ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK
It may still be early days, but the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 is on course to be the best yet in the try-scoring stakes. Across the first 12 matches, 98 tries have been scored, at an average of just over eight per game, with four teams – New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina – already having reached double figures. The current record of 239 was set at the 2017 tournament in Georgia. The total points record for a single 12-team tournament of 1,789 is also in danger with 714 points posted so far.
OCEANIA WIN NO FLUKE
Not for the first time, Australia came into the U20 Championships with a squad laden with talent and high expectations, even more so having claimed an historic Oceania title. This time, though, it appears the optimism is fully justified. Back-to-back wins against Italy and Ireland, two sides that play a very different brand of rugby than they are normally accustomed to, have seen the Junior Wallabies march into the semi-finals for the first time in eight years with a round to spare. Like the Wallabies’ RWC-winning side of 1999, they are exceptional in defence, with captain Fraser McReight, the heir apparent to David Pocock, the master at the breakdown, but they also possess some potent weapons in attack too, notably Isaac Lucas and Mark Nawaqanitawase.
FIERCEST RELEGATION BATTLE YET?
Pity the four teams who end up in ninth to 12th place after the pool stages conclude on Wednesday. At present, Fiji, Italy, Georgia and Scotland look the most likely contenders meaning that a very good outfit will be relegated this year. Fiji have played some sublime rugby in defeats to France and Argentina, Italy came within a whisker of a first-ever win over England, Georgia have been in both of their games before falling away and, as for Scotland, any team that can score 33 points and five tries against New Zealand, must be doing something right!
A NEW BEAST ON THE BLOCK
He may operate on the opposite side of the scrum to Tendai Mtawarira but, in tight-head prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye (pictured), South Africa have a new beast in the making. As with Mtawarira, there is a sense of anticipation every time Ntlabakanye gets the ball in his hands and builds up a head of steam. At 134kg, the 20-year-old takes some stopping as Georgia’s players, no strangers to contact themselves, found out in round two.
MENDY THE MAGICIAN
At this rate former Pumas sorcerer Juan Martín Hernández will have to give up his nickname to Ignacio Mendy, who is having a phenomenal impact on the tournament. After a brilliant solo run from halfway against Wales in round one, the full-back, still only 18, produced another moment of magic in Saturday’s 41-14 victory against Fiji. Receiving the ball about 30 metres out Mendy cut back inside the defensive cover and then pinned his ears back, showing the sort of pace that has seen him grace the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, to score in the right corner.