Three of the four teams to lift the distinctive trophy were victorious on day one of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 in the Argentine cities of Rosario and Santa Fe on Tuesday.
Defending champions France were made to work hard for their 36-20 victory over Fiji, making their first appearance in the tournament since 2014, in Rosario and sit top of Pool A by a point from Wales, who held on to beat hosts Argentina 30-25 in a topsy-turvy match that went right to the wire.
South Africa, the 2012 champions, also took time to settle against Scotland before running out 43-19 winners in their Pool C opener in Rosario, but sit behind New Zealand on points difference after the six-time champions overcame Georgia 43-15 in Santa Fe.
Oceania champions Australia sit top of Pool B after opening proceedings in Santa Fe with a 36-12 victory over Italy, albeit only on points difference from U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland who prevented a clean sweep of victories for U20 Championship winners by handing England their first defeat in the pool stages since 2015.
England, who have reached the last six U20 Championship finals, had replacement hooker Alfie Barbeary sent off for a dangerous tackle but Ireland were deserving of their victory and a much happier start to a campaign than 12 months ago when they only avoided relegation on the final day in France.
The action continues on Saturday with the second round of pool matches. Australia will again get proceedings underway in Santa Fe with their Pool B match with Ireland at 10:30 local time (GMT-3) before hosts Argentina tackle Fiji and 2018 runners-up England meet Italy.
Meanwhile, in Rosario, South Africa will kick things off against Georgia before defending champions France meet fellow day one winners Wales and six-time champions New Zealand meet Scotland.
POOL A: ARGENTINA 25-30 WALES
Cai Evans bettered his 16-point haul against Australia in the opening match of last year’s U20 Championship to kick Wales to a thrilling victory at the Racecourse Ground in Rosario.
The fly-half only missed one of his eight attempts at goal, slotting six penalties and a conversion in a topsy-turvy match that saw the lead change hands six times and featured a brilliant solo effort from Los Pumitas full-back Ignacio Mendy.
The capacity crowd thought Mendy’s 40-metre weaving run on the hour-mark, that took him past six defenders, had set them on the way to victory but Wales hit back with a try from Ryan Conbeer.
Crucially Evans pushed Wales two scores ahead with his sixth penalty and while Joaquin de la Vega Mendia pulled back three points for the hosts, Wales survived the final three minutes to avenge last year’s fifth place semi-final defeat by Argentina.
Defensively Wales were magnificent in the first half, their solid red line proving largely impenetrable despite the loss of two starting players – outside centre Aneurin Owen and blindside flanker Lennon Greggains – to injury inside the first quarter.
At that stage Argentina led 7-3 after they responded to Evans’ early penalty with a close-range try for Francisco Minervino which Geronimo Prisciantelli converted before adding a penalty.
Ill-discipline and impatience, in the face of fierce tackling, prevented Argentina taking a firm grip on proceedings and Wales hit back on 28 minutes when Harri Morgan received the ball back from Rio Dyer for a well-worked score. Evans hit the post with his conversion attempt but made amends with a 36th-minute penalty to make it 11-10 to Wales at the break.
Argentina had torn Wales apart in the second half of last year’s encounter and this match appeared to be following a similar script when they scored within four minutes of the restart, winger Rodrigo Isgro strolling over after Prisciantelli’s pinpoint cross-field kick found him in acres of space.
This time, though, Wales showed great resilience and good game-management put them in a position to force penalties, Evans punishing Los Pumitas with three kicks between the 47th and 56th minutes to edge his side 20-15 ahead.
Down to 14 men following a yellow card to Ramiro Tallone, Argentina were really up against it but after Mateo Carreras had had a try disallowed for a push in the build-up, Mendy had the crowd on their feet with his dazzling run.
With the conversion, Argentina had got their noses in front, but the joy was short-lived as Conbeer scored as he did in last year’s 39-15 defeat to Argentina. Evans tagged on the extras and then took his personal haul of points to 20 with another penalty before replacement De la Vega Mendia bisected the posts with a penalty of his own to ensure Los Pumitas got a deserved losing bonus point for their part in a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.
Wales captain Dewi Lake said: “We spoke about it beforehand that this game wouldn’t be won after 20 minutes or 40 minutes, and that we’d have to be in it for the long haul. Credit to Argentina, they did drive us all the way to the end. One things Welsh teams pride themselves on, whether it is the senior team or the women, is the defence and how hard we work on it. Argentina broke us a couple of times and played well but I’m very proud of the boys’ performance.”
