England have reached their fourth World Rugby U20 Championship final in a row after they put in arguably their best display of the tournament so far to defeat South Africa 39-17 at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on Monday evening.
The victory means that they will face Ireland, in their first ever U20 final, on Saturday at the AJ Bell (19.00) in the final. Ireland had earlier beaten Argentina 37-7 in another absolutely stunning performance, having already seen off current Champions New Zealand and the 6 Nations winners Wales in the group stage. You can see that report here: Ireland v Argentina.
England have already put in some outstanding displays this tournament, notably with big wins over Scotland and Italy, as well as a strong comeback against Australia, but right from the word go in this game it looked like we were in for something special.
Just two minutes into the game England were on the scoresheet as London Irish’s Johnny Williams burst down the right hand side, releasing Yorkshire Carnegie scrum half Max Green to dot down under the posts.
It was stunning rugby, and that right hand touchline was to be an area that England would exploit to great effect time and time again in the first half.
No sooner had Mallinder slotted the conversion, than England were back on that touchline, this time with Worcester Warriors hooker Jack Singleton, in for injured skipper Jack Walker, storming down the touchline. He was hauled down just short but his second row clubmate Huw Taylor was on hand to finish the job off, sending England 12-0 up with just six minutes.
It was the stuff of dreams for the men in white, and their legion of fans inside Manchester City’s brilliant Academy facility. Even a South African penalty from full back Curwin Bosch could not stop the early euphoria, with only increased as South Africa went down to 14 men thanks to a yellow card to skipper Jeremy Ward for taking out England’s Max Malins in the air.
With the ball in hand England looked able to break the South African defence almost at will, and they were soon torturing that right hand touch line again, as Malins and home favourite George Nott showing great handing skills to release Sam Aspland-Robinson down the wing, the former Wellington College man finish with aplomb in the corner.
The game was only a quarter old and yet with Mallinder’s conversion England were already moving into the sort of territory they were probably not even anticipating at the final whistle, with a 19-3 lead.
South Africa did respond to that third try though, stopping that flow down the right hand side and tightening up their defence. It came at a cost though, and that cost was penalties. So dominant were England at this stage though that they kept plugging the ball into the corner.
Mallinder and his men scented blood. England had the momentum and another try would surely make it almost impossible for South Africa to come back. Sure enough it came, with Williams taking a short, hard line to go crashing over, giving Mallinder a simple conversion for 26-3.
It had been the perfect half for England, the only real blot on the copybook being a yellow card for Leicester Tigers openside Will Evans, who was adjuged to have tipped a South African in the tackle with just 2 minutes of the half remaining.
Some sides might just have tightened up at that point, not England though, England kept their foot on the gas, Mallinder sending up a huge up and under, with Joe Marchant, what a player he is, gathering beautifully before releasing Malins to score a staggering 5th England try of the half, sending his team in with an unassailable 31-3 lead.
However someone had clearly not sent the script to the South Africans, who came out all guns blazing in the second half, scoring two tries in the opening eleven minutes.
The first came following a brilliant England break through Williams. Marchant then hoisted up the up and under but Edwill Van Der Merwe stole it for South Africa, racing the length of the field to score.
Bosch then added to his earlier penalty a few minutes later as he finished off a chance created by a superb break from fly half Manie Libbok.
Suddenly England’s 31-3 lead at the break was 31-17, and they were on the wrong side of the momentum, which was all in South Africa’s favour. They needed something, anything, to just halt that before it got out of control, and up stepped Mallinder to bang over a penalty to just eke out that lead again at 34-17.
From there it was a game of territory, with Mallinder and Malins just working the corners for the next twenty minutes or so before one final flourish with seven minutes to go.
Wasps flanker Jack Willis gathered a ball at the tail of the lineout on the England 22 and went on the sort of rampaging run that gets fans right out of their seats. Half tackled a couple of times he shrugged men off before eventually reaching halfway.
Quick ball saw the ball in Mallinder’s hands, who shifted it out to Marchant. Marchant showed a touch of class to draw in two defenders before releasing Matt Gallagher on his inside, who then offloaded to Malins, unselfishly he then released Yorkshire Carnegie’s Max Wright to run in from five metres out, giving England a 39-17 lead and all but confirming their place in the final.
7 minutes later that place was confirmed, and what a change it is for the side who finished second last in the 6 Nations, only beating Italy. They took a long look at themselves after that though, bringing in Martin Haag as Head Coach ahead of these World Championships, and boy has it worked. They have impressed at every stage, but this semi final was a step up in class. They simply blew South Africa away.
Against Ireland on Saturday, though, they will face a side in similar form. They have beaten the Baby Blacks and blew Argentina away in their semi final in similar fashion.
Add to that the fact that Ireland beat England in the U20 6 Nations, and we have a brilliant World Rugby U20 Championship final in store. Roll on Saturday.
Full Time: England U20 39-17 South Africa
England U20 XV
15 Max Malins (Saracens)
14 Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins)
13 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12 Johnny Williams (London Irish)
11 Matt Gallagher (Saracens)
10 Harry Mallinder – Captain (Northampton Saints)
9 Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)
1 Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)
2 Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
3 Billy Walker (Saracens)
4 Stan South (Harlequins)
5 Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
6 George Nott (Sale Sharks)
7 Will Evans (Leicester Tigers)
8 Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
16 Charlie Piper (Harlequins)
17 Tom West (Wasps)
18 Will Stuart (Wasps)
19 Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)
20 Jack Willis (Wasps)
21 Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby)
22 Max Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie)
23 Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
South Africa U20 XV
15 Curwin Bosch
14 Mosolwa Mafuma
13 Jeremy Ward (Captain)
12 JT Jackson
11 Edwill Van Der Merwe
10 Manie Libbok
9 Marco Jansen Van Vuren
1 Nicolaas Oosthuizen
2 Tango Balekile
3 Jaco Holtzhausen
4 Ruben De Viliers
5 Eli Snyman
6 Zain Davids
7 Ernst Van Rhyn
8 Junior Sipato Pokomela
16 Jan-Henning Campher
17 Franco Van Den Berg
18 Carlu Sadie
19 Eduard Zandberg
20 Cobus Weise
21 James Hall
22 Franco Naude
23 Keanu Vers
World Rugby U20 Championship Semi Final Results:
Ireland 37-7 Argentina
England 39-17 South Africa
5th-8th Semi Finals
New Zealand 71-12 Wales
Scotland 19-35 Australia
9th-12th Semi Finals
Georgia 18-17 Italy
France 41-27 Japan
World Rugby U20 Championship Finals Day Fixtures:
Saturday 25th June
Final – Ireland v England – 19.00, AJ Bell Stadium
3rd Place Play-Off – Argentina v South Africa – 16.45, AJ Bell Stadium
5th Place Play-Off – New Zealand v Australia – 14.30, AJ Bell Stadium
7th Place Play-Off – Wales v Scotland– 16.30, Manchester City Academy Stadium
9th Place Play-Off – Georgia v France– 14.15, Manchester City Academy Stadium
11th Place Play-Off – Italy v Japan – 12.00, Manchester City Academy Stadium
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool A Final Standings|
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool B Final Standings|
|World Rugby U20 Championship – Pool C Final Standings|