Samoa needed two tries in the final 10 minutes against Hong Kong China to maintain their 100 per cent start to the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 in Nairobi.
The Pacific Island nation found themselves 22-15 behind in the closing stages, having been reduced to 12 players for five minutes at the start of the second half.
However, late tries from captain John Mata Samuelu and replacement prop Robert Jr. Robertson helped Junior Manu Samoa close out a 30-27 victory. Spain joined them on a maximum 10 points at the top of Pool B when they rounded off another entertaining day’s play with a 48-18 win against hosts Kenya.
Uruguay also made it two wins from two as they recovered from going 14-0 down against the Junior Sables to run in six unanswered tries to secure a 51-14 victory in Nairobi, while Scotland also overcame a slow start to beat USA 40-13.
POOL A: URUGUAY 51-14 ZIMBABWE
Uruguay set up a potential Pool A decider against Scotland with a come-from-behind victory over Zimbabwe at Nyayo National Stadium.
The inaugural winners in of this competition in 2008, Uruguay finished fourth four years ago. In their opening game of the 2023 edition, they earned a last-gasp win against the USA.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, served notice of their potential with a second-half fightback against Scotland in their opening-match defeat, and it was the Junior Sables who struck first here.
From a fourth-minute lineout, a smart one-handed offload in midfield sent number eight Shingi Manyarara charging under the posts.
Uruguay were almost level in the 12th minute after a series of pick-and-goes. But heroic defending from Zimbabwe led to a turnover.
A lack of accuracy continued to let Los Teritos down, and they were made to pay in the 23rd minute when, from another attacking lineout, Zimbabwe spread the ball wide to Edward Sigauke. The winger still had plenty of work to do but he jinked inside then out to touch down in the corner.
Uruguay hit back straight from kick-off when second-row Jeronimo Noseda barrelled over from close range.
A penalty kick from Juan Bautista Crisci then made it a four-point game and Uruguay led when Dante Soto came off his wing to pick up a scrappy lineout and burst straight through the Zimbabwe defence.
Zimbabwe, down by a player after illegal contact in the air, continued to look dangerous in possession but Uruguay held out to go in at half-time 17-14 ahead.
After a scrappy start to the second half, Uruguay were awarded a penalty try when Zimbabwe brought down a rolling maul close to the line. Los Teritos would have extended their lead on the hour mark but for a forward pass.
A further Uruguay penalty and a try from centre Guillermo Juan Storace, after a dart from replacement scrum-half Pedro Hoblog, put the result beyond doubt.
With Uruguay’s scrum now completely dominant, another penalty try gave the scoreline some gloss and an intercept effort – Uruguay’s sixth try – from replacement Alfonso Chahnazaroff made it 51 unanswered points and ensured Los Teritos head into their encounter against Scotland full of confidence.
POOL A: SCOTLAND 40-13 USA
Scotland continued to look like the team to beat at the U20 Trophy with a six-try win against USA in Nairobi.
In the first round of matches, Scotland ran out comfortable winners despite a second-half comeback by Zimbabwe, while USA were looking to bounce back from a last-gasp loss to Uruguay.
An enterprising USA team had the better of the early exchanges but, in what would be the theme of the first half, failed to capitalise on several line-breaks, their favoured offloading game letting them down.
Scotland took advantage to open the scoring when winger Finn Douglas burst over following a rolling maul.
Back came USA, Corbin Smith’s flying finish coming after a break down the short side from dangerous outside centre Aisake Tukuafu. Hugh O’Kennedy added the conversion, then kicked two penalties.
But it was Scotland who edged ahead at half-time, centre Findlay Thomson crashing over after his team laid siege to the USA line from close quarters.
With Scotland starting to take control through their set-piece, scrum-half Ben Afshar twice sniped over off the back of driving lineouts.
An injection of pace from fly-half Andrew McLean gave Scotland a fifth try and the sixth summed up the second half, hooker Corey Tait finishing off another imperious rolling maul.
POOL B: SAMOA 30-27 HONG KONG CHINA
Samoa started day two having never tasted defeat in the pool stage of an U20 Trophy, and it took them less than nine minutes to take the lead against Hong Kong China.
Exciting fly-half Afa Moleli carved a line through the Hong Kong China defence to start a move that ended with Maoaluma Pasa dotting down.
Hong Kong China had been kept scoreless by Spain in their opening match but threatened the Samoan line through Joe Denmark and soon had their first points of the tournament.
Full-back Dylan McCann it was who took an inside pass from centre Max Threlkeld close to the line to add the scoring touch in the 15th minute. McCann missed the conversion but landed a penalty less than four minutes later to give Hong Kong China an 8-5 lead.
It was one they maintained until half-time, and events either side of the break appeared to tip the balance in the Asian side's favour.
