A penalty three minutes from time by Otere Black finally wrapped up victory for New Zealand - 32-29 over Argentina at the Stadio San Michele - after one of the most entertaining matches in World Rugby U20 Championship history.
Two tries from flanker Benito Paolucci hauled Los Pumitas back level with New Zealand and an upset seemed on the cards, but straight from the kick-off after his second Argentina gave away a penalty and Black made no mistake to keep his side top of Pool C and on track for the semi-finals.
New Zealand will now face Ireland in the Pool C decider after they edged Scotland 24-20 in an error-strewn encounter in the opening match in Calvisano.
Pool A will be a shoot-out between defending champions England and France for top spot and a guaranteed semi-final berth after they overcame Wales and Japan respectively to remain unbeaten in the tournament. Four tries in the last quarter saw France finally see off a brave Japan 47-7 in Parma, while England avenged their Six Nations loss to Wales with a 30-16 win.
South Africa proved too strong for Samoa in the first Pool B match in Parma, a dominant performance by their forwards laying the platform for a five-try 40-8 victory. That sets up the expected decider with Australia after they recovered from a slow start to beat hosts Italy 31-15 to also sit on 10 points after two matches.
The three pool winners will be joined in the semi-finals on 15 June by the best runner-up.
POOL A: ENGLAND 30-16 WALES
The only time the two sides had met on the U20 Championship stage was in the 2013 final and today, just like then, it was England who came out on top after hitting the front with only 90 seconds on the clock through a Rory Jennings penalty.
The defending champions lost Aaron Morris to the sin-bin in the fifth minute after he knocked down a pass when Wales had two-men on the overlap and a try seemed inevitable had the ball got past him, but instead it was England who scored the opening try through centre Max Clark.
Winger Howard Packman and scrum-half Stuart Townsend touched down to give England a commanding 22-0 lead with half an hour gone, before Wales finally got on the scoreboard through a Jarrod Evans penalty.
Wales were then given a lifeline on the stroke of half-time when Jack Walker, trying to run from deep in England's 22, was hauled down and the ball popped out for centre Owen Watkins to run over untouched, cutting the deficit to 25-10 at half-time.
That was cut by three points with a second Evans penalty within two minutes of the restart and the fly-half added another at the hour mark, but England then wrapped up the bonus point through Sam Skinner’s touchdown.
The number eight was denied a second try with a pass ruled forward, but the try he did score means England return to the top of the Pool A with 10 points, one more than their next opponents France who they beat three months ago to win the Six Nations title.
“We knew there would be a lot of emotion in it because of the Six Nations but we managed to get past that and put in a good performance,” said fly-half Rory Jennings. “They came really hard at us but we’ve been working really hard on our defence since the Six Nations and through here and it was outstanding. We knew if we stuck to our processes we’d come through.”
POOL A: FRANCE 47-7 JAPAN
France made a blistering start at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, prop Quentin Bethune being driven over before second-row Julien Delannoy coasted through the Japanese defence virtually untouched following a slick lineout move to make it 14-0 after only nine minutes.
Some may have feared France would run riot as England had done in the first half against Japan on day one, but the Japanese – the only side not to make any changes to their starting XV for day two – had other ideas.
Japan were giving away 9kg a man in the forwards, but they made a mockery of that statistic by winning penalty after penalty from scrums five metres from the French line. Try-scorer Bethune saw yellow after one such penalty and referee Ben Whitehouse ultimately awarded Japan a penalty try.
The score remained at 14-7 until the 45th minute when Japan actually managed to turnover ball on their own line but were unable to control it and instead it was scrum-half Gauthier Doubrere who dived on the loose ball to increase Les Bleuets’ advantage.
Winger Seiya Ozaki was a threat down the right wing for Japan as both sides continued to create chances, but the score remained unchanged from 19-7 when the sides paused for a second water break at the hour mark.
