For the fourth time - and first since 2011 - New Zealand and England will battle it out to be crowned World Rugby U20 Championship champions in the 2015 title decider in Cremona on Saturday after contrasting performances in the semi-finals.
New Zealand have won all three previous meetings in the final amid their run of four successive titles from 2008-11 and while they are eager to end a four-year wait for a fifth title, England are going for a hat-trick of their own after winning the last two tournaments.
The two semi-finals at the Stadio San Michele in Calvisano could not have been more different.
New Zealand booked their place in the final first with an at times scintillating display of attacking play by their backline seeing off France 45-7. The second was a battle of the forwards, one which England ultimately came out on top of to win 28-20 as South Africa paid the price for early indiscipline and turning down a number of kickable penalties in the second half.
While New Zealand and England now have their sights set on lifting the distinctive trophy on Saturday, for the remaining teams the other final day play-offs are equally important as they try to secure the best position they can.
A strong second-half display saw Australia beat Scotland 31-21 to set up a fifth place play-off against Wales, who scored three first-half tries to beat Ireland 22-12. The other winners on Monday were Argentina and Japan, who overcame hosts Italy (46-5) and Samoa (26-12) to guarantee their place in the 2016 tournament.
Italy and Samoa will therefore play in the 11th place play-off with the loser to be relegated to the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2016, with their place to be taken by Georgia, the winners of the 2015 edition of the sister tournament in Portugal last month.
SEMI-FINAL: New Zealand 45-7 France
Their pedigree in the U20 Championship could not be more different, New Zealand having won four titles and been runner-up once in 2012, while this was only France’s second semi-final in eight editions, but it was Les Bleuets who scored the opening try through prop Clement Castets.
It came from a typical driving maul, but New Zealand’s response was swift as they spun the ball wide and impressive centre Anton Lienert-Brown broke the line before winger Tevita Li raced away to become his country’s top scorer in U20 Championship history, moving ahead of All Black Zac Guildford.
France lost their rampaging flanker Sekou Macalou to injury shortly after, the player almost in tears so distraught was he at being forced off, and it could have been worse had a contender for try of the tournament not been chalked off after a tackle by Lienert-Brown was deemed high by the TMO.
France did come close to scoring another try from a driving maul but instead New Zealand increased their advantage to 31-7 at half-time with three tries in seven minutes late in the first half, two from their impressive number eight Akira Ioane and a second for Li.
Ioane picked up from the back of a five-metre scrum and spun over the line for his first and then sliced through the defence with ease for the second, just as Li had done on the hour mark to draw level with Australia captain Andrew Kellaway as the record try-scorer in U20 Championship history with 12.
New Zealand stayed out on the pitch at half-time despite the warm weather in Italy and when the match resumed their line-speed in defence was constantly pushing the French back, Les Bleuets struggling to go forward.
They did fashion an opportunity in the 51st minute when hard work through the phases got winger Arthur Bonneval through a gap in the defence, but his pass out to the player free on the wing sailed high and harmlessly into touch.
Instead it was New Zealand who increased their advantage when they wrenched the ball free and Lienert-Brown kicked ahead with the bounce falling kindly for Li to complete his hat-trick. There was still time from one more try, Lienert-Brown breaking clear once more to send winger Jack Goodhue over for try number six to give New Zealand the highest score in a U20 Championship semi-final.
“It feels like a lot of pressure that we have got on us (having not won the title since 2011), but we want to rise to the occasion and we wanted to come out here and put a performance out there that we were really proud off and I think we were proud of tonight,” said Li.
“Next week is a big game, the final, finals footy you can't get any better than that and that is why we play the game for moments like this.”
France manager Fabien Pelous was honest in his explanation of what went wrong for his country against the four-time champions.
"What went wrong today? Maybe our opponents were what went wrong, they were outstanding, too quick and too technical today for us. We won against England last week but this match was simply too difficult for our team, we tried many things but we never found solutions to the problems they gave us," he said.
"Of course when you are into the semi-finals your goal is to win the cup, but we have to be proud of what we've done. There was many years for France without a semi-final, and we reached our initial goal."
SEMI-FINAL: South Africa 20-28 England
Ill-discipline cost South Africa dear in the first half in this repeat of the 2014 final with England as captain Hanro Liebenberg and second-row Jason Jenkins saw yellow for high tackles. The Junior Springboks had already been warned twice by referee Brendon Pickerell for high tackles - allowing Rory Jennings to kick England into a 6-3 lead - when Liebenberg committed the same offence to be sent to the sin-bin in the 11th minute.
Fortunately for Liebenberg, his side did not concede any points in his absence as Aaron Morris's long-range penalty hit the post but did draw level through Brandon Thomson's second penalty of the night. They could actually have been ahead as second-row RG Snyman had hacked on a wayward England pass and only just been beaten to the touchdown on the line.
However, within a minute of Liebenberg's return after the water break, the Junior Springboks were back to 14 men as Jenkins saw yellow for the same offence as his captain and this time England did make them pay as number eight James Chisholm dropped on the ball after a strong driving maul.
Jennings thought he had stretched that lead two minutes before the break, but the TMO correctly ruled the South African defence had held him up. However the respite was only brief as from the resulting scrum England was too powerful for the South African scrum and Pickerill quickly signalled for a penalty try to give the two-time defending champions an 18-6 lead at half-time.
South Africa, just like New Zealand in the first semi-final, stayed out on the pitch at half-time as coach Dawie Theron sought to find a solution to problems a physical England were causing his side, hoping to see his forwards regain some of the dominance they had enjoyed over their Pool B opponents to reach this semi-final.
Theron's words clearly had the desired effect as South Africa started the second half camped in England's half, but they elected to turn down four kickable penalties and back their lineout by going for touch, each time failing to turn the opportunity into points on the board to cut the deficit. Instead it grew when Jennings kicked the first points of the second half in the 55th minute.
