibanez Escalera crashed over two phases later.
Hong Kong China almost hit back but were held up over the try-line. They were left to rue the missed opportunity minutes later when they turned over possession near halfway. Ibanez Escalera showed an impressive turn of pace that allowed Eloy de la Pisa Cuadrado an easy run-in.
Three minutes into the second half, Spain grabbed their fifth try. Garcia Albo punched a hole in the Hong Kong China defence, Daniel Catanzaro Omati cut a lovely line in midfield and full-back Gabriel Rocaries did the rest.
Spain enjoyed most of the possession and territory in the third quarter but were let down by their accuracy in the red zone and had to wait until the 60th minute for their sixth try. It was Rocaries again, this time courtesy of a jinking run and finish.
De la Pisa Cuadrado then scored his second and Spain’s seventh after a fizzing flat pass from Pineiro Molla.
In the 70th minute, Hong Kong China again had the ball over the try-line but replacement TK Yamauchi failed to ground it and Spain, even with Pineiro Molla in the sin-bin, made them pay.
Another replacement, Martin Pena, made no mistake from close range and Spain broke the 50-point mark with the final play of the game, replacement Alvaro Vilchez going over after a quick tap penalty.