The introduction of replacement hooker Camille Chat gave France fresh impetus and his barrelling run led to a try for flanker Judicael Cancoriet. Two minutes later Chat was involved more than once in a move he finished and it was three tries in six minutes when centre Pierre Fouyssac dotted down.
Fouyssac, who joined the squad this week as an injury replacement, added a second on full-time to give France nine points from their two matches and set up the expected Pool A decider with defending champions England on Wednesday.
"We had a very good second half because the first half was very hard for us, it was tough team in front of us, they played a very good match and it was good for us to score lot of tries in the second half like that," admitted assistant coach Olivier Magne. "We are still in the race but it will be a quarter-final next match against England. We have a lot of injuries so will be difficult for us to have our best team against England, so we will see."
POOL B: SOUTH AFRICA 40-8 SAMOA
South Africa had found life hard-going against hosts Italy on day one, but the dominance of their forward pack meant they had a much easier outing against Samoa, who surprisingly struggled in the scrum when the match got underway after a minute's silence in memory of Samoan-born former All Black Jerry Collins, who was killed in a car crash in France on Friday.
The Junior Springboks’ forwards scored two first-half tries to go in 21-3 ahead, prop Thomas du Toit crashing over in the 10th minute but it was a few minutes before half-time when their second came through second-row Jason Jenkins after Samoa elected not to contest the lineout.
Fly-half Brandon Thomson had kept the scoreboard ticking over in-between with three penalties and a conversion with Samoa’s only reply a penalty from winger Malu Falaniko, but it could have been worse for the Pacific islanders were it not for some committed defence.
South Africa started the second half in dominant mood and were rewarded with two tries in less than 10 minutes through captain Hanro Liebenberg and winger Leolin Zas to wrap up the bonus point and move the lead out to 33-3.
With 15 minutes left to play, Samoa replacement Pisi Leilua scored with a spectacular dive in the corner (see video on left) but it was left to South Africa’s forwards to have the final say with a penalty try awarded in the dying minutes after some more dominant scrummaging.
“This was a much better show than against Italy in our opening match,” admitted Liebenberg. “Our set-pieces worked very well today, although I think we can still improve in our lineout play. We will now go and study the play of Australia and do some homework on them to prepare for the final pool match.”
POOL B: AUSTRALIA 31-15 ITALY
Italy gave the home crowd cause for optimism with the way they started against Australia at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi with Matteo Minozzi kicking a fourth-minute penalty before winger Lorenzo Masato intercepted a pass from Duncan Paia’aua to race down the line to score.
The lead could, though, have been more comfortable than 8-0 after 23 minutes with Minozzi having missed two penalties and a conversion kick and the Azzurrini were made to pay for those missed kicks as Australia scored three tries in six minutes late in the first half.
Fly-half Andrew Deegan had got Australia on the board with a penalty but flanker Brad Wilkin then powered over before scrum-half James Tuttle picked up at the breakdown and charged through a gaping hole in the Italian defence to score.
Two minutes later prop Cameron Orr got his name on the scoreboard and with Deegan converting all three tries Australia found themselves ahead 24-8 at the break and needing only one more try to secure the bonus point to join South Africa atop Pool B with 10 points.
Given that quick-fire haul of three tries it was perhaps surprising that it took until the 64th minute for Australia to score that fourth try, number eight Adam Korczyk unstoppable from close range to make it 31-8 to his side.
Italy’s response was instant, though, with the crowd again on their feet after replacement hooker Luhandre Luus came off the back of a driving maul and spun out of the tackle to touch down, Minozzi’s conversion proving to be the last score of the match.
“It's pleasing that we were able to finish the first half as strongly as we did allowing us to claim the bonus point win,” Australia coach Adrian Thompson admitted. “The forwards did an excellent job in tough conditions which allowed us to give the backs momentum moving forwards.
“We again had a slow start to the match that could have proved costly and this is part of a few areas we will need to improve on before we face South Africa.”
