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England U20 leave it late to beat Argentina and top Group A

A late Sam Olver penalty secured a narrow victory for England U20 in their IRB Junior World Championship clash against Argentina.

England had already secured their semi final place but a victory was crucial for a favourable semi final seeding, not to mention for maintaining crucial momentum in the competition.

The weather conditions were truly miserable, with a huge wind blowing down the length of the pitch and a heavy downpour lasting throughout the game. Argentina had lost their opening two games against Italy and Australia, while England had beaten both comfortably, however there was always a sense that Argentina would be more focused on this one.

With the miserable conditions creating an even more level playing field, the game played right into Argentina hands, with the set piece and kicking games proving crucial throughout, the Pumas scrum half Juan Bernardini rose to the challenge excellently as he controlled the game with his boot.

The first half was a very even affair, England had the wind at their backs and took the lead through a Sam Olver penalty, however the Pumas captain and full back, Patricio Fernandez, was equally reliable with the boot as they exchanged penalties throughout the half to take the game to 6-6.

All in all the game was a pretty even affair, England were playing a little over expansively though, thus allowing a few too many mistakes to creep in, while Argentina were at times let down my their discipline.

Eventually that ill discipline became too frequent for the referee’ liking, which resulted in a yellow card for the Argentine centre, Tomas Granella.

As Olver knocked over the resultant penalty to put England 9-6 ahead, the feeling was that with a man down the Pumas would start to crumble and England’s superior quality would shine through, however it proved not to be the case. Their scrum remained a weapon, while their defensive line speed was putting England’s running and kicking game under all kinds of pressure.

Fernandez missed a late chance to level things before the break but within two minutes of the restart he made amends, making the scores 9-9 with a simple penalty.

England brought on their captain from the last game, Maro Itoje, in the back row and he immediately made a difference. It seems as though it is said every time he plays, but it is because he is playing that well – Itoje looked like a star in the making as he immediately shored up the breakdown and imposed himself physically.

That physicality played a role in setting up a try for Leicester Tigers winger George Catchpole on 54 minutes. There was a hint of a forward pass from Aaron Morris in the build up, but the TMO adjudged it to be backwards and the try was awarded to send England 14-9 ahead.

Again the sense was that now, surely, England would start to pull away – such was the impression that their opening two victories had left. However the Pumas refused to bow to the pressure, and with their scrum still dominant they soon had a boost of their own as a collapsed scrum saw England’s Harry Rudkin sent to the bin.

With Rudkin off and the scrum buckling, England opted to haul off a winger, Catchpole, at the next scrum in order to have a full eight for the counter drive.

Argentina moved deep into the English 22 and were battering away at English try line, however England’s defence was holding out well, marshalled brilliantly by the impressive replacement scrum half, Henry Taylor.

The Pumas were trying to blast through the middle but finally looked up and realised that England were short of a man out wide as the flung the ball out to the space for Emiliano Boffelli to cross the whitewash, bringing the score to 14-14.

Fernandez land the conversion to give the Pumas a two point lead with just nine minutes left on the clock, leaving English hearts very much in their mouths.

The pressure was well and truly on for the holders, but performance under pressure is the measure of any team and any player, and England measured up brilliantly as they produced possibly their most impressive pattern of play of the whole game during that final ten minutes.

With just a few minutes left they pushed and probed in the Argentine 22, with Tom Woolstencroft carrying particularly impressively having come on as a replacement. Argentina were holding out well though, forcing England to move from side to side.

That pressure in those conditions will tell at some point one way or another though, and sure enough they did as Argentina gave away a penalty underneath the posts for offside.

With a minute to play it was a match winning chance for the young Northampton Saints fly half, Olver, but with the ball right in front of the sticks it was an easy one for him to land, giving England a 17-16 lead, and with it the victory.

Speaking after the game, England Head Coach Nick Walshe said:

“The conditions were extremely tough, but it was the same for both teams and we’re just pleased to get the win. We know that we can play better, and we’ll have to up our game for the semi-final. We’re relishing the opportunity to play Ireland, they’ve had a good competition so far and it’ll be a good game.”

Meanwhile captain Callum Braley was looking ahead to the semi final now:

“It’s never easy playing in wind and rain like that, but the lads fronted up and did well to get over the line. We’re looking forward to the semi-final now. We’re three games into a five game competition and have two massive matches coming up.”

It was a tough old game but they say that the sign of a champion team is winning when you are not playing well. England did that and they move on to a semi final against either Ireland or New Zealand.

England U20 17-16 Argentina U20

Group A Standings

 

Played

Won

Drawn

Lost

Points

England

3

3

0

0

14

Australia

3

2

0

1

10

Italy

3

1

0

2

4

Argentina

3

0

0

3

2

England U20 XV:

15 Aaron Morris (Bedford Blues)
 14 George Catchpole (Leicester Tigers) 
13 Nick Tompkins (Saracens)
 12 Tom Stephenson (Northampton Saints)
 11 Henry Purdy (Leicester Tigers)
 10 Sam Olver (Northampton Saints)
 9 Callum Braley (Bristol, captain);  1 Alex Lundberg (London Wasps)
 2 Jack Walker (Leeds Carnegie) 
3 Biyi Alo (Saracens)
 4 Jordan Onojaife (Northampton Saints)
 5 Charlie Ewels (Bath)
 6 Hayden Thompson-Stringer (Saracens) 
7 Cameron Neild (Sale Sharks)
 8 James Chisholm (Harlequins).

Replacements:  16 Tom Woolstencroft (Bath) 
17 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Northampton Saints) 
18 Harry Rudkin (Leicester Tigers) 
19 Maro Itoje (Saracens)
 20 Gus Jones (London Wasps) 
21 Henry Taylor (Loughborough University) 
22 Billy Burns (Gloucester)
 23 Nathan Earle (Saracens).

Argentina U20 XV:

1 Facundo Gigena  2 Juan Ignacio Sanchez  3 Tomas Ramirez  4 Ignacio Larrague  5 Guido Peti Pagadizabal  6 Tomas Lezana  7 Lautaro Bavaro  8 Santiago Portillo;  9 Juan Bernardini  10 Domingo Miotti  11 Federico Giminez  12 Tomas Granella  13 Emilliano Boffelli  14 German Schulz  15 Patrico Fernandez (Captain).

Replacements:  16 Ignacio David Calles  17 Felipe Arregui  18 Enrique Pieretto Heiland  19 Vittorio Tomas Rosti  20 Joe Deheza  21 Lautaro Bazan Velez  22 Bautista Ezcurra  23 Santiago Alvarez.

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