Australia will contest the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 semi-finals for the first time in eight years after guaranteeing top spot in Pool B with a hard-fought 45-17 victory over Ireland on Saturday.
The Junior Wallabies, whose only U20 Championship final appearance came in Argentina in 2010, cannot be knocked off top spot because even if Ireland were match their 10 competition points at the end of play next Wednesday, the tournament rules state that the head-to-head result is the first criteria to split the teams.
Defending champions France and former U20 Championship winners New Zealand and South Africa are also unbeaten and with two bonus-point wins to their names.
Louis Carbonel contributed 17 points as France ran out 32-13 winners over Six Nations rivals Wales to cement their place at the top of Pool A with 10 points, four more than Argentina who delighted the home crowd in Santa Fe with a 41-14 victory over Fiji.
South Africa, meanwhile, ran in eight tries to defeat Georgia 48-20 in the opening game in Rosario before New Zealand closed proceedings with a 52-33 victory over Scotland who scored some scintillating tries in securing a try bonus point.
Both teams have 10 points but the Junior Springboks' point difference is one better than New Zealand's so they currently sit in top spot ahead of their Pool C decider.
The day's other winners were England, who broke Italian hearts with a late Josh Hodge penalty securing a 24-23 win in Santa Fe. The lack of a bonus point, though, means England will miss out on the semi-finals for only the second time in 12 editions of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
The pool stages will draw to a close on Wednesday, 12 June with the Pool C decider between South Africa and New Zealand in Rosario the most mouth-watering match. That's the final match of the day at the Racecourse Stadium and comes after Georgia face Scotland in the 10:30 local time kick-off (GMT-3) and defending champions France tackle hosts Argentina.
Some 180 kilometres away in Santa Fe, Italy and Ireland will get proceedings underway at 10:30 local time, before Wales tackle Fiji. The final match at Club de Rugby Ateneo Inmaculada (CRAI) sees Oceania champions Australia tackle England.
POOL A: FRANCE 32-13 WALES
Fly-half Louis Carbonel fully justified his return to the starting XV with a 17-point haul as France turned on the style in the second half to deliver a second bonus-point win at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario.
Fielding a much-changed side from the one that defeated Fiji 36-20 in round one, France showed some rustiness early on and they found themselves trailing to Tomi Lewis’ fifth-minute try.
Carbonel, the top point scorer at last year’s tournament, opened his account for 2019 with a penalty but, typical of past U20 Championship encounters between the sides, points continued to be hard won.
Losing more lineouts than they won, Wales struggled to make the most of a good period of territorial pressure and shortly after Cai Evans kicked a penalty to the corner dead, France hit back when hooker Rayne Barka hit a great line and burst into the 22 before feeding Carbonel for a try that the fly-half converted.
Evans responded with penalty in the 24th minute to make it 10-8 to Les Bleuets and the scoreline remained the same for the remainder of the half as Wales’ back-row, brilliantly led by Tommy Reffell, made countless turnovers.
Barka continued to catch the eye in the second half and the Pau player finished off a slick passing move only to be denied a deserved try because of a forward pass. France did not have to wait long, though, two minutes having passed before powerful winger Vincent Pinto reached out to score.
Wales couldn’t find a way into the game and Carbonel kicked his second penalty on 55 minutes to make it 18-8. The relentless pressure was beginning to tell on Wales’ defence and in the 65th minute Donovan Taofifenua strolled over for his second try of the tournament, before Wales staged a late rally and Lewis crossed for his second out wide with seven minutes to go.
With a bonus point up for grabs for both sides, the game was still very alive despite France holding a two-score lead and in the dying seconds replacement Julien Delbouis blasted his way over for the all-important fourth try, Carbonel converting to round off a good day’s work.
France captain Arthur Vincent: “It was a very, very difficult game – like the other game against Fiji – but we did well in the second half. We knew Wales had a good defence so we had to run the ball a lot. To get the five points is very good for us.”
Wales captain Dewi Lake: “One thing we spoke about leading up to the game was how we’d have to play for 80 minutes. Forty minutes in, there was only two points in it, and that shows how we can play but, credit to them, they caught us. We had to defend for a lot of the game, and it is always hard to do that. This is a five-game series and, with every game, there’s a chance to learn and that’s what we’ll have to do today. Of course, it is disappointing to lose the game but with Fiji coming up in four days, that’s when we have got to go again. It’s important for the boys to get over the disappointment so we can give our best against Fiji.”
POOL A: ARGENTINA 41-14 FIJI
Hosts Argentina leapfrogged Wales into second place in Pool A with a comprehensive 41-14 bonus-point win over Fiji in Santa Fe.