Thomson did finally take a shot at goal just before the hour mark, but he surprisingly pulled it wide of the uprights. England then made certain of victory when George Perkins split the defence and then selfishly passed inside for centre Nick Tompkins to touch down under the posts.
Tompkins, though, would finish the match in the sin-bin and it was South Africa who put some respectability in the scoreline with two tries in the final three minutes through replacement Malcolm Jaer and centre Daniel du Plessis.
"We looked at the performance against France and we weren't happy, individuals worked really hard this week and we trained well as a team, and we are far happy with that performance," admitted England captain Charlie Ewels. "This team didn't win the last two years, the under-20 team is different every year so this team is trying to build it's own legacy."
His counterpart Liebenberg, who will now not lead South Africa to the title like his brother Wiaan did in 2012, said: "Discipline cost us and I think that is what cost us, in the first half we had 20 minutes with 14 guys and that always makes things difficult. It was a late comeback but that isn't good enough. You can't only play the last 20 minutes of the game, it's an 80-minute game and I think we will go back this week, come back for the third place play-off and just give it our all to make our country proud."
FIFTH TO EIGHTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: Australia 31-21 Scotland
Scotland were already guaranteed their best finish in U20 Championship history by making this play-off but they enjoyed the best of the first half after a charging run from number eight Magnus Bradbury sent Alec Coombes over for the opening try.
Australia, who missed out on the semi-finals on point differential to England, hit back when full-back Blair Kinghorn failed to deal with his opposite number Jonah Placid’s kick and gave him an easy run-in.
Scotland would have been further ahead than 7-5 at half-time had it not been from a great try-saving tackle from Australia captain Andrew Kellaway, who managed to force Robbie Nairn to put a foot in touch a metre out.
They would regret that as Australia, with the introduction of Cameron Orr and Connal McInerney at half-time, came out a different side and hit the front with tries by second-row Lukhan Lealaiaulolo-Tui and prop McInerney before Placid sliced the defence to make it 24-7 after 55 minutes.
With Placid causing havoc in the defence and a clinical performance by the forwards, Scotland simply had no answer to the Australian assault but they will take pride from the fact they finished strongly as replacement prop Callum Sheldon stretched over and then a penalty try was awarded.
“You want to do the best you can in any circumstances and so for us to come fifth is what we want to do, what we need to do and the only thing we can do,” said Kellaway.
FIFTH TO EIGHTH PLACE SEMI-FINAL: IRELAND 12-22 WALES
Wales had edged the Six Nations meeting between these sides in March and, buoyed by their performance against Japan on day three, the young Dragons hit the ground running with full-back Dafydd Howells opening the scoring in the third minute.
Second-row Seb Davies then increased the lead with his side's second try, converted by fly-half Jarrod Evans, before Joey Carbery missed his first attempt at goal for their Celtic rivals to leave it at 10-0.
Within minutes Wales had a third try through winger Josh Adams and Ireland were in danger of being cast aside as their opponents scored at more than a point a minute. Even the loss of flanker Tom Phillips to the sin-bin didn't derail Wales and instead they added another penalty late in the first half to go in with a commanding 22-0 advantage.
Ireland did finally get on the scoreboard five minutes into the second half with a try by full-back Ciaran Gaffney. The score remained at 22-7 though, even after Wales had captain Ollie Griffiths yellow-carded on the hour mark, until scrum-half Charlie Rock dotted down Ireland's second try nine minutes from time for what would be the final score.
NINTH TO 12TH PLACE SEMI-FINALS: ARGENTINA 46-5 ITALY
No doubt disappointed to again be playing for at best ninth place in 2015, Los Pumitas came out firing against hosts Italy at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella in Viadana, fly-half Domingo Miotti capitalising on an Italian error from his kick ahead to pounce on the loose ball for the opening try.
Scrum-half Lautaro Bazan Velez – a rugby seven silver medallist at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 – then grabbed a brace after two good breaks created the try-scoring opportunity, the latter by centre Tomas Granella.
Argentina weren’t finished there though as first prop Cristian Bartoloni crashed over after lineout ball was spilled and then quick ball through the hands created an overlap for Granella to touch down to make it 31-0 at half-time.
Replacement hooker Luhandre Luus did cross for Italy in the 44th minute but Los Pumitas weren’t finished and crossed for two more tries, Julian Dominguez handing off the Italian full-back for one before Patricio Baronio ran onto a chip through by the winger for an easy try.
NINTH TO 12TH PLACE SEMI-FINALS: SAMOA 12-29 JAPAN
When the sides had met in the Oceania Rugby Junior Championship in Australia five weeks ago, Samoa had recovered from 30-8 down to win the match with a late penalty but this time in Viadana they had no answer to their Japanese opponents who picked up only their third victory in U20 Championship history.
Flanker Faulua Makisi scored the opening try and then full-back Ryuji Noguchi converted his own try on the stroke of half-time to give last year's winners of the U20 Trophy a 12-0 half-time lead, one they deserved after dominating many aspects of play and simply not allowing the Samoans to play their trademark game.
That lead grew to 17 points when flanker Kosuke Urabe dotted down within seven minutes of the restart, but then Samoa found their response as second-row Giovanni Kueffner-Mulitalo dotted down. The Pacific Islanders, though, were penalised for pulling down a Japanese maul with referee Gary Conway awarding a penalty try with Noguchi's conversion making it 26-7.
Samoa came back once more with a try for winger Trent Winterstein but there was to be no comeback this time as Noguchi added a penalty to ensure that Japan will play in the ninth place play-off on Saturday and leave the Samoans needing to beat Italy to avoid relegation to the U20 Trophy once more.