Samoa hooker Alex Lui was shown a yellow card in the 36th minute having brought down a Hong Kong China maul illegally as it rumbled towards the try-line.
Their opponents weren’t able to take advantage before half-time but within 20 seconds of the restart Samoa lost another player to the sin-bin as Royce Billy Jr. Umutaua tackled Fritz Mahn in the air.
As both players shown yellow cards were front-rows it meant that for the remaining five minutes of Lui’s initial time in the sin-bin, scrums became uncontested and Samoa were reduced to 12 players.
Hong Kong China capitalised on their three-player advantage, shifting the ball to the right wing where Denmark sprinted into open space and over the line. McCann converted to give his side a 15-5 lead.
Once back up to 14 players, Samoa levelled the scores as Moleli struck a penalty before producing a stunning offload that allowed Christopher Afamasaga to score their second try of the match.
But any hopes that they would streak off into the distance once Umutaua was back on the pitch were dashed in the 52nd minute, when winger Paul Stanley was shown a red card for kicking out as he gathered a high ball.
Hong Kong China needed less than two minutes to cross for their third try, replacement hooker TK Yamauchi coming up with the ball following a powerful lineout drive. McCann again added the extras to leave Samoa 22-15 behind.
That is how the score remained until the final 10 minutes as the match became fragmented. By then Samoa had adjusted to playing with 14 and levelled the scores with eight minutes left as captain Samuelu spun his way over from close range.
Moleli then landed a drop goal to edge Samoa in front before replacement prop Robertson supplied a powerful finish from close range to wrap up a try bonus-point.
There was still time for Hong Kong China to score their fourth try, through Threkeld, to ensure they finished the day with two match points – but not the famous win they had dreamed of.
POOL B: SPAIN 48-18 KENYA
A much-improved second-half display from Spain set them up nicely for a winner-takes-all encounter with Samoa for top spot in Pool B next Tuesday.
Raúl Pérez’s team should have been more than 17-15 up at half-time, but countless handling errors in good scoring positions cost them the chance to carve out a healthier advantage.
However, they were much more clinical after the break adding five tries to the three they scored in the first half while also restricting Kenya to just three points.
It was Kenya who scored the first points of the match in the eighth minute to set the home fans singing, George Otieno crashing over from a lineout drive.
Like their handling, Spain’s misfiring lineout was also causing issues but they got back on level terms when they converted their third meaningful foray into the Kenya 22 into a try for full-back Gabriel Rocaries.
Beau Finnian Peart flung a long pass out to the left and winger Mario Coronado Mico managed to get an offload away to Rocaries who dotted down but not before having a bit of a juggle.
Peart slotted a good touchline conversion to cancel out Faran Juma’s two-pointer earlier in the piece and the scores were level at 7-7.
However, Spain allowed the restart kick to bounce into the touch and then compounded the error by not throwing in straight at the lineout. That enabled Kenya to pressurise the Spanish line with a series of drives by the forwards and, eventually, Geylord Ngasi got another try for the front-row union.
Spain continued to look the more dangerous in open play whenever they kept hold of the ball and Peart benefitted from quick ruck ball to squeeze between Juma and Victor Odhiambo and score Spain’s second try, which went unconverted to keep the scores at 12-12.
A few minutes later, Diego Gonzalez handed Spain the lead for the first time when he went route one and crashed over from a maul.
Juma’s penalty from in front of the posts reduced the deficit to just two points, but Spain should have had the try bonus-point in the bag just before half-time but number eight Ignacio Pineiro Molla added to the catalogue of handling errors when he spilt the ball on what had appeared to be on an unstoppable run to the line.
The theme continued at the start of the second half as a knock-on at the base of the ruck by scrum-half and captain Pablo Perez Merono meant another free-flowing move came to nothing.
However, there was no stopping replacement hooker Alvaro Garcia Albo when he broke away from a driving maul to score Spain’s fourth try, Peart converting from close to the touchline.
After a lengthy injury break, play resumed in the same vain – with Spain having all the territory and possession – and their ball retention was much better by now, resulting in four more tries being scored.
Eloy de la Pisa went over after Kenya ran out of numbers in defence following a sustained Spanish attack and then, around the hour mark, Rocaries scored the pick of the lot, racing onto an inside ball from Peart to get his second of the match and fourth of the tournament.
Kenya opted to kick at goal despite trailing by 23 points and Juma showed his prowess with the boot by knocking over a long-range penalty for a 38-18 scoreline.
But then Juma had his clearance kick from the restart charged down by Javier Lopez de Haro who went on to score.
There was still time for a second try for Gonzalez but Spain were denied a second half-century of the tournament, after their 53-0 win over Hong Kong China in round one, when replacement kicker Marcel Sirvent’s conversion crashed against the post and stayed out.