Defending champions New Zealand, England and France all enjoyed victories on the last day of pool action at the IRB Junior World Championship 2011 in Italy to take their place in the semi finals, where they will be joined by Australia as the best runner up across the three pools.
The semifinals are on Wednesday in Treviso, with the final in Padova on 26 June.
It is the first time France have ever reached the semi finals and they will face 2008 and 2009 runners up England at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo on Wednesday, June 22, before New Zealand meet Australia in a repeat of the 2010 final.
New Zealand extended their unbeaten run in the Junior World Championship to 18 matches with a 48-15 victory over Argentina in Padova to top Pool A, while England held off South Africa to win 26-20 and top Pool C.
France were at their scintillating best early on against Australia in a match they knew they had to win if they were to realise their semi final dreams, but were made to work hard to edge a thrilling match 31-25 and finish as Pool B winners.
The defeat left Australia with a nervous wait to see if they had done enough to claim the best runners up spot, but word soon filtered through they had edged out South Africa on point differential after both finished with 11 points.
Other highlights on Saturday were first wins for Ireland and Fiji, who beat Scotland 30-13 and Tonga 36-18 respectively to take their place in the fifth to eighth play-offs. Ireland will face their Pool C opponents South Africa again, while Fiji tackle Wales.
Scotland, Tonga and hosts Italy, the only other side without a victory, will be joined by Argentina in the battle to avoid relegation to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2012.
New Zealand coach Mark Anscombe had the luxury of being able to rest many of his players with their semi final berth already secured, but the Baby Blacks still ran in another seven tries to see off the challenge of Argentina 48-15.
The three-time defending champions, however, did not have it all their own way for the first time in the tournament with only two points separating the two sides at the midway point of the first half at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova.
Mitchell Scott touched down in the fifth minute, swiftly followed by touchdowns from centres Francis Saili and Rhys Llewellyn, but Argentina hit back with their first ever tries against New Zealand in JWC history through hooker Lucas Sartori and Juan Cruz Guillemain to make it 17-15.
New Zealand’s response was immediate, full back Beauden Barrett rounding off a flowing move, but once again Argentina created some good scoring opportunities, only to see some resolute defence and handling errors mean they came to nothing.
Prop Gregory Pleasants-Tate touched down to increase New Zealand’s advantage to 31-15 at the break, but within minutes of the restart the rain began to fall and the Baby Blacks could only add two further tries through Saili and TJ Perenara, leaving them one shy of 100 tries in the pool stages.
Wales knew they needed a miracle to have any hopes of reaching the semi finals for the second time after the record loss to New Zealand earlier in the week, but coach Richard Webster will have been pleased how his charges bounced back to beat Italy 56-6 at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso.
Italy enjoyed long periods of possession in the first half but failed to make it count on the scoreboard as the Welsh took advantage of several sloppy turnovers to lead 28-6 at the break with tries from flanker Thomas Young, full back Ross Jones, flanker Luke Hamilton and wing Eli Walker.
Wales picked up where they left off in the second half, running in four more tries against a tiring Italian outfit, courtesy of scrum half Jonathan Evans, inside centre Rheon Jones and replacements Rhodri Jones and Ed Siggery.
Italy fly half Michele Campagnaro, the second youngest player in the tournament behind England fly half George Ford, drilled a 40-metre drop goal in the first half and full back Marco Gennari completed his team’s scoring with a penalty five minutes before the break.
The Welsh can now look forward to the fifth to eighth place play-offs and trying to better their ranking of seventh from 2010, but for Italy the threat of an immediate return to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy still hangs over them with one win from the final two games a must to avoid relegation.
France had failed to impress in their victories over Fiji and Tonga, but they came alive in Treviso with a magnificent display of attacking flair and solid defence to overcome their more fancied opponents Australia and reach the semi finals for the first time.
The French set up their victory with three memorable converted tries through Jean Bernard Pujol, Geoffrey Palis and Jean Marcelin Buttin inside the first half hour as they stormed the Australian defence with a ferocity and panache they had failed to show up to that point.
Australia regrouped and found their groove as the half progressed, hitting back with two tries in a matter of minutes just before half time through Kimami Sitauti and Michael Hooper and would have been the happier of the two sides going in trailing only 24-18.
Both sides created scoring opportunities in the second half but were each only able to convert one of them, meaning France were still six points clear when the final whistle went to spark wild celebrations among the exhausted players in blue at reaching their first semi final appearance.
The Australians can also look forward to a third successive semi final appearance, but they know they will need to start better against their Trans Tasman rivals in four days time if they are to have a chance of becoming the first team to beat New Zealand in JWC history.
Earlier in the day Fiji had come out on top in the battle of the Pacific Islanders, scoring four tries to beat Tonga 36-18 and crucially collect a bonus point win which means they will compete for fifth to eighth places over the final two days of the tournament.
With Argentina, Italy and Tonga guaranteed to finish below them with fewer points and only the winner of the Pool C match between Ireland and Scotland able to potentially match their five points, Fiji can breathe easier knowing they will play in next year’ Championship in South Africa.
Centre Semi Radradra scored the only try of the first half to give Fiji a slender 11-6 advantage at the break with Josateki Lalagavesi and Mona Paraki trading penalties, but after the break it was a different story with the superior strength and speed of the Fijians noticeable.
Maikeli Mudu touched down within two minutes of the restart with Radradra scoring his second of the match and captain Koli Nalasekata securing the crucial bonus point just before the hour mark against a Tongan side paying the price for handling errors.
Tonga did finish strongly at the Stadio Mario Battaglini with tries from Mathew Howling and Nio Lavemai, but for the second year in a row they are left targeting the one win they know will ensure they travel to South Africa for next year’s Championship.
