The 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship semi finals have been decided after a thrilling final round of group games.
There were four huge scorelines but two incredibly tight games to go alongside them, which left the final shake up left until the last minute of the last game of the day.
Early in the day Wales put in a superb shift against Samoa, beating them 54-20, which saw them manage to climb into the 5th-8th place semi finals, ahead of Argentina in Group C.
The World Rugby U20 Championships guarantee each side five games. That means that there are semi finals and finals for every position. The winners of each Group, plus the best runners up qualify for the 1st-4th place semi finals, with the remaining runners up and top two third place teams reaching the 5th-8th place semi finals. The final third place sided and the three group runners up play in the 9th-12th semi finals, with the losers being relegated to the tier two competition for next year, the World Rugby U20 Trophy.
The other game in Pool A was a thriller, unbeaten England, winners of three of the last four titles, against the unbeaten Australia.
England needed just a losing bonus point for a semi final spot, but Australia needed at worst a draw. The game ebbed and flowed but with Australia landing a late kick for a 19-17 lead, it seemed as through both would qualify, though it would have seen England facing New Zealand, who currently look like the favourites.
Cometh the hour, though, cometh the men. With just over a minute remaining Max Malins, one of the stars of last year’s campaign, banged over a long range penalty after a tip tackle on Ben Earl, giving England a 20-19 advantage.
All they had to do was gather the kick off and run the clock down, but Australia secured possession. They inched their way closer and closer to the England line, but seemed unsure as to whether to go for the drop goal or a try. A penalty was never on the cards though, that much was certain, England’s discipline was total, they simply were not competing at the breakdown.
Enter Zach Mercer. The young number 8, captain of this group and a key member of last year’s winners, has been a star for this team all year, and indeed for his club, Bath. He showed all of his worth in this instance though, spotting a chance to compete as Australia entered his 22. He snaffled the ball up, broke away, and gave his team the chance to boot the ball away and spark the celebrations. It was a key play from a key player.
Pool A: 1st-4th England (2nd seeds), 5th-8th Australia (5th seeds), Wales (7th seeds), 9th-12th Samoa (11th seeds)
The key game in Pool B was Scotland v Italy. Both had lost to New Zealand and beaten Ireland, and a bonus point win would, at the time, have given them a shot at a 1st-4th place semi final.
As it was, neither side quite got the result they were looking for, but Scotland secured the victory in an incredibly tight match, winning 17-16 to secure their 5th-8th place semi final place and a chance for their best ever finish at these championships, so too Italy, who sneaked in ahead of Argentina for the final spot in those 5th-8th place semi finals.
The other game in Pool B saw the Junior All Blacks, arguably the favourites for this competition, trounce an Ireland side that has been utterly decimated by injury. In the end it was torture for Ireland, they were beaten 69-3 and must now fight out in the 9th-12th place play offs and make sure that they avoid relegation.
All is not lost for young Irish rugby though, injuries have played a huge role, and three of last year’s finalists are in the Ireland senior squad for Saturday’s game against the USA. They have just not got the depth to handle such injuries at age-grade level.
Pool B: 1st-4th New Zealand (1st seeds), 5th-8th Scotland (6th seeds), Italy (8th seeds), 9th-12th Ireland (10th seeds)
For a pool that has been so close through the competition, this was an extraordinary day in Pool C. First we had South Africa against Argentina. South Africa were favourites, but few could possibly have predicted what happened, a 72-14 victory for South Africa, a result that sent them into the main semi finals, and gave Argentina such a poor points difference that left them stuck in the depths of the 9th-12th place semi finals.
A big win for France over Georgia was perhaps more predictable, though Georgia had given a good account of themselves against Argentina and South Africa, but a 54-0 win for France surely was not, and sees them jump in to the main semi finals as the fourth place qualifier.
Pool C: 1st-4th South Africa (3rd seeds), France (4th seeds), 9th-12th Argentina (9th seeds), Georgia (12th seeds)
All of which has left us with some brilliant games to look forward to on Tuesday. As the top seeds, New Zealand will play France at 17.30, with England v South Africa in the other semi final at 3pm.
The other 3pm kick off is the 5th-8th semi between Wales and Scotland, which ought to be one of the games of the day, while the other 5th-8th semi is at 12.30pm, Australia v Italy.
The 9th-12th semi finals kick off at 10am with Ireland v Samoa, while Argentina take on Georgia at 12.30pm.
2017 World Rugby U20 Championship Fixtures & Results (all times BST):
|Round 1 – Wednesday 31st May|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|Australia 24-17 Wales||Ireland 21-22 Italy||Argentina 37-26 Georgia|
|England 74-17 Samoa||New Zealand 42-20 Scotland||South Africa 23-23 France|
|Round 2 – Sunday 4th June|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|Australia 33-26 Samoa||Ireland 28-32 Scotland||Argentina 25-26 France|
|England 34-22 Wales||New Zealand 68-26 Italy||South Africa 38-14 Georgia|
|Round 3 – Thursday 8th June|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|England 20-19 Australia||Ireland 3-69 New Zealand||Argentina 14-72 South Africa|
|Wales 54-20 Samoa||Scotland 17-16 Italy||France 54-0 Georgia|
Semi Finals – Tuesday 13th June (1st-4th, 5th-8th, and 9th-12th)
Ireland (10th) v Samoa (11th) – 10am kick off
Argentina (9th) v Georgia (12th) – 12.30pm kick off
Australia (5th) v Italy (8th) – 12.30pm kick off
Scotland (6th) v Wales (7th) – 3pm kick off
England (2nd) v South Africa (3rd) – 3pm kick off
New Zealand (1st) v France (4th) – 5.30pm kick off
Finals – Sunday 18th June
2017 World Rugby U20 Championship Final Group Standings: