Hosts Argentina had the crowd on their feet with some scintillating play as they beat defending champions France 47-26 in Rosario to book their place in the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019.
Los Pumitas knew that nothing less than victory would keep them in the title hunt and four first-half tries gave them a 34-7 lead and left France needing to earn two bonus points to deny them top spot in Pool A. They couldn't manage it so with both teams finishing on 11 points, Argentina's win at the Racecourse Stadium on Wednesday gave them top spot.
Argentina's reward for reaching a third U20 Championship semi-final – and first since 2016 – is a meeting with Pool A winners Australia, who felt the wrath of an England side who knew their title hopes had already ended before kick-off. England, finalists for the last six years, scored eight tries in the 56-33 victory in Santa Fe but finished third in the pool.
South Africa were the other pool winners after beating traditional rivals New Zealand 25-17 in the Pool C decider in Rosario. The victory ensured the Junior Springboks go into the semi-finals as the top seeds and they were set to be joined by New Zealand as the best runner-up across the three pools after Lalomilo Lalomilo's try brought the six-time champions within seven points to secure the bonus point they needed to pip France.
However, there was to be one final twist on an enthralling day of rugby, with replacement Sanele Nohamba's 77th-minute penalty taking South Africa out to an eight-point lead. New Zealand couldn't find another score and instead it will be France who face the Junior Springboks in the second-semi-final on Monday, having finished with 11 competition points to New Zealand's 10.
The third match-day, which doubled as Keep Rugby Clean Day with players, coaches and tournament staff wearing t-shirts in support of World Rugby's anti-doping education programme, also saw wins for Georgia, Ireland and Wales. Georgia edged Scotland 17-12 in the lowest scoring affair of the day, while Wales overcame Fiji 44-28 and Ireland beat Italy 38-14.
These results mean that the threat of relegation to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2020 still looms over Georgia, Scotland, Italy and Fiji who will contest the positions from ninth to 12th. Scotland will face Italy in the opening match at Old Resians in Rosario at 10:30 local time (GMT-3) on Monday, before Georgia tackle Fiji in the second match. The day's final match at Old Resians will see Ireland tackle three-time champions England in one of the fifth place semi-finals, having already beaten them 42-26 in the pool stages.
New Zealand, having missed out on the semi-finals for only the second time in the tournament's 12-year history, will open proceedings at the Racecourse Stadium when they face Wales in the other fifth place semi-final at 10:30 local time. Attention then turns to the four teams still in contention to lift the distinctive trophy on 22 June with Argentina tackling Australia at 13:00 before South Africa meet France at 15:30.
POOL A: FRANCE 26-47 ARGENTINA
Each side had a player sent off as Argentina booked their place in the semi-finals of the U20 Championship for only the third time in history.
In a fast and frenetic and often fractious match that had pretty much everything, including a sensational 60-metre try for loose-head prop Thomas Gallo, Argentina led by 27 points at the break but France refused to go down without a fight and a stirring second-half performance from the defending champions made for a brilliant Pool A decider.
Playing like men possessed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Racecourse Ground in Rosario, Argentina threw themselves into the breakdown and, with captain Juan Pablo Castro leading by example, they tackled everything that moved from the word go.
After Joaquin de la Vega Mendia had kicked Argentina into a second-minute lead, Gallo stunned France when he picked up turnover ball at the base of a ruck on his own 10-metre line and sprinted clear. Les Bleuets full-back Alexandre de Nardi tackled him just short of the line but Gallo just about had enough momentum and reached over to score a try that will be talked about for years to come, De la Vega Mendia converting to put his side 10-0 up.
Worse was to come for France when a high tackle in the build-up was referred to the TMO and English referee Christopher Ridley was left with no other option but to produce the red card for flanker Sacha Zegueur on 11 minutes.
Winger Rodrigo Isgro’s red card for an almost identical offence on 18 minutes soon evened the numbers up but, by then, Argentina had scored again through scrum-half Gonzalo Garcia, after jet-heeled winger Mateo Carreras had made big strides down the left flank. The lead was up to 27-0 when flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez finished off a slick handling move, and De la Vega Mendia converted before adding a penalty.
France finally got on the board in the 28th minute when scrum-half Quentin Delord darted over after Los Pumitas had gone down to 13 men following a yellow card to second-row Lucas Bur. But it was the home side who finished the half on a high with the bonus point try, hooker Pablo Dimcheff crashing over from an attacking lineout after De la Vega Mendia’s brilliant touch-finder had taken them from halfway to five metres out. With his sixth successful kick from six attempts, the fly-half to the score out to 34-7.
Positive changes of personnel by Les Bleuets’ coach Sébastien Piqueronies helped to turn the tide and, after only three minutes of the second half, last year's Player of the Tournament Jordan Joseph muscled his way over.
