England secured their place in the World Rugby U20 Championship semi finals, showing great maturity to come back from a first half deficit to win 17-13.
The win was good enough to secure a place as top seeds too, meaning that rather than facing another Pool winner, England will face the best placed second place side, South Africa, who beat France 40-31 to secure their place in the semi finals.
The winner of that game will play the winner of Ireland v Argentina, who secured their places after topping their groups following earlier wins against Georgia and Japan respectively.
While the game eventually went their way, the game got off to the worst possible start for England as Australia strolled home for a try after just 35 seconds. England spilled the kick off, before Australia then went wide through their fly half and Man of the Match, the highly impressive Mack Mason, who then sent through full back Jack Maddocks who finished brilliantly.
Mason then slotted the conversion to leave England a full seven points behind having barely even touched the ball. They would quickly be on the board though with Harry Mallinder, once again imperious, slotting a penalty straight from the restart as Australia took their turn to infringe.
At this stage it seemed as though we could be in for a very scrappy game, but fortunately things were to improve from there. The game began to flow a little more, and it was Australia next on the scoreboard thank to a Mason penalty to extend their gap back up to seven points in what was proving a tight game.
The scrum was a hotly contested area, Australia were on top at first but England fought back, perhaps Bob Dwyer may have some opinions on that, impressively managing the game on field and working out what the referee was looking for.
That paid off as the half neared the half hour mark, with Mallinder banging over a long range penalty that came from some excellent work at the scrum from his pack, a penalty that Mason quickly responded to with one of his own.
That England still trailing 13-6 as the game neared half time, a fair reflection on what had been a very even game bar Australia’s opening 35 seconds. Much more so than many of the other games so far in this U20 World Championships, this felt like a game of true Test match intensity, it was fast, fierce, and brutally physical.
Coming out for the second half, England looked a determined side, and so it proved as they came out and dominated the opening period of the second half. That domination, almost all of the half had been played in Australian territory, was rewarded after 52 minutes after Mallinder put in a delightful grubber kick for Harlequins’ Joe Marchant to gather and score from.
The conversion was just to tricky for Mallinder, as was a penalty from halfway ten minutes later, but England were just two points behind. No sooner had that penalty missed than England were awarded another, with Mallinder making no mistake this time, punishing Australian hands in the ruck to send England 14-13 ahead in front of a packed out and enthusiastic AJ Bell crowd.
It was impressive stuff from England, who had been in a precarious position at half time but had since gone on to show just why they were so fancied for the title after their opening two games.
The key moment came on 73 minutes though as Mallinder slotted a fourth penalty of the day to send England 17-13 ahead. It was a crucial moment, leaving Australia needing a try to regain the lead. With England in charge of territory, that was never a likely scenario.
Indeed if anything England looked the more likely, a Max Wright score being pulled back for a marginal forward pass. It left Australia needing to play it out form their own try line though, and England were not about to let that happen, with Jack Singleton pilfering the ball at the ruck and booting it high into the stand to confirm the win and England’s place in the semi finals as top seeds.
Having won the tournament in 2013 and 2014, and reached the 2015 final, England will surely be full of confidence, and will be backed by a big crowd for the 19.45 kick off at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on Monday.
Before they can dare to dream though, they must get themselves past a typically physical South African side. For now, recovery is the word on the lips of the squad though, coming off a hugely physical game this evening and preparing for a fourth game in 14 days on Monday. For Argentina a 5th-8th place semi final against Scotland awaits, a side they lost to in the opening round of the Championships.
Full Time: England U20 17-13 Australia U20
England U20 XV
15 Darren Atkins (Bath Rugby)
14 George Perkins (Saracens)
13 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12 Johnny Williams (London Irish)
11 Matt Gallagher (Saracens)
10 Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints)
9 Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby)
1 Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)
2 Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie, captain)
3 Will Stuart (Wasps)
4 Stan South (Harlequins)
5 Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
6 George Nott (Sale Sharks)
7 Will Evans (Leicester Tigers)
8 Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)
16 Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
17 Billy Keast (Exeter Chiefs)
18 Billy Walker (Saracens)
19 Jack Willis (Wasps)
20 Josh Bainbridge (Yorkshire Carnegie)
21 Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)
22 Max Malins (Saracens)
23 Max Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Australia U20 XV
15 Jack Maddocks (Eastern Suburbs)
14 Simon Kennewell (Randwick)
13 Liam Jurd (Queensland University)
12 Sione Tuipolotu (Souths)
11 Liam McNamara (Sunnybank)
10 Mack Mason (Easts)
9 James Tuttle (GPS, captain)
1 Vunipola Fifita (Randwick)
2 Jordan Uelese (Melbourne University)
3 Tyrel Lomax (Vikings)
4 Ryan McCauley (Eastern Suburbs)
5 Lukhan Lealaiaulolo-Tui (Easts)
6 Angus Scott-Young (Queensland University)
7 Ikapote Tupai (Melbourne)
8 Maclean Jones (Queensland University)
16 Joshua Taylor (Bond University)
17 Richie Asiata (Easts)
18 Shambeckler Vui (University WA)
19 Isack Rodda (Easts)
20 Robert Leota (Melbourne University)
21 Harry Nucifora (Bond University)
22 Liam Wright (Easts)
23 Jordan Jackson-Hope (Vikings)
World Rugby U20 Championship Round 3 Results:
Ireland 35-7 Georgia (Pool A)
New Zealand 18-17 Wales (Pool A)
Scotland 27-19 Italy (Pool B)
England 17-13 Australia (Pool B)
Argentina 39-20 Japan (Pool C)
South Africa 40-31 France (Pool C)
World Rugby U20 Championship Fixtures:
Monday 20th June
Ireland v Argentina – Monday 17.30, Manchester City Academy Stadium
England v South Africa – Monday 19.45, Manchester City Academy Stadium
5th-8th Semi Finals
New Zealand v Wales – Monday, 15.15, Manchester City Academy Stadium
Scotland v Australia – Monday, 19.45, AJ Bell
9th-12th Semi Finals
Georgia v Italy v 11th – Monday, 15.15, AJ Bell
France v Japan – Monday, 17.30, AJ Bell
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|