JWC: Finals positions up for grabs at JWC 2012
(IRB.com) The race for the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 semi finals will draw to an exciting climax on Tuesday with Wales, Argentina and England in pole position to top their respective pools at the most competitive edition of the Under 20 tournament yet.
Unlike in previous years, there are only three teams unbeaten going into the final round of pool matches after Wales handed four-time champions New Zealand their first ever JWC loss and Argentina backed up a win over France by upsetting Australia last Friday.
For Wales, Argentina and three-time runners-up England the equation is simple for match day three, win their final pool match and they will be guaranteed top spot and a place in the semi finals to be played at Newlands on 17 June.
That would leave the Baby Blacks in the driving seat to join them as the best runners-up across the three pools. They currently have six points, the same as France and South Africa, but their point differential is the best.
If the pool leaders slip up against Samoa, Scotland and hosts South Africa respectively then the door opens for New Zealand, Australia, France, Ireland and the Junior Boks to salvage their title hopes by claiming top spot.
Wales and Argentina both face sides yet to taste victory at JWC 2012, but are certainly not underestimating the threat that Samoa and Scotland pose to their hopes of reaching the semi finals and undoing all their hard work so far.
“The boys are still on cloud nine,” admitted Wales wing Tom Prydie, who kicked the penalty to seal the 9-6 win over New Zealand. “It was an amazing win and everyone has had a brilliant feeling in the camp, but we’ve really got to focus on Samoa and move on with the rest of the tournament.
“Samoa showed against New Zealand they are a tough test. We have got to play safe against them, keep ball and nothing more than a win is acceptable for us. We have got to make sure we do our homework on Samoa and make sure we win.”
Wales have only reached the semi finals once before, at the inaugural tournament in 2008 when Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies played, and victory over Samoa will ensure they at least match that finish of fourth place.
For Argentina, though, victory over Scotland will secure a first ever semi final appearance, something that captain Sebastián Poet and flanker Pablo Matera are determined to ensure they achieve.
“To qualify for the semi finals would be incredible for us, but now we have to think about Scotland and work on that game and the rest will follow according to the job we’ll do on the field,” admitted Poet, who drops to the bench against Scotland.
Matera, who scored Argentina’s decisive second try against Australia in round two, added: “We are working hard, very hard, if we lose against Scotland we’re out (of the semi finals). This tournament is very hard as only the top team of each pool goes through.
“We don’t want to think about calculations or numbers, we just want to win and go through! We are happy and very excited of course (to be in this position). If we get through we’ll be part of Argentina’s history.”
England and South Africa are no strangers to being in this position, they met at the same stage last year to determine top spot in their pool, the English winning a thrilling match 26-20 despite the Junior Boks throwing everything they had at the try-line to no avail.
This time around England are in the driving seat, South Africa’s loss to a determined Ireland outfit on day one putting them instantly on the back foot and in danger of missing out on the semi finals for the second year in a row.
"Defeat is not an option"
For South Africa, beating England is unlikely to be enough to secure the coveted top spot in Pool C, unless Ireland fail to secure maximum points against Italy – who have scored only eight points in two outings – in the first match at Cape Town Stadium.
Ireland would have the edge on the head to head rule should they end on 10 points with South Africa, while if England pick up a bonus point in losing to the hosts then the calculators may need to come out to split the teams under the tournament rules.
“They can spoil our party, but this will be a very determined and motivated Junior Bok team that will take the field,” insisted South Africa captain Wian Liebenberg. “We have everything to lose, so defeat is not an option for us. We gained good momentum from the win against Italy and now need to use that to get past England.”
England coach Rob Hunter is predicting a “fantastic game” again between the two sides and doesn’t want to see their hard work against Italy and fighting back to beat Ireland 20-15 in round two count for nothing.
“We’re in a good spot, where we wanted to be obviously with two on two, whilst knowing it’s all for nothing if we don't perform when we play the Springboks,” explained Hunter. “It will be very physical, I think perhaps from quite a while ago people have been talking about that game, but as we’ve seen with the tournament if you focus too far ahead you fall flat on your face.
Australia hope for "perfect world"
“We were very lucky with Ireland where we managed to climb a mountain after half time, in all honesty because we got ourselves into a very bad position, but we showed a lot character to get out of it.
“As far as the Boks are concerned we know they’re very physical, they've got a lot pace, they’re at home, they’re a very, very proud rugby nation and it's going to be a fantastic game.”
The match preceding this at Cape Town Stadium was also expected to be a pool decider between Australia and France, but Argentina have had other ideas to leave their rivals fighting for their lives to keep their title hopes alive.
Australia captain Liam Gill, a JWC finalist back in 2010, knows their loss to Argentina has put them in a difficult position, needing to beat France and also hope Scotland cause an upset of their own by beating Los Pumitas to finish in top of Pool C.
“Exactly, in a perfect world that is what will happen for us,” admitted Gill, a Super Rugby winner with the Queensland Reds in 2011. “It certainly rattled us a bit (losing to Argentina), we are a still alive but it puts it in the hands of other teams and that is where you don’t want to be.
“We are in a tough position, but we are confident and we understand it is a massive game against France and that is what we are looking forward to now. The mood is good, surprisingly, it was a massive shock to ego but the Argentineans deserved it.
Positive for New Zealand
“I think they gave the most respect to the conditions and played with a lot of passion and that is what got them the win. We have taken a massive lesson out of it and hopefully we can bounce back.
“We certainly do need a bonus point win, it was tough not getting that bonus point and having them score that late try really rattled us. I don’t think we found out the drastic effects it might have until after the game and it really does put a big emphasis on not only beating France but with the bonus point and it certainly makes that more difficult.”
New Zealand, despite seeing their 21-match unbeaten run on the JWC stage ended by Wales, are not in as perilous a position as their trans-Tasman rivals but will still be targeting a bonus point win over Fiji.
“Fiji is a very good team. We’ve seen in their two games that they’re very physical and passionate just like Wales,” insisted co-captain Bryn Hall. “We’re expecting a very tidy and physical game from them and hopefully we can execute our game plan a bit better and if we did that we’ll come away with a result.
“I guess that’s one positive you can take from that loss. We did get that bonus point and our boys didn’t give up and played for 80 minutes so I guess that was some reward for that disappointing performance. Hopefully that comes back to help us.”