John Davidson reports from the AJ Bell Stadium on nifty nines, passionate Argies, Georgian slaughter and sensational Scots from the opening day of the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester.
Argentina 24-15 France
It doesn’t matter where they’re playing, Argentina always have the loudest and most passionate fans. The country’s national anthem brings tears to the eyes and though the crowd was sparse at the sunny AJ Bell for their U20 World Cup opener against France, it felt like a home game for the men from South America. Argentina finished ninth in last year’s tournament, winning just one of their four games. They’re seeking to do better in 2016 and on today’s showing they will.
The Argentines staged a late comeback to miraculously down the French, after looking out of it at 15-6 on 52 minutes, when France bagged a penalty try. But some inspired substitutions and a slew of penalties changed the momentum of the game. The Pumitas scored two successive penalty goals and then crossed for two tries in three minutes to steal the match. It was a scrappy first 40 minutes, neither sides totally convincing, but Argentina found a second gear at the death to get the vital result.
One player that caught the eye early from the Pumitas was fly-half Domingo Miotti. Like a tall version of Jonny Wilkinson, Miotti possesses a monster boot and knocked over a penalty from halfway in just the first few minutes. Back-rower Bautista Delguy also has some skills, displaying a turn of pace to score a handy try that embarrassed the French cover defence.
Gallic scrum-half Antoine Dupont scored the only try of the first half with an individual moment of magic. Seeing a hole in the Argentine defence he grubbered in behind, showed great pace to regather his own kick and touch down. With creative instincts and speed to boot, the nifty Castres No 9 will go far.
Scotland 15-10 Australia
Scottish eyes are smiling after this dramatic five-point victory over a haphazard Australia. This was an all-action match marked by Aussie centre Campbell Magnay, who was red carded after separate tip tackles in each half, and referee Thomas Charabas who went to the TMO with nearly every chance he had. Scotland fell behind 3-7 after Isack Rodda scored in the first half, but everything changed when Magnay receiving his marching orders.
Impressive Scottish prop Zander Fagerson crossed soon after and it was game on. The contest ebbed and flowed, Australia edging ahead again by two points with a penalty goal, before Scotland snatched the lead back thanks to an outstanding solo try from winger Darcy Graham. The flyer beat a handful of chasers in his sensational match-wining score from 30 metres out. The Aussies kept coming in the final quarter, and a had contentious try ruled out by the TMO and a blade of grass, but Scotland dug in to record a famous victory. There was no Craig Joubert around this time to spoil the party.
Young winger Graham was a standout for the men in tartan, while forward Fagerson led from the front. Australia’s giant full-back Jack Maddocks and wing partner Simon Kennewell were dangerous, willing to throw the ball around and run at defenders, but unable to capitalise on their eye-catching running rugby. This result could have dire consequences for Australia’s tournament, with Italy and hosts England next up. For Scotland, anything is possible at this point.
New Zealand 55-0 Georgia
Georgia have been promoted into the U20s World Cup for the first time and were given the hardest initiation possible – a date with the Baby Blacks. It took the junior Kiwis all of 84 seconds to score, full-back Shaun Stevenson crossing out wide. Winger Caleb Makene touched down in almost identical fashion seven minutes later and a cricket score loomed. But as the rain tumbled down Georgia managed to stem the bleeding for a while, winning several scrums and lineouts to mount their own attacks.
New Zealand notched five tries in the first half and in the second added four more to complete their 55-point rout. But the men in black didn’t have it all their own way, with plucky Georgia strong in the set-piece and refusing to back down. New Zealand’s back three terrorized the Europeans with both Makene and the perfectly named Jonah Lowe finishing with two tries each, along with potent openside Mitchell Jacobson. Remember the name of Shaun Stevenson – this rangy full-back is destined for bigger things.
New Zealand move on to tougher opponents in Ireland, as they seek their sixth world title from nine attempts. Rest assured this Kiwi outfit looks as strong as in previous years. Georgia has a slight change of pace in Wales, who will be undoubtedly eager to make up for their one-point loss to the Irish. Unfortunately it doesn’t get any easier for the men of Borjgali.