U20 World Championship – Argentina And Italy Upset On Day Two


The race to the World Rugby U20 Championship 2024 semi-finals took several twists and turns on Thursday as England, Ireland and New Zealand maintained their 100 per cent starts, Argentina and Italy secured famous victories and Wales recorded their first win of the tournament.

Los Pumitas and the Azzurrini saved the best until last as Argentina overpowered the Junior Springboks to win 31-12 at Danie Craven Stadium and Italy held on to beat Australia for the first time, finishing as 17-12 victors at Athlone Sports Stadium.

Argentina are now level on points with hosts South Africa in Pool C, five points behind leaders England, who beat Fiji 48-11 on day two.

Ireland lead Pool B, meanwhile, with two bonus-point victories from two, four points ahead of Australia with Italy two points further back in third.

Earlier, New Zealand produced a stirring second-half comeback to edge France in a 53-point thriller, and top Pool A ahead of Wales and Les Bleuets with one match to play. The Welsh had earlier beaten Spain 31-10.

Wales winger Kodie Stone opened the scoring with less than 60 seconds on the clock, but Richard Whiffin’s charges had to work hard for their win over U20 Championship debutants Spain at Athlone Stadium.

Stone benefited from an awkward bounce following a break by Harri Ford and a kick ahead from inside centre Steffan Emmanuel to score in the corner on Wales’ first attack of the game as they looked to build on the two bonus points they picked up against New Zealand on 29 June.

But, after causing problems for France in their opening match, last year’s U20 Trophy champions Spain again refused to be overwhelmed. They looked the more fluid of the two sides in a fractious opening 40 that saw Owen Conquer and Nicolas Infer sin-binned.

Twice in the first half, however, Spain were punished for losing the ball in the wrong area. Elijah Evans dummied and cut back through a scrambling defence to score their second on 27 minutes, after the ball had squirted out of an apparently safe defensive Spanish ruck 5m from their line.

And prop Ioan Emanuel came up with the ball from a lineout maul with the clock in the red, after Spain messed up a penalty in their favour that should have closed out the half.

But, when they got it right, Spain were a serious threat. Second row Pablo Guirao loped over for a try in the 36th minute, to round off a lovely move that first compressed then stretched the defence out of shape.

Wales tightened their discipline and exerted greater control in the second half, camping in Spanish territory, and had two scores ruled out in the first 10 minutes after the break.

But such was Spain’s defensive determination that – despite all the pressure – it took Wales until the hour to break the second-half deadlock. And it took some fleet-footed, tackle-beating magic from Ford to set Ieuan Davies clear for the bonus-point score.

It was the last score of the game, as the two defences held the upper hand for the remainder of the match.

France had not lost to New Zealand in the U20 Championship since 2017 ahead of kick-off and they started this encounter on the front foot.

Les Bleuets hooker Barnabe Massa, who scored twice in their opening match against Spain, took his side deep into the opposition 22 in only the second minute but the New Zealand defence held firm.

The three-time defending champions didn’t have long to wait for the first try of the game, though, as full-back Xan Mosques gathered a delightful grubber from captain Hugo Reus in the left corner.

Reus missed the touchline conversion and New Zealand managed to repel wave after wave of dark blue pressure until the fly-half struck a penalty in the 21st minute.

Jonathan Lee had given away that penalty and New Zealand lost his back-row colleague Andrew Smith to a yellow card shortly afterwards. However, the U20 Rugby Championship winners held France out, and even launched a rare attack, while a player light.

France were able to extend their lead on the stroke of half-time, though, as Reus punished more ill-discipline with his second penalty of the match.

The worry for France was that their dominance wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard and that anxiety grew early in the second half.

Aki Tuivailala picked a powerful line, following a brilliant chip and chase from Stanley Solomon, to get New Zealand on the scoreboard. Fly-half Simpson added the conversion and France’s lead was cut to just four points.

The defending champions hit back with a try from flanker Joe Quere Karaba but New Zealand continued to build momentum and crossed the whitewash for a second time when scrum-half Dylan Pledger sliced through a gap before playing in Solomon.