POOL C: NEW ZEALAND 32-29 ARGENTINA
Argentina had made the better start in Calvisano following an emotional minute's silence and were well worth their 9-3 advantage thanks to three penalties from Emiliano Boffelli, playing alongside captain Bautista Ezcurra in the centres today, with New Zealand’s only reply from Mitchell Hunt.
But as the half-hour approached, New Zealand showed how dangerous they are from broken play (see video below), the backline keeping the ball alive with scrum-half Harrison Levien looking certain to score, only to be hauled down metres short.
He popped the ball up in the air, knowing support would arrive and it did in the shape of Luteru Lualala to give New Zealand the lead for the first time in the match, 10-9. Matías Ferro kicked a drop goal for Los Pumitas but New Zealand would go in ahead at half-time after a break from TJ Faiane sent Sean Wainui through for an easy run-in.
Both sides saw players sin-binned in hooker Ignacio Calles and Lualala as the score remained unchanged at 15-12 until the hour mark, when replacement Domingo Miotti’s penalty tied things up with the last action before the water break.
Whatever coach Scott Robertson said to his charges during that brief interlude had an instant impact as replacement Tevita Li broke down the left wing, slipping it inside with Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi finishing off the move. Soon after Argentina turned the ball over in New Zealand’s 22 and the result was a try the other end, Faiane breaking the line before releasing Akira Ioane, the replacement charging 60 metres to score.
New Zealand may have thought that was the killer blow with a 14-point lead, but they were mistaken as Argentina came roaring back with flanker Benito Paolucci touching down twice after lineouts close to their opponent's line, the men in black having no answer to the driving maul so synonomous with Argentine rugby.
Miotti tied the scores with three minutes to go but from the kick-off Argentina gave away a penalty and Otere Black, who only arrived in Italy a couple of days ago after being released by Super Rugby side the Hurricanes, stepped up to kick the winning penalty and ensure New Zealand sit two points clear of Ireland in the standings, Argentina having to settle for a losing bonus point after being denied late on for the second match in a row.
"We knew they were going to come out firing in the first half, the first 20 minutes, but they were relentless, they never stopped and I take my hat off to them, they were just awesome," New Zealand captain Jack Goodhue admitted. "I think maybe if we had beaten them by a lot of points it might not have been good in the long run, but we will just have to wait and see. We are thankful to get the win."
Argentina coach Nicolas Fernardez Lobbe added: "Last week we lost to a penalty in the last minutes of the match and again today. We have to keep our head up, again. We learned a lot from this match, the boys played a great match, we have to adjust our mistakes for the match against Scotland. The boys have to be ready first of all in their head and not only on their legs."
POOL C: IRELAND 24-20 SCOTLAND
Scotland had narrowly won the meeting between these two in the Six Nations earlier this year, but Ireland had never lost to their Celtic rivals in the U20 Championship and in an error-strewn first half at the Stadio San Michele in Calvisano they created the best opportunities.
Garry Ringrose sliced through and drew the defence to him before sending full-back Billy Dardis over for Ireland’s first try of the Championship in the 12th minute. Flanker Conor Oliver then stepped the Scotland defence and, quick to realise he hadn’t been held in the tackle, got to his feet to dive over unchallenged for Ireland’s second and they went in leading 15-3 at half-time with a George Horne penalty their opponent’s only response.
Carbery extended the lead within three minutes of the restart with his seventh penalty of the tournament, but they were unable to increase that lead before the water break at the hour mark.
That pause in play seemed to spark Scotland and Lewis Carmichael touched down after a strong driving maul, only for Scotland to hand Carbery a penalty kick to make it 18-13. A penalty apiece from Carbery and Tomas Quinlan made certain of an Ireland win, but Scotland had the final say with replacement Ruaridh Knott’s try to salvage a losing bonus point.
“The conditions played a huge part, it was really hot here, over 30 degrees, so it was always going to be tough,” admitted Ringrose. “Both packs were blowing hard and the simple things were going to win it and if one or two things had gone differently I am sure Scotland could have come out on the right end of the win."
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