Argentina captain Juan Pablo Castro: “The guys played really well in the second half but Wales did not let us have control of the ball. We raised our level but it was not enough.”
POOL A: FRANCE 36-20 FIJI
France did what was needed to get their U20 Championship title defence off to a winning start, but it was far from a faultless performance against a Fiji side that looked at home at this level after a five-year absence.
Having opened the scoring with just over a minute gone through full-back Donovan Taofifenua, France failed to capitalise on their dream start and sloppy play and a run of penalties allowed the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2018 winners back into the game.
Penalties from the boot of fly-half Caleb Muntz, after four and 13 minutes, cut the deficit to a single point, before Mathieu Smaili added to his earlier conversion with a penalty.
Had the ball not bounced awkwardly off the artificial surface, Epeli Momo could well have scored and another promising Fijian attack came to an end once France captain Matthis Lebel made a timely interception.
When last year’s Player of the Tournament Jordan Joseph (pictured) got on the end of a cross-field kick from Smaili to make the score 15-6, it appeared the tide had turned but Fiji were not done yet.
Shortly after Osea Waqa had knocked on with the line at his mercy, flanker Taniela Ramasibana found his way over the line from close range, Muntz converting to bring his side within two points of Les Bleuets at the break.
Winger Ethan Dumortier’s 44th-minute sin-binning for a dangerous tackle on Emosi Tuqiri asked further questions of France but they survived the 10 minutes with their line intact and actually pulled further in front when scrum-half Leo Coly darted under the posts after a good break in the build-up from centre Antoine Zeghdar.
The try, converted by Smaili, energised France and they did not have to wait long for the bonus-point score, their scrum dominance leading to Joseph’s second of the match.
Despite coming under increased pressure, Fiji finally broke free and a brilliant counterattack started and finished by Waqa, and converted by Muntz, gave them a glimmer of hope at 29-20 down with 12 minutes left to play.
Impressive maul defence kept France at bay but from the resulting scrum, the ball popped out at the back and Joseph was able to reach out and place a hand on it first despite a desperate attempt from Muntz. For the fourth time in the match, Smaili converted.
As hat-trick scores go, it wasn’t the prettiest, but Joseph will be delighted to have started off this year’s tournament where he left off in 2018, even if his team know there is plenty of room for improvement in the matches ahead.
France captain Matthis Lebel said: “The game was very difficult because Fiji are a big team. Our performance was good in parts and bad in parts. The second half was much better.”
Fiji captain Tevita Ikanivere said: “We worked on our weaknesses from the Oceania tournament and we gave France a good game in the first half. They came back at us in the second half and we couldn’t stay in it for the whole 80 minutes. We saw today we can play for 40, 60 but we need to play for the whole 80 minutes.”
POOL B: AUSTRALIA 36-12 ITALY
Australia opened their World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 campaign with a 36-12 victory over Italy in Santa Fe, but were made to work harder for the win than the scoreline might suggest.
Finalists the last time the tournament was held in Argentina in 2010, the Junior Wallabies were clinical in possession on Tuesday, running in five tries despite spending large spells inside their own half.
Italy dominated up front for much of the first 60 minutes but were undone by handling errors and missed tackles, and ultimately had to make do with two late consolation scores.
The Azzurrini were forced into a substitution in only the second minute as Andrej Marinello departed on a stretcher having got into the wrong position as he attempted to tackle Will Harrison. Niccolo Taddio replaced the hooker and helped Italy win a penalty at the game’s first scrum. However, fly-half Paolo Garbini watched his attempt come up well short.
Australia were in clinical mood. Full-back Isaac Lucas stormed through a hole in the Italian defence to take them into the Azzurrini 22 for the first time with ball in hand, and after possession was recycled number eight Will Harris was in the right place to take a fine offload from captain Fraser McReight and score.
The Junior Wallabies were made to withstand some more Italian pressure, as Michael Mba was denied in the left corner, before Will Harrison stretched their lead to 10 points with a penalty in the 18th minute.
Italy thought they had scored three minutes later as Edoardo Mastandrea threatened the line from a lineout move. Referee Pali Deluca went to the TMO but Brian McNiece was unable to get a clear picture of a grounding.
The rest of the first half played out to a similar script until time added on, when Noah Lolesio broke clear in midfield. The Junior Wallabies centre kicked towards the left wing where Mark Nawaqanitawase was waiting.