De la Vega Mendia added another penalty but his opposite number Louis Carbonel was also enjoying a flawless day with the boot and when he converted Donovan Taofifenua’s spectacular finish in the corner to make the score 37-21, France were sensing a remarkable comeback victory might be within their grasp.
However, a penalty from replacement kicker Nicolas Roger nudged Argentina further in front before Castro brought the house down by pouncing on a defensive error inside France’s 22 to score under the posts. With five minutes to go, Matthis Lebel beat two defenders to get the bonus point for France and a possible lifeline in terms of semi-final qualification.
Argentina captain Juan Pablo Castro: “It was a really good win; the crowd were amazing. Now we’re already thinking about the next game.”
France captain Arthur Vincent: “It was very hard for us. They played very good rugby and we’re very sad tonight.”
POOL A: WALES 44-28 FIJI
Wales scored two tries in the final 20 minutes in Santa Fe to hold off Fiji and secure a 44-28 victory that ensures they will compete for fifth to eighth place next week.
The Welsh began the game in determined mood and drove themselves over the Fijian line within four minutes, but neither referee Pali Deluca nor TMO Santiago Borsani could find conclusive proof that the ball had been grounded.
It merely delayed the inevitable, though, as Tommy Reffell took advantage of a Welsh driving maul from the subsequent set-piece. Cai Evans missed a tough touchline conversion and it soon proved costly as a brilliantly judged grubber kick from Simione Kuruvoli – moved to fly-half for this contest – found the chasing Ilaisa Droasese, who offloaded for second-row Taniela Ramasibana to score.
Kuruvoli added the extras but it was proving to be a see-saw first quarter, and Wales hit back almost immediately as scrum-half Dafydd Buckland sniped over from close range.
Wales, though, have struggled with missed tackles so far in Argentina and another cost them the lead in the 18th minute, Fiji captain Taniela Soqonawasaloa breezing through a gap in midfield to score a wonderful try that Kuruvoli converted. It gave Fiji a two-point lead, but the game could have got away from them in the 33rd minute when Eparama Sailo was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Ioan Davies.
A subsequent high tackle allowed Evans to nudge Wales back in front before Tomi Lewis shrugged off the attentions of Epeli Momo and Osea Natoga to score in the right corner and give his side a 22-14 advantage at the break.
But within four minutes of the restart a brilliant team move ended with Natoga, only added to the Fiji squad this week as an injury replacement for Meli Tuni, turning provider as he drew the Welsh defence and passed inside for Kaminieli Rasaku to score.
It did not take long for Wales to respond, though. A penalty won at the breakdown allowed Evans to kick to the corner, where successive lineout drives were sacked illegally by Fiji. The second resulted in replacement prop Elijah Kuilamu being sent to the sin-bin, and it was third time lucky for Wales as captain Dewi Lake came up with the ball.
Evans’ conversion restored Wales’ eight-point cushion but it would remain intact for less than two minutes as Mesake Kurisaru and Kuruvoli combined to release Rasaku for his second try. Kuruvoli added the extras to narrow Fiji’s deficit to just a solitary point again, but it was as close as the Pacific Islanders would get.
Wales finished the game strongly and after Lewis came within inches of a second try, they added further scores through Ben Warren and Davies as well as an Evans penalty to settle a close contest.
Wales captain Dewi Lake: “We knew that they were a good outfit, especially in the loose. We knew that first half was going to be tough. All credit to the boys for sticking in there and getting the win in the end.”
Fiji captain Taniela Soqonawasaloa said: “I want to thank the boys for the hard work given. We really gave our best.”
POOL B: ITALY 14-38 IRELAND
Ireland signed off from pool action with a bonus-point victory over Italy in Santa Fe. The Irish began the day needing a bonus-point win against the Azzurrini, and some good fortune elsewhere, to reach the semi-finals but they were determined to do all that they could to get there.
Ben Healy showcased the mindset of the men in green as he kicked a series of early penalties to the corner, before an attacking scrum allowed Michael Milne to burrow over for the game’s first try. Fly-half Healy added the conversion, and a 11th-minute penalty gave Ireland a 10-0 lead.
Italy had yet to get going and not even a period of possession in the Irish 22 could provide respite. The Azzurrini were turned over, Colm Reilly’s long clearance bounced kindly for Angus Kernohan inside the Italian 22 and as play was spread towards the left wing, Rob Russell passed inside for Cormac Foley to score.
Ireland’s attack was not always pretty but the pick-and-go was proving effective. Having stolen a lineout inside Italy’s 22 it was that tactic that allowed number eight Azur Allison to power over from close range.
That put Ireland within one try of an all-important bonus-point, which duly arrived in the 37th minute after an inventive pass from Healy found Russell on the left wing, following more grunt work from the forwards. An impressive touchline conversion from Healy gave Ireland a 31-0 lead but Italy hit back on the stroke of half-time as scrum-half Alessandro Fusco danced over from close range for a converted try.
