If we wondered how day two of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2016 could live up to the upsets of the opening round we need not have worried as Ireland and Argentina recorded historic victories over defending champions New Zealand and 2012 winners South Africa respectively on Saturday.
Ireland, already riding high after beating Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales on day one, used the driving maul to great effect to stun New Zealand 33-24 at the Manchester City Academy Stadium. Argentina's players were then crying tears of joy after closing out the day with a 19-13 win over the Junior Springboks at AJ Bell Stadium.
Georgia nearly joined the cast of history-makers, but the tournament debutants had to settle for a losing bonus point after a dominant foward display saw them go down 10-9 against Wales at Manchester City Academy Stadium.
The second round also saw Australia and France record their first victories of the 2016 edition, strong second-half performances seeing them overcome Italy and Japan respectively, while hosts England turned on the style to overwhelm Scotland 44-0 before a sell-out Manchester City Academy Stadium.
The action continues on Wednesday with the climax of the pool stages with the unbeaten Ireland, hosts England and Argentina leading the race for the semi-finals. Ireland will face Georgia at 17:30, the same time as the other Pool A match between Six Nations champions Wales and defending champions New Zealand. England will conclude proceedings at AJ Bell Stadium against Australia at 19:45, with Scotland opening play at the Manchester City Academy Stadium against Italy just over four hours earlier. The climax to Pool C sees Argentina tackle Japan first up before South Africa face France.
POOL A: NEW ZEALAND 24-33 IRELAND
Ireland delivered a seismic shock by beating defending champions New Zealand 33-24 with a performance full of passion and commitment at Manchester City Academy Stadium.
The loss was only New Zealand’s seventh since the U20 Championship began back in 2008 and ranks alongside the shock value of Wales handing the then four-time defending champions their first-ever loss in the 2012 pool stages.
Ireland have now beaten the Six Nations Grand Slam winners and world champions in the space of five days and need only victory against Georgia to book their place in the semi-finals as Pool A winners.
Fly-half Bill Johnston kicked Ireland into an early 3-0 lead but centre Jordie Barrett crashed over for New Zealand’s opening try in the seventh minute, picking up where he had left off in the first half against Georgia.
Johnston added a second penalty but the Irish then lost hooker Adam McBurney to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on, the Kiwis missing a penalty in his absence before Shaun Stevenson gathered his own kick ahead to dot down.
The yellow card looked costly until an Ireland driving maul left New Zealand with no answer as flanker Greg Jones came off the back to score and McBurney then atoned for his yellow card with an almost identical try in the 34th minute.
Ireland trailed only 14-13 at the break but had lost Johnston to an apparent dislocated shoulder – the injury that kept him out of the Six Nations – but his replacement Johnny McPhillips kicked them ahead early in the second half.
Winger Malo Tuitama restored New Zealand’s advantage with just under 30 minutes to go, but Ireland were not to be outdone and continued to pile the pressure on their opponents, forcing error after error.
As the clock ticked into the final minutes, Ireland’s maul created another try, this time number eight Max Deegan the one to peel off the back to touch down, with McPhillips' conversion meaning New Zealand had to score two tries.
They got one almost immediately through Tuitama and Ireland seemed set for another tense finale, but they held firm and when McPhillips added another penalty two minutes from time their historic win was assured.
Ireland try-scorer Deegan: "It’s the stuff of dreams, the moments you dream about in games where you have to score, you need to score, and to do that is honestly unbelievable. I can’t put it into words what it means, luckily enough I was able to pick up and went over.
“It’s something special [to beat Wales and New Zealand back to back], in camp we knew we had it in us and were building well. There is a buzz in the camp and that is going to continue, but we have to take a step back now and focus on Georgia.”
New Zealand coach Scott Robertson: “They made it difficult for us and we made it difficult for ourselves. We didn’t play the conditions very well and we played a team who plays for penalties. And perhaps we let them do that. Credit to Ireland, they deserved it. I think it’s the first time they’ve beaten a New Zealand team at this level so well done to them.”
POOL A: WALES 10-9 GEORGIA
Wales were desperate to bounce back to winning ways at the Manchester City Academy Stadium after their opening loss to Ireland, but in the end were fortunate to escape with a 10-9 victory against Georgia.
The Six Nations champions made the perfect start when prop Leon Brown had the strength to touch down from close range in the fourth minute, but if their fans were hoping for a try-fest then they were left disappointed.
Georgia, beaten 55-0 by New Zealand on day one, relished the wet conditions on a day when rain fell for long periods in Manchester, their forwards enjoying dominance at front in an area of the game the nation is known for.
Scrum-half Gela Aprasidze missed his first kick at goal just after the half hour, but made amends within minutes to score Georgia’s first-ever points in the U20 Championship.