Mastandrea produced a stunning tackle to deny Nawaqanitawase but Australia hooker Lachlan Lonergan, brother of last year's captain Ryan, was on hand to score. Harrison’s conversion made the score 17-0 at the break. That try gave the Junior Wallabies confidence and after withstanding some more Italian pressure at the beginning of the second half, Triston Reilly notched his side’s third try.
Australia would score two more tries in the next seven minutes as Lonergan profited from a Harrison break before Lolesio also got himself on the scoresheet. The Junior Wallabies were unable to keep Italy scoreless, though, as after Joe Cotton was sent to the sin bin in the 75th minute, the Azzurrini crossed twice through Taddia and Jacopo Trulla.
Australia captain Fraser McReight: “It was a scrappy first 15, lot of mauls, lot of scrums, it was hard to get going but I think we found our feet in the back end of that first half. It’s always fun getting out there on the paddock and playing for Australia and with your mates. I was lucky to get a few turnovers.”
Italy captain Davide Ruggeri: “I only want to say congratulations to the Australian team, they are a really good side but we must work more. We must work more, we must understand the level. We have to work, work, work.”
POOL B: ENGLAND 26-42 IRELAND
Ireland kicked off their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign with an impressive 42-26 win over England, as their Six Nations rivals paid the price for their own indiscipline.
Aaron Hinkley and Manu Vunipola had both already been sin-binned before replacement hooker Alfie Barbeary was sent off for a dangerous tackle with just over 13 minutes remaining, meaning England played for more than half an hour with 14 men.
But that should not detract from an excellent performance from Ireland, who made light of their 11th-place seeding to come from behind three times, scoring 21 points in the final quarter to secure only a second U20 Championship win over their rivals.
England had made a lightning start, going in front via a Vunipola penalty before Ollie Sleightholme finished off a good team move to score the game’s first try in the right corner. Vunipola added the conversion to give his side a 10-0 lead with less than 10 minutes gone but Ireland reacted well to hit back within two minutes as Jake Flannery spotted a gap to score.
The fly-half converted his try but it was England who scored next as Vunipola returned from a head injury assessment to dissect the posts. Ireland’s misfortune was compounded as they lost Azur Allison to injury but with less than 14 minutes to go to half-time they took the lead thanks to some quick thinking from Stewart Moore.
The centre spotted Ollie Fox had rolled the ball back into the in-goal area at the breakdown and dove at it to touch down. Following consultation with TMO Santiago Borsani the try was awarded, and Flannery’s conversion gave the Irish a 14-13 lead.
It would remain that way at the break, although England trotted off with only 14 men after flanker Hinkley was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Angus Kernohan. Despite their numerical disadvantage it was England who struck first in the second period, retaking the lead with a Vunipola penalty before Sleightholme scored his second try.
Vunipola was then sin-binned for a high tackle on Iwan Hughes 10 minutes into the second half, a transgression that was immediately punished by David McCann’s converted score. However, England rallied immediately to edge into a five-point lead via a well-worked try that Tom Seabrook finished in the left corner.
Ireland, and McCann, struck again on the hour mark as momentum began to swing in their direction. Seven minutes later, Barbeary – only just on – lifted John Hodnett and gave referee Damon Murphy little choice but to issue a red card after consulting with the TMO. The Irish capitalised fully, scoring converted tries through Ben Healy and Hodnett to claim victory and deny England even a losing bonus point.
Ireland captain Charlie Ryan said: “We’re going to enjoy it today, review it and look forward to Australia. I’m really proud of everyone today, they put in a huge shift.”
England captain Fraser Dingwall said: “We’re incredibly frustrated after that. I think after [half-time] we got the upper hand and we were hoping to take it away from them. Obviously today discipline is something that’s let us down, it has had a massive knock-on effect on the game. But it’s not the only area of the game that’s let us down.”
POOL C: SOUTH AFRICA 43-19 SCOTLAND
Despite missing his first two kicks at goal, scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse went on to play a starring role as South Africa got their campaign off to a winning start.
On his first appearance at this level, the 19-year-old scored two tries and created another as well as kicking nine points against a Scotland outfit that used their maul to good effect but lacked the precision in their kicking and attacking game to seriously trouble the 2012 champions.
Following Hendrikse’s ninth-minute penalty, Scotland bossed possession but got little change out of the Junior Springboks’ defence until prop Murphy Walker burrowed over from close range.