And as the second half got underway it was the Azzurrini who struck first, thanks in part to Ireland scrum-half Reilly. His fumble from kick-off allowed Jacopo Trulla to pounce on possession and put Italy on the attack, and with the Irish defence caught offside the Azzurrini opted for a scrum that ended in a penalty try.
With points difference so critical it was a huge dent to Ireland’s semi-final hopes and the Six Nations champions were unable to dominate after the break as they had before it. Ryan Baird did add a fifth Irish try in the 55th minute, profiting from some more forward pressure close to the Italian line to dot down a score that was again converted by Healy. But despite a late rally inside the Azzurrini 22, Ireland could not add to their tally.
Ireland captain Liam Turner: “We just wanted to come into this game, play our game [and] take one moment at a time. That’s what we did for 80 minutes.”
Italy captain Davide Ruggeri: “[It was a] bad day, bad game. So, congratulations to the Irish team but now this is not what we want.”
POOL B: ENGLAND 56-33 AUSTRALIA
England ran in eight converted tries in Santa Fe to claim a resounding 56-33 victory over 14-man Australia and set up a reunion with Pool B rivals Ireland on Monday.
Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore had targeted a pool stage clean sweep ahead of kick-off, but a difficult task became a monumental one just over two minutes in when number eight Patrick Tafa was sent off for a high tackle on Aaron Hinkley after consultation between referee Craig Evans and TMO Santiago Borsani.
It meant that Australia would have to play for the best part of 78 minutes with 14 men, and England needed less than three of them to exploit their numerical advantage. Captain Fraser Dingwall crashed over from close range after his forwards had turned the screw up front, Josh Hodge converting as England became only the third side to score 1,900 World Rugby U20 Championship points.
England scored again four minutes later as Ollie Sleightholme punished a Will Harrison fumble to touch down in the right corner before Australia came to life with two tries in three minutes. Noah Lolesio scored the first – converted by Harrison – after the Junior Wallabies stole a lineout inside the England 22 before Isaac Lucas started and finished a flowing counter-attack.
But any hopes of an Australian comeback were put to bed early in the second quarter as test-capped flanker Ted Hill scored two tries in as many minutes to give England considerable breathing space.
Steve Bates’ side were well on top by now and following a series of reset scrums on the Australian five-metre line, Tom de Glanville dummied his way over the line.
And England grabbed their sixth try of the match – and 250th in the U20 Championship – with less than two minutes of the half remaining as Hinkley powered over following another multi-phase attack. Hodge converted to give his side a 42-12 lead at the break.
Both sides had a try disallowed in the opening 10 minutes of the second half before Manu Vunipola picked a good line to score from close range. Less than three minutes later Junior Wallabies replacement Will Harris powered through a gap and around Sleightholme to score his side’s third try.
But any Australian joy was short-lived as Tom Willis powered over from close range following a fleet-footed break from Cameron Redpath. Hodge converted for the eighth time to make the score 56-19. The Junior Wallabies refused to let their heads drop, however, and were rewarded for their effort with a bonus point as captain Fraser McReight and replacement Carlo Tizzano both burrowed over in the final 10 minutes.
England captain Fraser Dingwall: “Realistically we’re pretty disappointed with our first two games and hopefully from this outing we’ve shown that we can actually play a lot better. This team needed confidence and we’ve shown today that we can attack with some intent.”
Australia captain Fraser McReight said: “It’s a bitter-sweet feeling making the semis before this game and getting a red card two minutes into it. It wasn’t the start we wanted and we wanted that scalp.”
POOL C: GEORGIA 17-12 SCOTLAND
Georgia played their get out of jail card with a late try from replacement hooker Luka Nioradze earning them a narrow win over Scotland for the second year in a row.
The Junior Lelos won 39-31 when they met in the ninth-place play-off in 2018 but points were much harder to come by in this re-match.
After putting the kick-off out on the full, not much went right for Georgia in the first 40 and they trailed 7-0 to a fourth-minute try from an 11-man lineout drive – having already survived one close call thanks to the TMO – with hooker Ewan Ashman touching down at the back of the maul and Ross Thompson converting.
It was six minutes before Georgia got their hands on the ball but, once they did, they dominated possession. However, Scotland had their measure and numbered up well in defence and other than the odd bust by giant number eight Ioane Iashagashvili and winger Otar Lashki, the Georgians attack was far too lateral to make serious inroads.
With the game being played between the two 10-metres lines and turnovers aplenty, including four missed lineouts on the Georgian throw, there was not too much in the way of continuity and no further points were scored.