Aprasidze, given the nod in place of RWC 2015 veteran Vasil Lobzhanidze, kicked a second penalty at the end of the first half to send last year’s U20 Trophy champions in just one point adrift at 7-6.
The score remained that way until fly-half Jarrod Evans kicked a penalty in the 54th-minute, but Wales still couldn’t shake off the Georgians who were relishing the battle up front and starting to create a few opportunities with ball in hand.
Once again they closed to within a point with Aprasidze’s third penalty with 13 minutes to go and the prospect of the sell-out crowd seeing a second upset – one arguably bigger than Ireland’s win given Georgia’s inexperience at this level – was increasing.
Replacement Daniel Jones, only called into the squad after starting winger Keelan Giles was given a ticket to join up with the senior squad in New Zealand, missed his first kick at goal and it nearly proved costly for Wales.
Fortunately for them, Aprasidze’s penalty with five minutes to go from the halfway dropped agonizingly short and they were able to send the clock into the red as Jones lined up another kick at goal, one he missed again.
Georgia coach Ilia Maisuradze: "We worked on our defence, getting up quickly and making effective tackles. We reduced the number of players in the breakdown and brought more players into the defence. We played with the conditions, with a big heart and in this game we needed for our morale. In terms of our attacking play we can improve going forward and will aim to before our next match, but we needed to improve from the first match and we did that. We needed this for the fans in Georgia, and for our confidence.
"The problem in the first game was we didn’t get enough time to prepare together as a team. A lot of the guys play in France so they joined in the last two weeks, and some even just last week. A lot of players didn’t play in the warm up games but that said, against New Zealand we did show moments of how we wanted to play and also today."
POOL B: AUSTRALIA 38-10 ITALY
Australia overcame an error-strewn first-half performance and a 10-7 half-time deficit to register a bonus-point win over Italy at the AJ Bell Stadium and give themselves an outside chance of making the semi-finals.
Mack Mason crossed for the last of Australia’s five tries and kicked 11 points as Adrian Thompson’s side scored 31 unanswered points after the break.
Second best in the scrum and lineout and struggling to control the wet ball when they did have possession, Australia found it hard to get any rhythm into their game in the early stages and they fell behind when Azzurrini fly-half Leonardo Mantelli kicked a 10th-minute penalty.
Italy then clinically exploited Australian hesitation under the high ball to score a well-taken try on 27 minutes. Second-row Samuele Ortis regained possession and surged forward before offloading to Marco Zanon, the inside centre was brought to ground a few metres short but had the presence of mind and the skill to pop the ball up to supporting full-back Matteo Minozzi.
Australia got a foothold in the game when winger Simon Kennewell strolled over just after the half-hour mark following a series of pick-and-goes from the forwards created space out wide. Mason converted and then added a penalty shortly after the restart to draw Australia level.
From then on there was only really one team in it, Australia using their bench to good effect and mastering the wet conditions far better to score four unconverted tries without reply.
Replacement Lukhan Lealaiaulolo-Tui and winger Liam Jurd dotted down from close range before a crowd-pleasing 50-metre run from replacement prop Shambeckler Vui, which saw him bump off three would-be tacklers, resulted in the bonus point try for Australia. With the clock in the red, Mason capped a fine personal display when he jinxed over from 20 metres out.
Australia coach Adrian Thompson: "We thought the Italians played really well in that first half. They're a young team who are building to next year and competed well through the Six Nations and really brought it to us. I think our boys realised the importance of the game and were a bit nervous."
Australia try scorer Mason: "The start was a bit scrappy, down to the conditions a bit, but once we got into the game in the second half we really stuck it to them and got it done, but the Italians really stuck it to us in the first half. We were obviously massively disappointed [against Scotland] and it's a long way to come from Australia to Manchester to lose, but everyone put it behind them and moved on and we got the win today."
POOL B: ENGLAND 44-0 SCOTLAND
Hosts England had been outclassed by Scotland in the Six Nations in February, but it was a role reversal at the Manchester City Academy Stadium as to the delight of the home contingent in the crowd they ran in five tries for a convincing victory.
Scotland simply had no answer to the England pack's power in the first half, conceding three penalties in seven minutes in the first quarter with fly-half Harry Mallinder kicking two of them. The Northampton Saint also added the conversion when captain Jack Walker dropped on the ball as the England driving maul splintered the Scottish defence with easy in the 22nd minute.
That would prove to be the final score of the first half, although Scotland could have been on the scoreboard had Blair Kinghorn, who switched to fly-half to cover Adam Hastings after he took a knock in the win over Australia, not missed two penalties in the first eight minutes.
The second half burst into life with two tries in as many minutes for England. First, in the 54th minute, Darren Atkins raced down the wing and flanker Will Evans was able to slide over, the TMO ruling he had just avoided the touchline. Then Sam Aspland-Robinson scythed through the defence and sent John Williams over for England's third try.