South Africa managed an immediate response, though, Hendrikse’s switch pass finding Francke Horn on the charge and he was unstoppable from 25 metres out. A carbon copy of the move looked certain to provide Horn with his second but the number eight was unable to take the pass cleanly on this occasion.
With South Africa winning the gain-line collisions and enjoying dominance in the scrum, Scotland remained under sustained pressure. A moment of individual class from James Mollentze led to South Africa’s second score, the fly-half scything through the defence before finding the irrepressible Hendrikse on his shoulder.
Unbowed, Scotland forced a penalty and after a series of collapsed mauls following the decision to kick for the corner instead of at goal – a theme throughout the match, Welsh referee Craig Evans awarded them a penalty try as well as sending second-row Emile van Heerden to the sin-bin.
Scotland failed to take advantage after the restart and it was the Junior Springboks, with seconds left on the card, who scored next, Rikus Pretorius and JJ van der Mescht combining well to set up Hendrikse for his second on 50 minutes.
When Cameron Anderson got on the end of Thompson’s slick cut-out pass and the fly-half converted, the deficit was down to three but any hope of a first tournament win against the South Africa at the fifth attempt was quashed by a two-try salvo in as many minutes, replacement Sanele Nohamba following Van der Mescht over the try-line.
There was still time for South Africa to demonstrate their offloading skills as Kudzwai Dube charged under the posts to finish off a slick handling move.
South Africa captain Phendulani Buthelezi: “We started off really well and put them under a lot of pressure, but we just couldn’t convert that into points in the first half. I was very happy with the way the boys bounced back in the second half. It got tough for us at times, especially with that yellow card, but I’m really proud of the character we showed towards the end.”
Scotland captain Connor Boyle: “Going into half-time, we thought we were right in it. Coming out for the second half we had four or five chances which we didn’t take. Games are won and lost on the flip of a coin and South Africa today were very accurate. We didn’t take our chances and just threw the ball away, and you can’t really do that at World Cups.”
POOL C: NEW ZEALAND 45-13 GEORGIA
New Zealand were given a slight scare by Georgia as they began their quest for a seventh World Rugby U20 Championship crown with a bonus-point 45-13 victory in Santa Fe.
A New Zealand win seemed in the balance when Vakhtang Jincharadze crossed the whitewash early in the second half to cut their lead to just 19-13. However, Georgia’s first ever try against New Zealand at this level merely shocked their opponents into life and they ran in four tries in the final half an hour to wrap up victory.
Georgia had lost the sides’ only previous U20 Championship meeting 55-0, in England in 2016, but started this match at the Club de Rugby Ateneo Inmaculada (CRAI) in the ascendancy as a sixth-minute penalty allowed captain Tedo Abzhandadze to give his side an early lead.
New Zealand were struggling to gain a foothold and their task looked to have been made harder in the ninth minute when Etene Nanai-Seturo was yellow-carded for a high tackle.
But it was New Zealand who crossed twice during the wing’s time off the pitch. Fly-half Rivez Reihana was the architect of the first as his kick-through was gathered by Quinn Tupaea and following several phases second-row Taine Plumtree cantered over.
Three minutes later, a flowing move ended with Cole Forbes and Leroy Carter combining to find Kohan Herbert on the right wing and the flanker produced a stunning finish. Georgia responded by mounting a sustained attack on the New Zealand line, but their defence crucially held firm before a second Abzhandadze penalty made the score 12-6.
New Zealand went into half-time 13 points up, though, after a multi-phase move created a gap in the Georgian defence that Dallas Mcleod exploited.
The Junior Lelos seemed unbowed and following a strong end to the first period they hit back with a try of their own less than four minutes into the second as Jincharadze peeled off a lineout drive to power over.
Any hopes of an opening day upset were put to bed in the final 30 minutes, though, as scrum-half Taufa Funaki came off the bench to spark the New Zealand attack into life. Leicester Fainga’anuku, Tupaea, George Dyer and Jeriah Mua all crossed to add some gloss to a hard-fought win.
New Zealand captain Kianu Kereru-Symes said: “The boys played real well. We’re happy with how we played but there’s a lot to work on. We knew [Georgia] were going to bring it and they definitely did.”
Georgia captain Tedo Abzhandadze said: “We just played very well but we made a few mistakes in defence in the last 20 minutes, so that’s why we lost in this game. We are very disappointed but we are still working.”