Following a frenetic yet scrappy opening Argentina struck first, as a powerful lineout drive set an attack in motion which ended with fly-half Joaquin de la Vega Mendia dancing over from close range.
Los Pumitas had fumbled the Fijian kick-off and were unable to claim the restart as an offside handed Caleb Muntz the opportunity to reduce the arrears from the kicking tee. His effort drifted wide, though, and the hosts doubled their lead soon after as full-back Ignacio Mendy produced a fine finish to score in the right corner following a flowing team move.
Argentina again made a mess of the restart, and their opponents began to grow into the game. However, despite several promising openings Fiji were unable to breach the try-line. Scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli arguably had the clearest sight of the line but he knocked on having grounded the ball just short of the whitewash.
And it was the hosts who struck next to take firm control of the contest as number eight Juan Bautista Pedemonte crashed over from close range following a scintillating break from his fellow back-row Juan Martin Gonzalez.
De la Vega Mendia missed a simple conversion attempt, which appeared to have left the door open for Fiji when second-row Etonia Waqa burst through a gap and under the posts minutes later. Kuruvoli’s successful conversion made the score 15-7.
Pedemonte was then sent to the sin-bin for an infringement close to his own try-line but if the yellow card galvanised either side it was Los Pumitas. The hosts played the majority of his 10 minutes on the sidelines in the Fijian half and were rewarded with a fourth unconverted try as winger Rodrigo Isgro finished in the right corner after the Argentinian scrum had done the hard work.
By now Fiji were tiring and as their penalty count increased, Argentina took advantage. Replacement prop Ramiro Gurovich came up with the ball with 15 minutes to play, following another powerful lineout drive. Three minutes later his front-row colleague Thomas Gallo finished off from close range. Both tries were converted by De la Vega Mendia.
Fijian flanker Aliverereti Loaloa showed excellent awareness to score their second try with nine minutes to go, but a yellow card for replacement Anasa Qaranivalu only compounded their misery.
And as the clock ticked past 80 minutes the hosts demonstrated their forward power from a five-metre scrum, leaving referee Andrea Piardi with little choice but to award a penalty try.
Argentina captain Juan Pablo Castro: “It was a very important win for us to continue on the way we planned before the tournament. We have to work a lot before that game so we can play against France in a good way.”
Fiji captain Tevita Ikanivere: “It really did affect us later in the game because if we had scored we could have got the momentum. I think we need to work on our decision making and our execution.”
POOL B: AUSTRALIA 45-17 IRELAND
Australia scored three quick-fire tries in almost as many minutes just past the hour mark to finally break 14-man Ireland's resolve and wrap up their second bonus-point victory in Santa Fe.
The final score gives the impression of a convincing win for the Junior Wallabies, but it was anything but and it was only five tries in the last 15 minutes that the gloss on a victory that would ultimately prove enough to reach their first semi-final since 2011.
Ireland had actually led 17-10 going into the final quarter after a wonderful solo try by centre Stewart Moore, but they had no answer to Australia's response as first the impressive Isaac Lucas dotted down and then combined well with winger Mark Nawaqanitawase a minute later for their second.
The Junior Wallabies weren't done yet as from the restart replacement second-row Nick Frost climbed high to claim the kick and then charged 60 metres to touch down, Will Harrison's kick making it 31-17 to leave Ireland shell-shocked.
They never recovered with Australia wrapping up the win with two tries in as many minutes late on, quick hands releasing Harrison for a run in for the first before Carlo Tizzano burst through the tiring Irish defence to send Frost over for his second of the match to wrap up proceedings.
Both sides had been forced into late changes before kick-off at Club de Rugby Ateneo Inmaculada, Sione Tui coming onto the right-wing in place of Triston Reilly for Australia and Ireland losing their replacement prop Charlie Ward, having already seen two players ruled out of the tournament with injuries in Iwan Hughes and Sean French after round one.
The last thing Ireland needed was to lose another player to injury, but they did that when Ronan Watters, who had impressed in his first start, was forced off in the 17th minute with Australia leading 3-0 thanks to Harrison's penalty but down a man with Semisi Tupou in the sin-bin. It got worse when Ryan Baird quickly followed him, albeit this time after receiving a red card for a high tackle on Harrison.
Harrison missed with another penalty attempt before playing his part in a passage of play that led to Tui running in the opening try down the left touchline. Ireland, though, regrouped and finished the half strongly, earning their reward for turning down two kickable penalties when scrum-half Craig Casey went over from close range with a quickly-taken free-kick.