The bonus point try came courtesy of replacement hooker Jack Singleton after Scotland were unable to cope with another driving maul with four minutes to go and there was still time for fellow replacement Max Malins to charge through a tiring defence to put the gloss on the win.
England coach Martin Haag: "We are happy enough, but there are some things to work on. The number of times we went into the opposition 22 and for ill-discipline, or whatever reason, didn’t convert. However we are really pleased to get the win and the way we finished the game I thought was superb, attacking from our own line I thought was excellent. We just need a bit more precision at times but that’s something we can work on."
POOL C: FRANCE 46-14 JAPAN
France, inspired by the silky running skills of centre Damian Penaud, powered their way to an impressive seven-try victory against Japan at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Penaud scored a try and set up several others in a man-of-the-match display that helped Les Bleuets register their first win of the 2016 edition of the U20 Championship in Manchester.
It was Japan, however, who took the lead after seven minutes when winger Ren Takano scythed through the French defence.
Anthony Belleau pulled three points back for France before Les Bleuets grabbed their first try of the game through hooker Peato Mauvaka. Scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud added another a minute later after a good break by second-row Mathieu Tanguy, one of only two players to remain in the starting line-up from the opening loss to Argentina.
Clermont Auvergne player Penaud, son of former French international Alain, deservedly got on the scoreboard himself at the start of the second half when he made a lovely outside break and slipped through a couple of tackles.
Japan stopped the rot, temporarily, after test capped number eight Tevita Tatafu drove over from close range but France’s response was immediate, replacement scrum-half Antoine Dupont scampering home direct from the restart.
Penaud had a hand in the next two tries as Alexandre Nicoue and then Dupont crossed, and there was still just about enough time left on the clock for replacement back Romain Buros to put the gloss on an impressive performance.
France prop Clement Castets: "It went pretty well. At the beginning it was really hard, but the boys didn't let anything go, we stuck together and I think it was a great performance from us. If we could have scored maybe two more tries it would have been good but we are still happy."
Japan flanker Faulua Makisi: "The result we weren't really happy with, but I'm really proud of the boys as we played with good character today. We don't look down, we look forward to the next game against Argentina. We will work hard on what was missing from this game."
POOL C: SOUTH AFRICA 13-19 ARGENTINA
For the second match day in a row Argentina's players greeted the final whistle with euphoria, leaping into the air in celebration and crying tears of joy after beating South Africa for the first time in U20 Championship history.
Fly-half Domingo Miotti kicked 14 points as Argentina capitalised on an ill-disciplined performance from South Africa in the final game of the day at the AJ Bell Stadium in Manchester and victory over Japan on Wednesday will see Los Pumitas top Pool C and reach the semi-finals for only the second time.
No quarter was asked nor given in a full-on physical encounter that was full of big hits rather than try-scoring opportunities, and it took until the 40th minute before the whitewash was crossed legitimately.
It appeared as though the sides would be locked together at 6-6 at half-time after an exchange of penalties from opposing fly-halves, Curwin Bosch and Miotti, but scrum-half James Hall’s yellow card for a tip tackle in midfield proved a game-changer.
Los Pumitas had already had one try chalked off by the TMO by the time Tomas Malanos came off his wing and hit a great line in midfield to finish off a well-executed lineout move on the South African 22. Miotti brought the half to a close with the conversion.
The fly-half nailed his first penalty chance of the second half from halfway to take Argentina’s lead into double figures and added another just before the hour mark, shortly after South Africa had been denied a try of their own. Winger Mosolwa Mafuma appeared to win the race to the ball in the in-goal area after a kick ahead but the TMO ruled that it hadn’t been grounded properly.
South Africa mauled their way over the line in the 64th minute and loose-head prop Franco van den Berg came up with the ball, Bosch adding the conversion to make it a six-point ball game between the two unbeaten sides in Pool C.
Suddenly the momentum was with South Africa but their chances of a comeback win were seriously hampered when openside flanker Ernst van Rhyn was sent to the sin-bin and Los Pumitas held on to the delight of their vocal band of supporters.
Argentina coach Nicolas Fernandez Lobbe: "I am really happy for the boys for the way they played, which was the way we wanted to. I am happy with the set-piece as we struggled with that against France. Passion is everything with Argentina and it was the difference for us today. Our goal is always the same, whether we win or we lose. I always tell the boys to go out there an play with confidence and pass the ball around. For me that is rugby."
South Africa captain Jeremy Ward: "I think it just comes down to discipline. We played 20 minutes with 14 men and it really cost us today. We're disappointed because we came here to win. But credit to Argentina, they played with passion and made it very hard for us."