We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of this year’s World Rugby U20 Championships. Six teams are already out of the running for the semi-finals, with only one team booking their place.
In Pool A, A much-changed French side were too much for the Welsh, running in four tries in a 32-13 scoreline that underlined the defending champions’ title credentials. At the same time, Argentina and Fiji played out a very entertaining and open game. The Fijians played their part but repeated mistakes when within sight of the try line cost them dear, whilst Los Pumitas recovered from their disappointing opening defeat to Wales to win 41-14.
In Pool B, the story was another red card – this one against Irish lock Ryan Baird early in their clash with Australia. The Oceania champions raced out to a 10-0 lead before the understrength Irish pegged them back to lead 17-10 thanks to some gusty displays and an outstanding try from Stewart Moore. However, the man advantage and the strength in their bench told as Australia ran in five tries in the final 15 minutes to win the game, denying Ireland anything from the game. Australia would be crowned winners of Pool B thanks to a gutsy Italian display that denied England a bonus point win. The Italians were the better team throughout against an error-prone England side who had to rely on their individual skills to get a win. The English pegged the Italians back from 16-7 and 23-14 to sneak the win 24-23.
In Pool C, New Zealand and South Africa both ended up with bonus point victories to set up a mouth-watering clash to decide who wins the pool, with the loser needing to secure something from the game to join them in the final four and deny Ireland and Argentina or France. That said, New Zealand were unimpressive in their comprehensive victory – a problem with the stadium feed missing their first four tries, but when it returned they appeared to be asleep as Scotland roared back to within a score from 26-0 down to 26-19. That awoke the sleeping beast who brought on some subs who scored some tries to give some breathing room – but Scotland kept coming and a 52-33 scoreline doesn’t reflect how well Scotland played for the 50 minutes that was broadcast.
It was a similarly impressive effort from Georgia, but South Africa showed a bit more of their ability. The Junior boks added some gloss to the scoreline late on, with four tries in the final 22 minutes. Georgia were leading after 30 minutes though through Otar Lashki’s first try and were pressing for a bigger lead when Vaughn Isaacs was sinbinned. The Boks proved too strong though and will have to fancy their chances against the New Zealand U20s.
On to picking a best XV from today’s matches. This was one of the more difficult tasks I’ve ever had to do in the three years I’ve been doing this. That’s partly because technology failed in showing what had to be New Zealand’s best thirty minutes of the game. It’s partly because two games were so engrossed my attention was diverted away from other impressive performers. It’s also partly because the most impressive showing of the day all seemed to come in the same positions. Do I reward players who made game-winning interventions, or players who sparked their teams into unlucky competitive games? Do I manipulate the numbers to include both players, or double punish mistakes compared to rewarding positive involvements? Do I pick the players who showed how good they are or can be, or do I reward someone new for an outstanding showing when I know the alternative will get back in contention again?
It’s tough, so for full clarity, I will use some logic in one decision one way, and the opposite logic for another decision the other way. Here goes nothing.
15. Isaac Lucas (Australia) / Ange Capuozzo (Italy)
I couldn’t make a decision, so I’ve gone with equal winners.
Isaac Lucas, the incumbent 15 in the team of the day, was one of the differences between Ireland and Australia. It was his play, firing the ball wide and backing up in support that created the two tries that levelled the scores and then put Australia into the lead before Nick Frost sealed the deal. Lucas is the player in the Australian backline that has X factor, and I’d be stunned if he wasn’t among the nominees for the player of the tournament.
In contrast, Capuozzo’s efforts were one of the main reasons why Italy ran English so close. His attacking lines were fantastic. His counter-attacking sparked life into the Italians and got them territory into the English 22 time and again. His play deserved a try, and that’s what he got in the end. This was the first time I’d seen Capuozzo play this well, and I hope it’s not the last. One to watch.
Just because this spot was a tie doesn’t mean that the efforts of Tchitchinadze (again), Ignacio Mendy (also again), and Ollie Smith shouldn’t be recognised. They perhaps didn’t have as definitive influences on their games as Lucas and Capuozzo, but each showcased their attacking talents in various different ways, but either had minor mistakes, defensive mishaps, or slightly less involvement outside of their tries than the ultimate winners. Three very good players to watch.
Special Mention: Teimuraz Tchitchinadze (Georgia), Ignacio Mendy (Argentina), Ollie Smith (Scotland)
14. Lalomilo Lalomilo (New Zealand)
Speed. Power. Footwork. Effort. Intelligence.
That’s what Lalomilo Lalomilo provided in spades. He scored two tries, one a brilliant defensive read, intercept and speed away from the chasing pack, the other a combination of power, footwork, and more speed.
In between there was a tireless display of chasing kicks, forcing mistakes. Lalomilo Lalomilo plays like he’s consumed the world’s supply of coffee in one setting – bouncing around everywhere into rucks, tackles, and goes looking for work. He’s probably not in New Zealand’s first XV, but maybe he should be.
Special Mention: Vincent Pinto (France)
13. Federico Mori (Italy)
Replacing the U19 wonderkid Matteo Moscardi in the lineup, Federico Mori didn’t disappoint putting in a phenomenal performance. Mori was everywhere in this game. Big tackles, breakdown turnovers, tackle busts. A huge performance from the centre.
Mentions for Argentina’s captain Juan Pablo Castro who created some wonderful opportunities for Los Pumitas, and Scotland’s Rory McMichael whose magnificent solo try against New Zealand changed the flow of that game.
Special Mention: Juan Pablo Castro (Argentina), Rory McMichael (Scotland)
12. Giulio Bertaccini (Italy)
It was a special performance from Italy, characterised by their back-row. Strangely in this game, Italy deployed five back-row players to counteract the English.
