Spain and Uruguay remain in the hunt for promotion from the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 after emerging from a thrilling day of action at Nyayo National Stadium top of their respective pools.
In Tuesday's final match in Nairobi, 2008 U20 Trophy winners Uruguay led from the fifth minute against pre-tournament favourites Scotland en route to a deserved 37-26 victory.
Spain await Los Teritos in Sunday's final, having sealed a 28-10 win against Samoa thanks to tries from Jacobo Ruiz Marcos, Manex Ariceta Maestro and Daniel Cantanzaro Omati. The winner of that match will secure promotion to the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2024.
Scotland, meanwhile, must settle for a third-place play-off against Samoa, who had never lost a pool-stage match at the U20 Trophy prior to Tuesday.
Earlier, Zimbabwe guaranteed their best-ever finish at the tournament with a stunning victory against the USA following a pulsating encounter at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi.
The Junior Sables' first U20 Trophy victory since 2012 – and only their third in all – secured third place in Pool A and at least a sixth-placed finish overall, although they will have the chance to improve that to fifth in Sunday’s play-off.
Zimbabwe will play hosts Kenya on Sunday, after the Chipu beat Hong Kong China 22-16 in the second match of the day. The USA will face Hong Kong China in the seventh-place play-off.
POOL A: USA 37-38 ZIMBABWE
USA appeared the more likely winners when full-back Rand Santos ghosted through for a brilliant individual try 14 minutes from time but Zimbabwe’s off-loading, handling and pace produced two tries in the last 10 minutes from replacements, wing Brendan Marume and scrum-half Shadreck Mandaza.
Mandaza sealed a memorable victory by converting his own try which started tearful celebrations on the pitch and among Zimbabwe’s travelling supporters in the stands.
It was breathless end-to-end stuff throughout with Zimbabwe recovering from going 14 points down inside 16 minutes to establish a five-point lead early in the second half.
USA used their driving lineout and the accurate kicking of fly-half Oliver Cline to then open up an 11-point lead but they could not contain the exuberant Junior Sables when it mattered.
Zimbabwe’s early indiscipline proved costly as USA drove Hayden McKay and loose-head prop John Wilson over from attacking lineouts but a general warning from the referee for multiple team infringements appeared to focus the Junior Sables.
A penalty from fly-half Benoni Nhekairo got them on the scoreboard and the deficit was further reduced with a superb try from a sweeping attack on half-way which was started by Simbarashe Kanyangarara and finished by the scrum-half.
Nhekairo added a straightforward conversion followed by two penalties which nudged the Junior Sables into the lead for the first time.
Nhekairo struck again eight minutes into the second-half but, having played with great composure, things unravelled for Zimbabwe in the space of eight minutes with a series of errors that allowed USA to regain the lead.
McKay went over for his second try after a crooked lineout throw from Zimbabwe gave USA an attacking opportunity and Cline then kicked three penalties in five minutes.
Zimbabwe responded with Mandaza taking a quickly-tapped penalty and setting up Marume for the first of his two tries but that was swiftly cancelled out by Santos’ long-range effort that Cline improved.
But Zimbabwe finished strongly with centre Dion Khumalo unleashing Marume for his second try and Mandaza’s pace then slicing open the defence.
POOL A: SCOTLAND 26-37 URUGUAY
Uruguay started on the front foot in the final match of day three and after Juan Carlos Canessa had missed an early penalty, the full-back gave the scoring pass to Pedro Brum to touch down the first try in only the fifth minute.
Canessa converted but missed another presentable penalty before re-finding his range to extend the Uruguayan lead to 10 points at the end of the first quarter.
Scotland hit back soon after as Eddie Erskine powered over from close range, but the second-row was then sent to the sin-bin, allowing Los Teritos to strike again.
From the subsequent lineout, Uruguay set a driving maul rumbling towards the line and hooker Maximo Lamelas came up with his side’s second try.
And as the time on Erskine’s sin-bin ticked down, Los Teritos fly-half Icaro Amarillo produced a booming drop-goal to give his side a 20-7 lead.
Scotland ate into that advantage before half-time, Corey Tait profiting from a lineout drive to score before Ben Afshar’s second conversion struck a post and went over.
Uruguay lost hooker Lamelas to a yellow card on the stroke of half-time but despite starting the second half a player light, it was Los Teritos who struck next.
Following good work from Guillermo Juan Storace, Canessa fed Juan Gonzalez and the winger held off the attentions of several defenders to score in the right corner.
