Day one of the World Rugby U20 Championship certainly lived up to the hype as a sensational day of play unfolded in Manchester.
Manchester City’s Academy Stadium and Sale Sharks’ AJ Bell Stadium are the two venues for this year’s competition, and both venues saw some outstanding rugby, with upsets, plenty of tries, and some genuine future stars of rugby on show.
The tournament could not have opened in more style, with the two Pool C games kicking things off, France and Argentina met at the AJ Bell, while at the Academy Stadium South Africa met Japan, Japan whose senior side embarrassed South Africa in the senior World Cup back in the autumn with that thrilling last gasp victory.
It looked as though that shock result might be repeated at U20 level as Japan pulled back from 7-0 down to take a 19-7 first half lead. It came thanks to a hat-trick from a man who is surely going to be seen as one of the men to keep an eye on from this tournament in the future, winger Ataata Moeakiola.
At that stage Japan were flying, on top even in the scrum, traditionally a South African strongsuit. However the South Africans regathered at half time to score six unanswered second half tries, securing a 59-19 victory in the process, sending them to the top of Pool C.
The other Pool C game saw the first ‘shock’ of the tournament, although Argentina beating France perhaps not really a shock nowadays. Los Pumitas were behind 15-6 to the French but came back in impressive style at the AJ Bell to secure an impressive 24-15 victory, giving them a great chance of reaching the semi finals.
Hosts England are in Pool B, alongside Australia, Italy, and rivals Scotland. You can see our report of England’s game here: England off to a flyer in U20 opener.
They certainly impressed in the final game of the day, securing a 48-10 victory over Italy, who were the only side that England beat during this year’s U20 6 Nations. The dominant victory was vital for England to prove that that 6 Nations showing was just a blip, and with outstanding performances from the likes of Harry Mallinder and Jack Willis, they did just that.
The hosts were not the main story in Pool B though, that accolade goes to Scotland, one of the sides who beat England in the 6 Nations, for the first time ever at U20 level. They were at it again at the AJ Bell yesterday as they secured a stunning 15-10 victory over Australia. They had a helping hand from the referee after Australian centre Campbell Magnay was sent off early in the second half after receiving a second yellow card, but they were still more than deserving of their victory. With just England and Italy to come, two sides Scotland have already beaten this season, they have every chance of securing a first ever Junior World Championship semi final.
So to Pool A, home of the Champions, New Zealand, tournament new boys, Georgia, and two home nations who competed in what was, without doubt, the best game of the day.
New Zealand got their tournament off to the best possible start, they ran home nine tries against the Georgians, who were promoted from the World Rugby U20 Trophy after winning it last year, replacing Samoa, who finished bottom of last year’s Championship.
Greater tests await New Zealand though, starting with Ireland on Saturday and followed by Wales on Wednesday. Those two sides played out a thrilling game at the Academy Stadium.
Wales, who won the Grand Slam at the U20 RBS 6 Nations, went 17-0 up after just twenty minutes, and looked as though they might go charging away with the game, with openside Shaun Evans and winger Keelan Giles looking exceptionally good.
Ireland looked dead and buried, but they got themselves on the scoreboard after 25 minutes with a wobbly old drop goal fro debutant fly half, Bill Johnston.
From there they seemed to just spark into life, reducing the deficit to just two points at 17-15 at the break thanks to tries from Adam McBurney and Shane Daly as they started to turn on the style.
The Irish were suddenly on fire, running from behind their own try line and defending with such vigour that Wales were left with simply nowhere to turn. The men in red did land an early second half penalty, but Ireland responded with one of their own before a third try, from full back Jacob Stockdale, gave them a 26-20 lead with ten minutes on the clock.
Wales refused to give up though, with Giles scoring an absolutely stunning try in the corner to narrow the gap to just a point with three minutes remaining, however after a nervy few minutes, the Irish held on for a memorable victory.
If that game was a sign of things to come, we are in for a treat, and there are certainly some exciting games coming up. The action kicks off again on Saturday, where the star attraction from a home nations perspective is likely to be the England v Scotland game at 18.00 at the Academy Stadium. Ireland, meanwhile, face New Zealand at the same venue at 13.30, while Wales are also at the Academy Stadium, facing Georgia at 15.45.
Over at the AJ Bell Australia will be looking to bounce back, they face Italy at 13.30, with France taking on Japan at 15.45, while South Africa and Argentina meet in a crucial game at 18.00.
World Rugby U20 Championship Round 1 Results:
New Zealand 55-0 Georgia (Pool A)
Ireland 26-25 Wales (Pool A)
Australia 10-15 Scotland (Pool B)
England 48-10 Italy (Pool B)
South Africa 59-19 Japan (Pool C)
France 15-24 Argentina (Pool C)
World Rugby U20 Championship Fixtures:
Saturday 11th June
New Zealand v Ireland (Pool A, Manchester City Academy Stadium, 13.30)
Australia v Italy (Pool B, AJ Bell, 13.30)
Wales v Georgia (Pool A, Manchester City Academy Stadium, 15.45)
France v Japan (Pool C, AJ Bell, 15.45)
England v Scotland (Pool B, Manchester City Academy Stadium, 18.00)
South Africa v Argentina (Pool C, AJ Bell, 18.00)
Wednesday 15th June
Scotland v Italy (Pool B, Manchester City Academy Stadium, 15.15)
Argentina v Japan (Pool C, AJ Bell, 15.15)
Ireland v Georgia (Pool A, Manchester City Academy Stadium, 17.30)
New Zealand v Wales (Pool A, AJ Bell, 17.30)
South Africa v France (Pool C, Manchester City Academy Stadium, 19.45)
England v Australia (Pool B, AJ Bell, 19.45)
Monday 20th June – Semi Finals Day (Pool Winners and best runner up compete in semi finals, next two runners up and top two third place in 5th – 8th seeding games, three pool losers and worst third placed side in 9th – 12th seeding games)
Saturday 25th June – Finals Day
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool A Standings|
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool B Standings|
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool C Standings|