JWC: New Zealand to face Wales in JWC Semi Finals
(IRB.com) South Africa and New Zealand secured vital bonus point victories in the final matches of the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 pool stages to join Wales and Argentina in the semi finals after a day of twists and turns in Cape Town on Tuesday.
The Junior Boks scored four second half tries to power past England 28-15 to the delight of the home crowd at Cape Town Stadium, flanker Shaun Adendorff scoring the crucial fourth try 12 minutes from time to deny Ireland top spot in Pool B.
New Zealand found life tough going against Fiji and led only 7-5 at half time, but four second half tries – the final two by centre Jason Emery – secured a 28-12 victory and the bonus point to put them into the semi finals as the best runner up across the three pools.
The four-time champions now face Wales, the side that ended their 21-match unbeaten run on the Junior World Championship stage on 8 June, in the semi finals at Newlands on Sunday, before first time semi finalists Argentina face hosts South Africa.
Argentina had been the first to confirm their place in the semi finals with a 17-12 victory over Scotland in the opening match of the day at the University of Western Cape Stadium securing top spot in Pool C.
Felipe Ezcurra scored two of Argentina’s three tries as the tournament’s surprise package made it three wins from three, their passion and resolute defence again a key factor as it had been against France and Australia.
“We are satisfied, we came here to win the tournament, not to participate and this is what we're doing,” insisted coach Facundo Soler. “It's the first time for us, we are going to prepare for this semi final and the team is going to fight with their soul to get to the top.”
Wales, like Argentina, needed only to get the win to finish top of Pool A and it took just five minutes for Eli Walker to score the first try against Samoa, who have found life difficult back in the elite level after winning the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Georgia last year.
The bonus point was wrapped up in little more than half an hour, but Wales were determined to put on a show for the UWC crowd and kept their foot on the pedal to the end, crossing for 11 tries to post the highest score of the tournament so far with 74-3 win.
Ten players scored tries for Wales with wing Tom Prydie, who had kicked the winning penalty against New Zealand four days earlier, crossing for two in a personal haul of 29 points, only four points shy of the record for an individual in a single match.
France too strong
It is the first time Wales have reached the semi finals since the inaugural Junior World Championship on home soil in 2008, a side which featured the likes of Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny.
Australia, regarded as one of the favourites to win the title before a ball was kicked, were already out of semi final contention before they faced France, but their opponents knew a bonus point win would keep alive their own hopes, for a couple of hours at least.
France had come out on top when the sides met at this stage last year and they raced into a 14-0 lead inside the first quarter with lively wing Bastien Fuster crossing twice, but Australia recovered with captain Liam Gill touching down.
Vincent Martin scored a third try for France just before the hour mark and just when it seemed they were going to come up short of the bonus point they needed, replacement Paul Jedrasiak scored in the last minute to spark wild celebrations among his teammates.
They had got the bonus point in the 31-7 win, but it would not be enough to reach the semi finals for a second year in succession if New Zealand picked up the maximum five points against Fiji in the final match at UWC, the Baby Blacks having a far better points differential than France.
New Zealand were determined to produce a performance against Fiji but it was the islanders who scored first, hooker Jale Sassen touching down in the second minute to become the first to breach the Baby Blacks’ line at JWC 2012.
They held the lead until four minutes before half time when New Zealand were awarded a penalty try and would have been happy going in trailing the four-time champions by just two points at half time.
"Plenty of work to do"
Fiji tackled their hearts out against New Zealand but were unable to stop their opponents from scoring four second half tries – reaching 150 in JWC history with Emery’s first try in the 65th minute – to end French semi final hopes.
“It was a pleasing start in the second half, still too many errors though and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We made lots of unforced errors, I think 13 by half time, and you can’t have that sort of ratio at this level of footy,” admitted coach Rob Penney.
“We have got a lot of work to do and we haven’t got much time so it will be a big few days for us.”
When New Zealand secured their place in the semi finals, the identity of the Pool B winner was still to be determined with South Africa needing a fourth try to avoid missing out to Ireland on the head to head rule following their win on the opening day.
That try came minutes later when Adendoff powered over the line to the relief of the majority of the crowd, his teammates and the management in the stand who punched the air knowing the semi final spot was theirs.
The first half had been a physical battle with both sides going close, a superb tackle by Paul Jordaan stopping Marland Yarde from scoring the game’s opening try just before the teams returned to the changing rooms.
South Africa came out firing and were rewarded within two minutes when William Small-Smith powered through the England defence to score the first try, the centre having taken over the captaincy when Wian Liebenberg was ruled out with a hand injury before kick-off.
That try was the spark South Africa needed with Adendorff and Pieter Steph du Toit – drafted into the starting line-up to replace Liebenberg – bringing them to within sight of victory and whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
England simply had no answer to the energised South Africans and could only muster five penalties from the boot of full back Tommy Bell as their ever present record in the semi finals came to an end.
“Today they played with a lot pride, they ground it out, it was unbelievable, I am very, very proud of my team,” admitted a tearful South Africa coach Dawie Theron afterwards. “We stuck to our guns, we realised we had to score four tries and the guys went out and made each other a promise to fight it out to the bitter end, and they did and I salute them.
“It was unbelievable the way the guys never get downhearted when things go against them. We actually needed this lift because we have been under severe pressure and stress, the guys were bleeding because of the loss against Ireland.
Hearts and souls
“We know it’s in front of our home crowd, our people, we have come back, we want make them all to be proud, we are proudly South African and proudly Springboks.”
Small-Smith added: “We had to put our heads, hearts and souls on the line. We had an awesome crowd, awesome energy, what more do you want? The stage was set, we just had to go out and play.”
England will now have to regroup for a rematch with Ireland, a side they beat 20-15 in the pool stages after a second half recovery of their own, in the semi finals for the fifth to eighth places.
“They played brilliantly in that second half , they were pretty simple and direct and once they got momentum they were difficult to contend with,” England coach Rob Hunter said of their conquerors.
“We are proud of them and they are proud Englishman, they keep working and they work hard right to the end. We let the game get away from us, ultimately we let the game slip but that’s how strong this competition is.
Learning curve for Australia
France, seeded fifth after the pool stages, will face Australia again on Sunday and will hope to avoid what happened in 2011 where they won the pool encounter but then slipped up the next time, in the third place play-off.
Australia captain Liam Gill hopes this latest loss will be another learning curve in their development. “It was another lesson I guess we can learn. It was a tough campaign for us, we tried hard, I thought our passion was good, I thought our pride was good.
“It was a tough fixture and I guess it showed, again the French played outstanding. I mean they got on a momentum roll and put I think 21 points on us in the space of the last half an hour, which is a massive credit to them.”
The battle for ninth to 12th places will see two regional battles for pride with Samoa and Fiji facing each other again and Scotland tackling Italy, knowing that victory on Sunday will guarantee their place in JWC 2013 in France.
For the losers, it will all come down to the final day with the loser relegated to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, the sister event of the Championship, in 2013. Samoa and Italy have both been relegated and secured an immediate return.