Inventive in attack and steely in defence, England saw off a dogged South Africa at the Stadio Plebiscito in Padova to win 26-20 and finish top of Pool C to guarantee their place in the semi finals for the fourth successive year.
Under the watchful eye of England manager Martin Johnson, the Under 20s was never headed throughout a pulsating match and withstood a wave of South African attacks late in the second half after fly half Johan Goosen had kept the Baby Boks in the match with five penalties.
Fly half George Ford, the youngest player at JWC 2011, kicked England into an early lead with a second minute penalty before centre Elliot Daly crossed for the first try, only for South African flanker Nizaam Carr to cut the deficit with what turned out to be his side’s only try.
Ford increased England’s lead with another penalty, but the sides went in tied at 11-11 at half time after two long-range penalties from Goosen. That deadlock lasted less than a minute before England captain n and number 8 Alex Gray finished a sweeping passing movement with a try.
Goosen kept South Africa in touch with two more penalties, either side of one from Ford, before England replacement wing Christian Wade went on a dash down the left, broke a tackle and touched down between the posts for his fourth try of the tournament.
When Ford converted with less than 10 minutes to play, England appeared to have the match in their keeping, but still South Africa refused to concede. Wing Wandile Mjekevu slipped several tackles to set up a try-scoring opportunity for his team but the England defence held firm and cleared from the scrum.
Rob Hunter’s team were camped in their own half but they remained resolute as the Baby Boks threw everything at them in the final minutes. Goosen reduced the gap to a converted try with his fifth penalty before Mjekevu made one last valiant effort to breach the England defence, only to be pushed over the touch line.
South Africa had come here determined to better their third place finishes at each JWC, but now can finish now higher than fifth and must regroup quickly before facing Ireland, a side they have already beaten 42-26 in the pool stages.
Ireland stormed home in the final 10 minutes against Scotland to pick up their first win of JWC 2011, scoring three converted tries to finish comfortable 30-13 winners in what had been for the most part a tight, low-scoring affair in Rovigo.
The Irish led 6-3 at half time thanks to two Paddy Jackson penalties either side of one from his opposite fly half, Duncan Weir.
Jackson and Weir added a further penalty apiece before Ireland wing Andrew Conway started the late spree when he notched his fourth try of the tournament, bringing him to within one of all-time leading try scorer Zac Guildford of New Zealand.
Conway was followed across the line by inside centre Luke Marshall and captain Niall Annett, who had scored agianst Scotland in the Six Nations. Scotland scored a late consolation try from their inside centre Danny Gilmour, but it was too little too late after the Irish spurt.
Day three buzz
Australia coach David Nucifora: “The French played well and they deserved their victory their tonight, we just gave them too big a headstart and we were playing catch up and we couldn’t quite get thier in the end, it was close but we weren’t at our best and that wasn’t good enough for that game.”
France coach Philippe Boher: “It was very hard until the end, I am proud for the players, they played to their maximum today. They did want they wanted to do, the exerted a good period of domination and they played with very good adaption. We also had a touch of French flair in this game and that is very interesting for us.”
New Zealand coach Mark Anscombe: “It was a bit messy from our point of view, I thought we started pretty well, we scored a few tries but I think we got a bit complacent and we got ahead of ourselves and we loosened up and we gave them a few opportunities, which they took and they got their self belief from that and I thought they played some good rugby in the back end of that first half. They really stretched us and we were fortunate to come out on the right end of the ledger at half time.”
South Africa coach Dawie Theron: “I think a lot of unnecessary mistakes, spilled opportunities, I think we definitely had more chances, scoring opportunities, that we didn’t finish. Just looking after the ball in the opponents 22, maybe a little bit more patience and there could have been two or three more tries on the board. It is definitely one we slipped and we let them get away.
“There is only 80 minutes there to sort it out, I know what these guys can do and I am very proud of them still and on the day it was just not their way. The guys had a lot of fight in them, they never gave up playing and we came so, so close. Three times on the line, twice just spilling it within scoring distance and that is maybe the biggest lesson of all, just to really protect the ball.”
England captain Alex Gray: “The biggest postive is we were really, really tested. A lot of the boys will never have faced an intensity like that, they really chucked everything at us and it showed what bottle we had I think, what type of individuals we were to close the game off.”
Australia captain Colby Faingaa: “France came out very passionate and very urgent and they just seemed to want it a lot more than use at the beginning, they got a good early start on us and it just kept going from there.”
Wales coach Richard Webster: “We made a lot of mistakes in the game, we should have been even more clinical, and we have much to work on before our next match, but today was redemption day after Tuesday’s result and we went some way to showing what we are capable of as a team.”
Scotland coach Peter Wright: “A lot of hard effort for very little reward. For 70 minutes we were well in the game. The first half we dominated and just couldn’t get the scoreboard ticking over. In the second half we started well and just silly errors really hurt us at times. The Irish showed their class at the end when they scored three tries in about seven minutes, which really hurt us. But we created a lot, we kept the ball for long periods, we attacked some good areas, so for that we’re pretty happy but unforced errors and silly mistakes really cost us. They were more clinical. They got their chances and they took them.”
Fiji’s Solomoni Rasolea: “It was a gutsy effort, we played most of the first half down in our territory but we got the word in from the coaches to play in their terrority and we came out the second half and just delivered what we had to do.”
Ireland coach Mike Ruddock: “We’re still kicking ourselves [because] we feel we should have beaten England in the first game. The difference between the sides was that Ireland was just a bit stronger in the pack and the forwards, particularly in the scrum and the driving lineout. We just took the edge out of the Scotland legs because we were so powerful and that allowed our backs to have a little bit of room to cut them open towards the end. It wasn’t always as pretty as we wanted it to be, it wasn’t always sexy rugby but we got what we wanted, which was a great win.”