Tait scored his second try of the match soon afterwards, but Afshar missed the conversion and when Canessa struck a long-range penalty it gave Uruguay a 30-19 lead.
Los Teritos lost a second player to the sin-bin in the 59th minute as replacement Francisco Garcia was shown a yellow card. And it took Scotland less than a minute to capitalise, as Erskine powered over from close range again.
Afshar converted to close the gap to four points but Los Teritos refused to panic and scored again while still playing with 14. The impressive Storace slipped through an attempted tackle from Tait before sprinting over the try-line.
Canessa converted to give Uruguay an 11-point lead and although he missed a long-range penalty with around 10 minutes to go, they were able to close out a famous victory.
POOL B: KENYA 22-16 HONG KONG CHINA
Kenya held off a ferocious late onslaught from Hong Kong China to hold on for a victory that delighted the vast majority of spectators at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi.
Two tries from tight-head prop Mike Oduor proved decisive in helping Kenya to secure a first win in this year’s tournament and a meeting with old rivals Zimbabwe in Sunday’s fifth-place play-off.
The match may have lacked the thrills and spills of the day’s opening game between Zimbabwe and USA but it was just as compelling with Kenya’s defence just holding on to deny Hong Kong China at the death.
A turnover by Kenya lock Andy Cole Omolo, which was rewarded with a penalty, typified Kenya’s defensive effort and meant frustration for Hong Kong China in a match where there was little to choose between the sides.
Oduor’s first try gave Kenya the lead after five minutes and was converted by fly-half Eddy Wambugu, the first of three successful kicks for the Chipu.
Hong Kong China full-back Dylan McCann reduced the deficit with a penalty two minutes later before his captain, number eight Tyler McNutt, drove over after lock Glenn Hui had opened up the defence with a powerful carry.
McCann added the extras before Kenya drew level midway through the first-half when full-back Faran Juma eased over a penalty.
Number eight Jacktone Omondi restored Kenya’s lead just before half-time when he crashed over from close-range but McCann reduced the gap to two points with a penalty five minutes after the interval.
Another pick-and-go try from Oduor, this time converted by scrum-half Patrick Wainaina put Kenya two scores clear but McCann set up a tense final quarter when he struck with a 57th minute penalty.
That proved to be the last score but not the end of the action as Hong Kong China changed their entire front row to challenge Kenya’s set-piece dominance.
That worked for a short period but Kenya regained the upper-hand when they did likewise which allowed blindside flanker Laban Kipsang to test Hong Kong China’s defence with two powerful carries.
Kenya were penalised just as the clock turned red and Hong Kong China launched a long and sustained attack which took them from their 22 deep into home territory before it was halted by Omolo with the penalty being followed by jubilant celebrations on and off the pitch.
POOL B: SPAIN 28-10 SAMOA
Spain booked their place in the final of the U20 Trophy with a scrappy 28-10 victory over two-time champions Samoa in Nairobi on Tuesday.
In a repeat of the 2016 final, Spain – making only their second appearance at the tournament – started as favourites, having won comfortably against Kenya and Hong Kong China. Samoa, winners in 2011 and 2016, only edged past the same Pool B opposition.
In a largely overcast Kenyan capital, Samoa’s Afa Moleli drilled a penalty from almost halfway to open the scoring.
It was Spain, though who enjoyed most of the early territory and possession but, thanks to a number of handling errors, only had Marcos’ 10th-minute try to show for their efforts, the prop barreling over after a break from scrum-half Javier Lopez de Haro. Fly-half Beau Finnian Peart then kicked a penalty to extend Spain’s lead to 10-3 after the first quarter.
A malfunctioning set-piece meant Samoa struggled to gain a foothold in the game. But they were almost back in it on the half-hour mark when Moleli was tackled just short of the line after an intercept took him nearly the length of the field.
On their rare forays into the Spain 22, Samoa too were let down by their final pass. And in the 46th minute, Spain made them pay. After a 50-22 kick to touch, number eight Maestro emerged from the back of a driving lineout to dive over and make it 15-3.
Then, with Samoa starting to get their offloading game going, Spain delivered the killer blow in the 56th minute, breaking clear to send inside centre Omati over.
Even when Spain were reduced to 14 players after repeated infringements at the breakdown, Samoa couldn’t take full advantage. A try from replacement Royce Billy Jr Umutaua reduced the deficit, but Samoa followed it up with two careless yellow cards of their own.
Spain spurned several more try-scoring opportunities but did add two more penalty kicks to ensure Samoa never got within two converted scores.