The next phase of the u-20 Rugby World Cup get underway on Tuesday with the competition’s semi-finals taking place, as well as the play-offs for both fifth and ninth place also going on this week.
Ireland will be disappointed with how their campaign has gone so far and now they must try to finish their Georgian adventure strongly as they battle out with Samoa, Argentina and hosts Georgia for ninth spot.
For the main prize England, New Zealand, South Arfica and France are all competing to be crowned world champions.
Before we get down to the match-ups for this week, here is a reminder of the tournament to date. With three groups of four, only the table-toppers guarenteed a spot in the last four.
Australia faced England in a match that decided who would be in the semis and who would be in the fifth place playoffs. Australia had the better of the first half and were unlucky not to have a bigger lead than 10-6 at half time. Thanks to consistent goal kicking and a special effort from winger Gabriel Ibitoye, England went on to win the match 20-19 and secure top spot in the group
In the other pool match, winless Wales and Samoa faced each other with the Welsh scoring eight tries on their way to a 54-20 win.
The Baby Blacks handed an almighty beating to an Irish u-20 outfit that took part in last year’s final, running in 11 tries in a 69-3 win (Ireland’s heaviest ever defeat at this level). Despite taking a 3-0 lead early on, it was the only joy the Irish had on the night. They now go on to the ninth place playoffs, whilst New Zealand are through to the semis.
Scotland faced an Italian side that has markedly improved since last year’s U20 rugby world cup in what was a decider for second place in the group. Glasgow-bound winger Robbie Nairn was over the try line for the first score of the game before knocking it on and subsequently looking at his hands in shock. A couple of minutes later, he powered and stepped past three defenders from 15 metres out to get himself over the try line once again, this time to score. Scotland maintained the upper hand in a tight battle, earning a 17-16 win over the young Azzurri.
In what has been the tightest group of the tournament, the Baby Boks faced Los Pumitas in a repeat of last year’s third place playoff. The South Africans got revenge for that loss, trouncing Argentina by 72-14, scoring 11 tries and securing top spot in the group.
Georgia hosted France in the final group match but failed to score, losing 54-0. A disappointing end to the pool stage for a Georgian outfit that perhaps don’t yet have the fitness required to maintain 100% effort over the course of the tournament, but produced some memorable moments nonetheless.
New Zealand managed to attain three wins with a try bonus point in each, meaning they are the top seeded team in the tournament. Joining them in the semis as group winners are England and South Africa, whilst France sneak in ahead of Australia.
The fixtures for the knockout stages are as follows:
Semi-finals: New Zealand vs France; England vs South Africa
Fifth place play-off semi-finals: Australia vs Italy; Scotland vs Wales
Ninth place play-off semi-finals: Ireland vs Samoa; Argentina vs Georgia
A somewhat disappointing tournament for hosts Georgia as they failed to get a single point in the group stage, whilst last year’s finalists Ireland are experiencing a stark fall from grace and face an unpredictable Samoan outfit to prevent a bottom two finish. Los Pumitas will be disappointed not to make the top two of their group (the drubbing at the hands of the Baby Boks ensuring their fate), whilst the Australians will be kicking themselves for not taking their chances against England.
In contrast, New Zealand avenged last year’s loss to Ireland in style and comfortably won their group – scoring 179 points (in three matches!) along the way. England survived a determined Australian outfit to make it to the semis, with their opponents South Africa presumably relieved to com top of an unpredictable group. France were not widely expected to make the semis of this year’s tournament and only just scraped through after securing the bonus point against Georgia – the Baby Blacks will be markedly tougher opponents.
The knockout stages of the tournament include some tight matchups but this writer expects the Baby Blacks to comfortably make it to the final, whilst the Georgians and Samoans will face off for the wooden spoon. England v South Africa is too tight to call, as is Scotland v Wales, whilst Australia are favourites to dispatch the Italians.
Graham Manditsch, Pundit Arena