Simpson again converted and the pendulum swung further in New Zealand’s favour in the 58th minute when Leo Carbonneau was shown a yellow card.

New Zealand captain Vernon Bason was denied a try in the 61st minute but his side didn’t have long to wait for their third score, a dominant push shoving Les Bleuts off their own ball five metres out and Pledger ducking down the blindside to give his side the lead for the first time.

A Reus penalty edged France back in front, but replacement New Zealand hooker Manumaua Letiu profited from a powerful lineout drive to put his side 24-21 in front with around 12 minutes to go.

There was still time for plenty of drama, though. France looked to have won the match after Mathis Ferté’s try was followed by a yellow card for replacement New Zealand prop Joshua Smith with the clock ticking towards full-time.

However, French indiscipline gave Simpson the chance to win the match with the final kick, and he obliged. The fly-half's penalty sailed through the uprights, and following a TMO check, the points were awarded to New Zealand.

Ireland started the match with the breeze at their backs and it showed in the early exchanges at Danie Craven Stadium.

Less than six minutes were on the clock when inside-centre Hugh Gavin ran a brilliant line to pierce the Georgian defence from close range.

Fly-half Sean Naughton added the conversion and four minutes later it looked as though Ruben Moloney had marked his debut with a fine try. However, TMO Damon Murphy spotted an obstruction from Irish prop Andrew Sparrow depriving the winger of his moment.

Georgia were proving stubborn defenders, as they had been against Australia on day one, but Ireland got their second try of the match at the beginning of the second quarter when a sublime offload from Gavin released hooker Stephen Smyth in the right corner.

Naughton missed the touchline conversion and from then on Georgia began to grow into the match.

The Junior Lelos were able to build some possession inside Irish territory at the end of the half, earning two penalties in the final six minutes. Fly-half Luka Tsirekidze kicked both through the uprights to halve his side’s deficit at the break.

Georgia carried that momentum into the second half and with the wind now at their backs, the Junior Lelos took the lead within five minutes.

Captain Nika Lomidze it was who went over from close range following a period of pressure that started with Georgia winning a scrum penalty.

Tsirekidze added the conversion and then traded penalties with his opposite number Naughton as the Junior Lelos went into the final 18 minutes with a narrow 16-15 lead.

Georgian number 10 Tsirekidze had two very presentable opportunities to extend that advantage in the closing stages but his accuracy deserted him at a crucial time.

And Ireland capitalised, going through 24 phases in a rare second-half excursion into their opponents’ 22 and breaking Georgian hearts through replacement Treacy.

Italy scored a historic first victory over Australia in seven U20 meetings at the end of an intense and physical encounter to leave Pool B wide open with one round of matches to play.

Italy’s hard-working backrow Luca Bellucci crashed over from close range for his second try of the Championship in the 26th minute, after his pack had battered their way to the line from a lineout, as heavy rain and strong winds lashed Cape Town.

With the strong wind at their backs in the first half, Italy kept Australia pinned in their own half for much of the opening period – and had already been denied twice, first when centre Patrick de Villiers knocked on under the posts in the 19th minute, and again when an apparently unstoppable maul was held up over the line two minutes later.

The Azzurini tried to make the most of the wind, but repeatedly kicked long. Australia would have been quietly pleased with their defensive effort in a difficult first period.

A yellow for Australia backrow Dane Sawers early in the second half allowed Italy to extend their lead. Roberto Santamaria’s side kicked to touch, mauled forwards from 5m out and hooker Valerio Siciliano crashed over as the forwards kept it tight.

Their advantage was reduced almost immediately, as Australia gave them a dose of their own forwards medicine. Hooker Ottavio Tuipulotu – his last act before going off – had the ball in his hands as a lineout maul piled forwards.

And they cut the lead further just before the hour, winger Ronan Leahy benefiting from a smart offload from Shane Wilcox to score in the corner. Harry Mclaughlin-Phillips missed a difficult conversion to leave Australia just two points down as the rain tipped down and the tension mounted.

But the clock and the conditions played into Italy’s hands, as their street-smart forwards kept a firm grip on the ball and phased old-school style to Australia’s tryline. And they remained camped there, until a Simone Brisighella penalty on the final whistle sealed the victory.

