New Zealand U20 won the inaugural Oceania Rugby Junior Championship after an entertaining 46-29 victory over trans-Tasman rivals Australia in the final match of the southern hemisphere’s answer to the RBS U20 6 Nations.
The Kiwis had the game effectively sewn up by half-time after scoring four tries to one to lead 26-8. However, Australia will take encouragement from the way they finished the match, ‘winning’ the second half 21-20 to head into next month’s World Rugby U20 Championship with some momentum behind them.
Despite the defeat Australia coach Adrian Thompson believes the experience gained on the Gold Coast over the last nine days will stand them in good stead in Italy where they have been drawn with Samoa, Italy and South Africa in Pool B.
“It was a tough loss,” admitted Thompson. “The good thing is I think we always go into World Cups underprepared and we normally run into one of the games along the way. Now we know what to expect we have some time to fix it.
“This will be the most prepared Australian side by the time we get to the World Championship. We have a few weeks now to get it sorted. We’ll sit down tonight and tomorrow and nut out the squad we will take to the World Championship.”
First half blitz
New Zealand and Australia went into the final round of matches with two wins apiece after victories over Samoa and Japan.
Andrew Keegan’s three-pointer from in front of the posts handed Australia an early lead, but New Zealand took command thereafter to score tries through Blake Gibson, TJ Faiane, Mitchell Hunt and captain Anton Lienert-Brown. With Hunt converting three of the scores New Zealand led 28-3 before Australia struck back just before half-time with a try for winger Joey Fittock.
Australia jolted themselves back into action and a try from Duncan Paia’aua, improved by Deegan, cut the New Zealand advantage to 31-15. New Zealand started the second half well, capitalising on an Australian mistake from the kick-off to work an opening for Vincent Tavae-Aso who dived over in the corner.
The tit for tat nature of the scoring continued as Gibson’s second for New Zealand was followed by a score from Australia replacement Sam Croke.
Tau Koloamatangi then rumbled over to establish a 46-22 lead but Australia had the last word when replacement loose forward Jack McCalman capped a turbo-charged performance off the bench with his side’s fourth try.
Stirring fight-back for first win
Samoa finished third after coming from behind to edge Japan 33-30 in the day’s first match, although they left it late with Malu Falaniko breaking the deadline with a penalty two minutes from time, prompting great celebrations by their fans in the crowd.
Japan will return to the World Rugby U20 Championship for the first time since 2009 next month and they started the brighter, establishing a 10-0 lead after number eight Tevita Malaefo’ou Tatafu’s try.
Samoa finally got on the board with a Josh Ioane penalty, but that was cancelled out by Ryuji Noguci’s effort and then Hirofumi Higashikawa scored a contender for try of the tournament when he raced onto Taisetsu Kanai’s grubber kick to take the Japanese out to 18-3.
The Samoan forwards forced their way through the Japanese defence to score a first try on the stroke of half-time, but the Japanese started the second half strongly and some quick passing along the line with hooker Kosuke Horikoshi touching down in the corner.
Japan continued to pile pressure on the Samoan defence and they were rewarded for kicking to touch from a penalty, Malaefo’ou Tatafu crossing for his second try to make it 30-8 in favour of the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2014 champions.
However, Samoa were not done and led by their inspirational captain Josh Dowsing who used his physicality at the breakdown to force Japan into errors, the fight-back began with number eight Jordan Jacket’s try.
Further tries from Falaniko and Ben Tuiomanufili tied the scores at 30-30, the cue for an increase in the frenetic pace of the match as both sides sought to snatch a first victory of the inaugural tournament.
Falaniko ensured it was the Samoans left celebrating at Bond University, but both sides will be the better for having been part of the tournament as they continue to countdown to the World Rugby U20 Championship in Italy from 2-20 June.
OCEANIA RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES AND RESULTS
New Zealand 75-0 Japan
Australia 33-10 Samoa
Samoa 14-36 New Zealand
Japan 31-47 Australia
Samoa 33-30 Japan
Australia 29-46 New Zealand
Photo credit: Sportography