Australia captain Fraser McReight: "We knew coming into the match it was going to be a grind, and hopefully if we played the sort of footy we know we can play then in the back 15 we would score some points. We got lucky with the red card, but we stuck at it and I'm really proud of the guys. We knew we could play like that, we just have to trust our systems because we have some great individual players in those positions to make those key decisions."
Ireland captain Charlie Ryan: "It was always going to be tough to beat Australia with 14 men but we are going to bounce back from this."
POOL B: ENGLAND 24-23 ITALY
England will not contest the World Rugby U20 Championship semi-finals for only the second time in 12 years despite a hard-fought 24-23 defeat of Italy in Santa Fe.
Australia’s bonus-point win over Ireland earlier in the day meant that England needed a five-point victory to have any hope of overhauling the Pool B leaders when the sides meet on Wednesday.
Ultimately, though, they rarely looked like securing a bonus point. Italy had got little reward for their endeavour in their opening match against Australia, but the Azzurrini went in front against England after a Giacomo De Re penalty gave them a 3-0 lead in the 10th minute.
Minutes later England won a penalty of their own in a promising position, however, following consultation with Alex Coles, captain Fraser Dingwall advised Josh Hodge to kick to the corner. England secured possession from the resulting lineout only to see Rus Tuima turned over close to the line.
Perhaps unsurprising given the amount of changes made by each side, the Santa Fe contest was proving to be a scrappy one. England dominated territory and possession but found it difficult to penetrate the Azzurrini until the 28th minute when a five-metre scrum ended with Coles inadvertently kicking the ball out, and then dotting it down for the try. Hodge converted to hand his side a 7-3 lead.
Italy fly-half Da Re narrowed that gap to just a solitary point at half-time, though, as he punished English indiscipline with a well struck penalty.
And as the second half got underway the Azzurrini not only got their noses in front but looked as though they were building towards a first ever U20 Championship win over England, a side they had never got within 38 points off in four previous meetings.
Within four minutes of the restart Italy scrum-half Lorenzo Citton’s grubber kick into the England 22 bamboozled Arron Reed, allowing Cristian Lai to nip in and score. That gave Italy an 11-7 lead and it got even better five minutes later when captain Davide Ruggeri burst through a gap before popping a pass to Ange Capuozzo, who finished well.
Capuozzo’s try was the signal for England coach Steve Bates to call for the big forwards he had held in reserve, and following a series of lineout drives in the Italy 22, Azzurrini second-row Nicolae-Cristian Stoian was sent to the sin-bin for his attempts to bring them down.
England took immediate advantage, setting a driving maul in motion from the resulting lineout that allowed Tom Willis scored. Hodge converted to cut England’s deficit to two points, but unbowed 14-man Italy responded in kind. A Sam Maunder knock-on from the restart put his side in trouble, and from the scrum Antoine Koffi and Giulio Bertaccini helped send Paolo Garbisi over. The replacement fly-half converted his try to restore Italy's nine-point cushion.
But credit to England, they refused to be beaten and hit back with just over 16 minutes to go as Richard Capstick burrowed over following good work from Willis. Hodge’s touchline conversion edged England back within two points but the former champions turned down the opportunity to go in front from the tee once – instead chasing a fourth try – before their full-back’s metronomic boot secured victory with less than seven minutes remaining.
England continued to attack the Italy line as the clock ticked past 80 minutes but ultimately time ran out on their hopes.
England captain Fraser Dingwall: “We knew this Italy side would turn up and they would give us a big test, but yeah the boys are really happy. I think now we can relax into this tournament. We’re all gearing up to put some pressure on Australia.”
Italy captain Davide Ruggeri: “I’ m proud with my guys this whole game. Congratulations to this English team. It’s going to be a hard game [against Ireland] but we are here for work, let’s see.”
POOL C: SOUTH AFRICA 48-20 GEORGIA
South Africa had two men yellow-carded but still had too much for Georgia as they maintained their perfect start to the tournament.
Influential flanker Dylan Richardson scored twice for the 2012 champions while winger Otar Lashki bagged a brace for Georgia in a match that only really got going after the break.
With 17 penalties conceded and an abundance of set-piece plays, the first half was dominated by the two big forward packs. Tight-head Asenathi Ntlabakanye was in full-on ‘beast-like’ mode when given an opportunity with ball in hand and Richardson’s carrying stats were through the roof in a match every bit as physical as predicted.
Richardson powered over for the first try after 10 minutes – South Africa’s 300th in U20 Championship history – and Jaden Hendrikse added the conversion.
Georgia then spent the best part of 15 minutes camped inside South Africa’s 22 as they tried to make their scrum dominance count and just when it looked like the pressure would go unrewarded, they managed to get the ball wide to Lashki, who showed good strength to blast through Richardson’s tackle and touch down.