Wingers Angus Hall and Toby Cousins shared four of England’s eight tries as they beat Fiji to pick up their second bonus-point win of the competition.

Fiji scored the first points of the match, via a Isikeli Basiyalo, after backrow Ebernezer Tuidraki was sin-binned for a dangerous clearout at an early ruck.

But they saw precious little of England’s 22 in the first half, despite playing some delightful rugby with ball in hand. Mark Mapletoft’s side – wearing black armbands to honour England and Bath coach Jack Rowell, who died at the age of 87 – were too organised, and punished ill-disciplined Fiji’s errors,

Hooker James Isaac’s scored the game’s first try, coming up with the ball at the back of a maul from a 5m lineout. James Halliwell got the second under the posts – quick hands and a step off his left foot giving the tighthead all the room he needed to run it in under the posts.

The backs finally got in on the scoring act at the end of the opening quarter as Angus Hall danced his way over after the ball was spun wide to him from a tap penalty.

Back to the forwards for the bonus point try after 26 minutes. Replacement backgrow Henry Pollock, on for Finn Carduff, ran it in from 25m, as England turned the screw.

A knock-on in their own 22 led to England’s fifth, as they made the most of advantage to burst clear. The ball found its way to Toby Cousins on halfway, and his perfect chip-and-chase beat the last defender.

And Hall intercepted a building attack to score his second two minutes before the break.

The game lost its shape in the second half. But, despite being a player down, after second row Harvey Cuckson was sin-binned, England extended their lead as Kane James crashed over on the hour after repeated scrums 5m out.

Another dominant England scrum was passed wide for Cousins to score his second with four minutes left on the clock.

But Fiji had the last word when Benjamin Naivalu dived over for a consolation score four minutes after the clock had turned red.

Argentina had only beaten South Africa once in 11 attempts at this level prior to kick-off. However, they ran their hosts incredibly close in Australia in May and started quickly in Thursday’s Stellenbosch downpour.

Los Pumitas, who lost to England on day one, certainly weren’t scared of their opponents and took the lead in the fourth minute when hooker Juan Greising Revol profited from a powerful lineout drive.

South Africa looked stunned and fell further behind in the eighth minute as number eight Juan Pedro Bernasconi powered over in the right corner.

Fly-half Santino Di Lucca missed the conversion to leave the score at 12-0 but Argentina weren’t done there and another rolling maul led to Revol going over again early in the second quarter.

Di Lucca again failed to add the extras and although the Junior Springboks grew into the contest as the half wore on, errors cost them as they struggled to deal both with the physicality of their opponents and the conditions.

It meant Argentina led 17-0 at half time but having been 21-7 in front at the break at Sunshine Coast Stadium two months ago, only to lose 30-28, they knew they had work to do in the second half.

Crucially it was Los Pumitas who scored next, in the 48th minute, and again it came from a lineout, albeit in very different circumstances to Revol’s first-half tries.

Perhaps evidence of the pressure the Junior Springboks were under, Argentina captain Efrain Elias picked off a Luca Bakkes throw on the hosts’ 5m line and gleefully dove over to score.

Di Lucca added his second conversion of the night but Argentina were pegged back for the first time just four minutes later as Elias’ second-row partner Felipe Bruno Schmidt sacked a South African lineout drive illegally and referee Takehito Namekawa awarded a penalty try.

Namekawa also showed Bruno Schmidt a yellow card, but Los Pumitas managed to see out the next 10 minutes without conceding further while a player light.

And as the rain continued to bucket down on the Danie Craven Stadium pitch, making the ball ever more slippery and harder to control, so the clock continued ticking on South Africa’s hopes of a comeback.

Argentina made sure of victory with a little over 10 minutes remaining as flanker Juan Penoucos charged down Liam Koen and then beat the Junior Springboks fly-half to the bouncing ball to touch down.

Di Lucca added the conversion to put Los Pumitas 31-7 in front and revitalise their hopes of making the semi-finals even after a late yellow card for Felipe Ladesma and the Bathobele Hlekani try that followed.