Re-energised by a new front-row and half-back combination, Georgia started the second half brightly and Lashki could, and possibly should, have scored after a huge gap opened up in front of him but the winger, who scored twice against South Africa, wasn’t able to hang onto Luka Gelashvili’s inside ball. A few minutes later, though, replacement fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze got his side on the board with a penalty.
A second close-range try from Ashman followed, after Roan Frostwick’s quick tap had caught Georgia off guard. But Georgia hit back, a solid scrum providing the perfect platform for them to launch an attack through Lashki. After he was stopped just short, play was swiftly moved to the left, and Abzhandadze was able to ignore a three-man overlap outside to stroll over for a try that he converted.
With the game finely balanced at 12-10, Jack Blain thought he’d given Scotland some breathing space but the pass between Matt Davidson and Rory McMichael in the build-up was found to be forward. Blain then pulled off a brilliant cover tackle to deny Mikheil Alania but there was no stopping Nioradze who charged over after picking off an overthrown Scotland lineout with five minutes to go.
Georgia captain Tedo Abzhandadze: “We’re so happy to win our first game in the tournament. Our attacking speed was much better in the second half. I’m so proud.”
Scotland captain Connor Boyde: “I think we just took our foot off the gas. We talked about playing smart and playing in their half and I thought for the first 10 minutes of the game we did that. I thought our lineout was very good until the last 20 minutes, but our scrum just didn’t function, and we let that big Georgian pack get in the game. You can’t tire those big Georgian forwards out if you give the ball away in the first few phases.”
POOL C: SOUTH AFRICA 25-17 NEW ZEALAND
South Africa weathered the loss of three men to the sin-bin to maintain their dominant tournament record over New Zealand and march into the semi-finals as Pool C winners.
But for New Zealand, their involvement in the title race is over, a 77th-minute penalty from Sanele Nohamba denying them the losing bonus point they needed to qualify as the best runner-up at France’s expense.
A brilliant out-the-back offload from Rikus Pretorius to Vaughen Issacs set South Africa on their way after eight minutes and while Hendrikse pulled his conversion wide, the livewire scrum-half made no mistake with his first penalty attempt.
After Thomas Gallo’s brilliant solo effort in the earlier Argentina-France game, the crowd were then treated to another forwards’ special when JJ van der Mescht stole lineout ball and raced home from halfway as the first quarter drew to a close.
Despite going down to 14 men in the 20th minute after Dylan Richardson saw yellow for a deliberate knock down, South Africa continued to boss proceedings, their aggressive, in-your-face defence forcing New Zealand back behind the gain-line time and time again. The Junior Springboks negotiated the 10-minute period short-handed with no points conceded and came close to adding to their own tally when Thaakir Abrahams nearly got on the end of Issacs' grubber kick.
In the 26th minute, Billy Proctor finally sparked New Zealand into life as an attacking force, the centre gathering his own chip kick ahead to set up a promising position inside the Junior Springboks’ 22. Leicester Fainga’anuku picked up at the base and went close but the move eventually broke down. After referring to the TMO, referee Damon Murphy sent South Africa openside Sibusiso Sangweni to the sin-bin for a no-arms tackle.
Fergus Burke slotted the resulting penalty to finally get New Zealand on the board. Again, New Zealand failed to press home their numerical advantage and South Africa finished the half with a 19-3 lead thanks to two penalties from the boot of Hendrikse.
When replacement Kaylum Boshier hacked on and was tackled off the ball by fly-half James Mollentze with the try-line in his sight five minutes into the second half, referee Murphy reached for his pocket again as well as awarding New Zealand a penalty try.
For the sixth time in the tournament as a whole, South Africa had seen yellow. It threatened to be a game-changing moment but more determined defending by the Junior Springboks maintained their two-score, 19-10 lead.
Defences stayed on top and it took another 25 minutes for any more points to be scored, replacement scrum-half Nohamba slotting the ball between the posts in the 71st minute after the Junior Springboks had forced another penalty at scrum time.
New Zealand threw everything at South Africa and when Lalomilo Lalomilo scored from Proctor’s no-look pass and Burke converted, with five minutes to go, the six-time champions had a sniff of victory – until a collapsed maul gave Nohamba the chance to make the game safe for South Africa.
South Africa captain Phendulani Buthelezi: “It was massive game for us, and credit to the New Zealand side, they pushed us all the way. I’ll be honest, our discipline let us down today but I’m proud of the way the boys responded and stuck together. We’re going to focus on our recovery now and make sure we hit the ground running in the semi-final.”
New Zealand captain Kianu Kereru-Symes: “The South African boys brought the pressure we knew they were going to bring, but I don’t think we adapted properly until the last few minutes of the first half which meant we didn’t get in the game. In the first half we rushed our plays and that put us under pressure quite a lot. When we took our time, we got some good results out of it but we couldn’t quite execute.”