John Davidson reports from the AJ Bell Stadium on undefeated Argies, lucky Kiwis and efficient England from day three of the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester.
Argentina 39-20 Japan
Argentina booked their place in the semi-finals with a hard-fought 19-point win over Japan. The Pumitas have topped Pool C and go through undefeated with their third straight victory. After seeing off both France and South Africa, the South Americans might have thought this contest would be easier than their first two, but the gutsy Japanese gave them a scare early on, racing to a two-try 10-0 lead. By half time, Argentina were two points ahead and they powered home in the second period, scoring three tries to finish off the game.
Winger Jose Barros Sosa scored two of them, showing some fine finishing skills and evasiveness to touch down. The yellow head-geared flyer certainly has a knack of being in the right place as a support runner. For Japan it was No 8 Tevita Tatafu again who shone. The bulky forward has been one of the stars of this tournament and he claimed a try double – the first a great run down the left wing and the second off a rolling maul. He will be getting a senior call-up for Japan soon.
Argentina have been the surprise packet of the competition and will take some stopping in the semi-finals against Ireland. The Pumitas are on track to improve their best-ever result at the U20 World Championships, which was a fourth back in 2012.
New Zealand 18-17 Wales
New Zealand’s surprise loss to Ireland in round two set the cat amongst the pigeons and the Kiwis were out to respond in kind in this game. But it turned out to be another bitter pill for the Baby Blacks to swallow as they were bashed up, out-muscled and out-enthused by Wales. The men in red tackled like demons and thwarted their much-heralded opponents at every ruck and maul. The Welsh made the defending champions uncomfortable, knocking them off their rhythm and never letting them regain it.
Wales led for all but the final 50 seconds of the game, a heartbreaking end for the Dragons not to get the final result. A yellow card to Welsh winger Tom Williams in the 78th minute led to Jordie Barrett’s match-winning penalty. It was almighty relief for the Kiwis who were harassed at every turn and forced into uncharacteristic mistakes and unnecessary offloads. Full-back Shaun Stevenson was again New Zealand’s star man – breaking tackles at will and always turning nothing into something.
Wales may have lost but they can hold their heads high. Fly-half Dan Jones was excellent, awesome from the kicking tee and marshalling his troops to within a millimetre of a famous upset. New Zealand have failed to qualify for the semi-finals for the first time and will play off for fifth now, a real blow to 2015’s winners.
England 17-13 Australia
England have topped Pool B and remained undefeated after a bruising and heated encounter with Australia. The hosts were behind for 65 minutes of the game but edged ahead through the boot of Harry Mallinder to earn a semi-final date with South Africa. In a penalty-filled match there was little running rugby but England got the result they needed in front of a bumper crowd of 7,000 fans.
The Australians started brilliantly, scoring in the first minute to catch England off guard. Full-back Jack Maddocks was the beneficiary of a planned backline move. But the hosts woke from their slumber and fought their way back into the match. Mallinder’s boot kept them in it, and it was his second-half grubber that set up Joe Marchant’s try. Mallinder couldn’t convert it but he slotted two penalties in the final 15 minutes to give England the win.
Australia will rue their ill-discipline and a wobbly scrum that coughed up a lot of ball. They will feel hard done by with some of the referee’s decisions, but they were under siege for the entire second half and just couldn’t add to their points total. They move on to the fifth place play-off and a date with Scotland again, while England meet South Africa in the semi-finals.
The English, and their impressive front row of Lewis Boyce, Jack Walker and Will Stuart will have one eye on a spot in the final next week. England went down to New Zealand in the final last year and will want to go one better this time around, especially with the Kiwis eliminated.