Not really, but that’s how it felt like with Mori and Bertaccini dominating the game. Bertaccini alone was at the centre of three or four turnovers that were vital to giving the Italians belief in this game. One of the best individual defensive performances, Bertaccini was the standout of all of the Italians.
Robbie McCallum provided similar heroics, albeit to a lesser extent for Scotland, whilst the best Welsh play came through Thomas-Wheeler. Last week’s selection Lolesio was a thorn in the Irish side both cutting off attacks at source and sparking the Australian’s with go forward ball.
Special Mention: Noah Lolesio (Australia), Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler (Wales), Robbie McCallum (Scotland)
11. Otar Lashki (Georgia)
Wingers score tries, and Lashki got two for Georgia. Georgia did well done with their width, and perhaps could have scored more if the rest of their players had the finishing ability that Lashki has.
Special Mention: Arron Reed (England)
10. Louis Carbonel (France)
A magician. Carbonel orchestrated France to victory and it was clear why he was originally named in the French 65-man squad for the senior World Cup.
Special Mention: Will Harrison (Australia), Tom de Glanville (England)
9. Craig Casey (Ireland)
Casey typifies this Irish team. They have talent, but they beat teams that are more talented than they are. They have size, but they beat teams that are bigger than them. This Irish team wants it more than the opposition, and Craig Casey wants it more than anyone.
He willed the 14-man Irish team into a 7 point lead by the time he was taken off with a few knocks. Casey needed to receive attention several times in the second half, and when the referee refused to halt the game for him, he kept getting up and limping into position and making a difference.
He got Ireland’s first try, giving them belief and things fell apart when he was gone. The definition of a game-changer.
Special Mention: Gonzalo Garcia (Argentina), Lorenzo Citton (Italy)
1. Angus Bell (Australia)
A big prospect at prop for Australia. He was one of the first props this year to get the better of Thomas Clarkson, which is impressive in itself. But Bell’s all-round play was fantastic too. A key feature of the Australian carrying game, a nuisance at the breakdown too. He and Sham Vui will be a fantastic propping duo for the Waratahs for years to come.
Special Mention: Francisco Minervino (Argentina), Matteo Drudi (Italy)
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (Ireland)
As much as Casey drove Ireland forward, Tierney-Martin was right there with him. The heartbeat of this Irish pack, Tierney-Martin’s work-rate is only matched by his ability in all facets of the game.
I’m a particular fan of his jackaling ability – but it’s always important that a hooker throws well at lineout time – which he does. His carrying is very good, and his support play when Ireland were keeping it tight was very good, to the point that it negated Fraser McReight’s opportunities to poach anything.
Things started going awry when he came off, just like Casey – and that is the main difference why he keeps his spot in this team over France’s Rayne Barka who was equally outstanding in the loose whilst performing the main hooker duties of throwing and scrummaging to a high standard too.
Special Mention: Rayne Barka (France), Will Capon (England)
3. Asenathi Ntlabakanye (South Africa)
What can you say about Ntlabakanye? The Georgian scrum has destroyed all comers this year, including the South Africans back in April. But Ntlabakanye solidified the Bok pack, and they even won penalties at scrum-time against the Junior Lelos. A huge performance from a huge man.
Special Mention: Alfie Petch (England), Francisco Coria (Argentina)
4. Nick Frost (Australia)
It’s not often that a replacement gets into the team of the week, but it’s hard to deny Frost after his two try performance that won the game for the Aussies.
Etonia Waqa ran him close with a try-scoring performance of his own and an all action display of power hitting and carrying for the Fijians.
Special Mention: Etonia Waqa (Fiji), Richard Capstick (England)
5. Trevor Hosea (Australia)
Australia U20s are blessed with a strong forward pack, and their depth at lock is amazing. Michael Wood is a fantastic lineout operator, Nick Frost showcased his athleticism coming off the bench. Heretofore unseen Esei Ha’angana has played Super Rugby for the Melbourne Rebels.
But I’m giving the spot to Ha’anagana’s club teammate Trevor Hosea for his punishing display. The behemoth put in some massive dominant tackles, and was throwing people out of the way when carrying. A physically dominant display.
Special Mention: Kilian Geraci (France)
6. Harry Wilson (Australia)
This was a tough choice, and I reserve the right to change it later on review.
It’s tough to deny hat-trick hero Dylan Richardson, but as I tend to over-reward good play over tries and I think Richardson will console himself with the match ball – Harry Wilson gets the spot for now.
The blindside was the pick of the Australian back-row against Ireland – no mean feat. His link-up play was fantastic, his breakdown work exemplary. A hard-hitting, line busting display of the highest quality.
A mention for Italy’s Andrea Chianucci for his display as part of their efforts. One I’m hoping he repeats when he graduates to the senior ranks.
Special Mention: Dylan Richardson (South Africa), Andrea Chianucci (Italy)
7. Tommy Reffell (Wales)
Another close contest between Reffell and McReight, and this time Reffell had a bigger influence on his game than McReight on his.
Three turnovers for Reffell, his breakdown work stymied the French all game before the defending champions pulled away in the second half after a 10-8 half-time score.
Special Mention: Fraser McReight (Australia), Davide Ruggeri (Italy)
8. Bautista Pedemonte (Argentina)
I’ll be honest, this was nearly a three-way tie between Pedemonte, Koffi, and Hodnett. The Irishman’s carrying in wide channels was the best source of go forward ball for his team, Koffi was a similar threat to England all game with some extra breakdown nuisance.
But Pedemonte was swatting off defenders all game, striding into open space, breaking the line, offloading, and being the catalyst for most of Los Pumitas best work. A wonderful performance by all three.
Special Mention: Antoine Koffi (Italy) / John Hodnett (Ireland)