Captain Tedo Abzhandadze struck the upright with the conversion, having missed an earlier penalty, and Georgia then found themselves up against 14 men when Vaughen Isaacs was sin-binned for lifting an opponent beyond the horizontal in the tackle.
It was South Africa, however, who closed out the half on top, scoring twice from close range through Ntlabakanye and front-row colleague, Fezokuhle Mbatha, Hendrikse converting both for a 21-5 interval lead. That was Hendrikse’s last involvement as Sanele Nohamba replaced him for the second half and immediately injected more pace into the Junior Springboks’ play.
After an Abzhandadze penalty, a superb out-the-back offload from Richardson put centre Rikus Pretorius in for South Africa’s bonus-point try. Ill-discipline continued to set them back, though, and for the second time in as many matches Emile van Heerden was given a yellow card. This time Georgia made them pay, the forwards doing the hard yards before the ball was worked wide to Lashki who finished well for his second try.
All out offence from South Africa led to a try for Thaakir Abrahams, after a brilliant floated pass from David Coetzer, before Richardson took three Georgian defenders over the line with him to score his second. Angelo Davids raced away for their seventh try before Coetzee arguably scored the pick of the bunch, collecting a brilliant offload from number eight Phendulani Buthelezi to score from 40 metres out.
But Georgia at least had the final say, full-back Teimuraz Tchitchinadze diving over under the posts in spectacular fashion after replacement forward Zauri Tevdorashvili had made a big bust upfield.
South Africa captain Phendulani Buthelezi: “We knew Georgia would take us on with their physicality but I’m really proud of the boys with how they came out today and took them on. Our aim was to try and speed up the game and I’m guessing that’s why we made a lot of errors. It (discipline) is a big work-on for us.”
Georgia captain Tedo Abzhandadze: “We had 10-15 minutes in South Africa’s 22 and we made a few mistakes and I think that’s one of the reasons why we lost it. We need to keep the ball better in attack and we also made many mistakes in defence.”
POOL C: NEW ZEALAND 52-33 SCOTLAND
An entertaining day at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario ended with a glut of tries as New Zealand and Scotland both played their part in a thrilling contest
While delighted to score 50 points, defensively New Zealand will need to be much-improved when they take on South Africa’s in Wednesday’s crunch Pool C decider. For Scotland, a try bonus point was the least their adventurous approach deserved after they refused to let a slow start get the better of them.
Wearing an all-white strip, six-time champions New Zealand raced into a 26-0 lead in as many minutes, but Scotland showed great character to bounce back and reduce the deficit to 14 points by half-time.
Tight-head Kaliopasi Uluilakepa was the first to cross in the sixth minute before the backs took over, Scott Gregory, Lalomilo Lalomilo and Quinn Tupaea adding their names to the scoresheet as New Zealand cut loose. Fergus Burke landed three of his four conversion attempts.
Scotland had had their moments, though, and their growing self-belief was rewarded as the half-hour mark approached when centre Robbie McCallum stepped two defenders and rounded the full-back for a brilliant individual try.
Five minutes later Ollie Smith got on the end of an offload to score Scotland’s second, captain Nathan Chamberlain converting.
Scotland took the momentum into the second half and rattled New Zealand with a first-phase scrum move brilliantly finished off by Smith.
Scotland invited pressure on themselves, though, by not dealing with the restart but outside-centre Rory McMichael pulled off a crucial turnover to alleviate the danger. There was no stopping Lalomilo, however, as the big winger fended of a tackler and powered over for his second after 53 minutes.
Just before the hour-mark New Zealand added another after scrum-half Taufa Funaki slipped the ball back inside for Tamaiti Williams to touch down by the posts.
With both sides re-energised by their benches, play continued to go from end to end and New Zealand scored again through another replacement when Oliver Norris scrambled over the line after being half-stopped by Smith’s tap-tackle.
A mauled try from Ewan Ashman brought up the try bonus point for the Scots who scored again after a break by openside Teddy Leatherbarrow prompted a long period of phase play, which eventually finished with Jack Blain getting on the end of Ross Thompson’s pinpoint kick-pass to the corner.
With the clock in the red, New Zealand captain Kaylum Boshier brought up his side’s half-century.
New Zealand captain Kaylum Boshier: “Credit to Scotland, they came back at us every time we scored. There is a lot for us to work on. We can’t wait to play South Africa.”
Scotland captain Nathan Chamberlain: “I’m very proud, the work ethic was really high. We were just a bit unlucky on the scoreboard. We’ll go back to the drawing board and be ready for next week against Georgia. We want to move the ball really quickly and I thought at times we did that really well.”