The race to secure a place in the semi-finals of the IRB Junior World Championship will reach a climax on Saturday when South Africa and Samoa go head to head in the crunch Pool B match at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, which kicks off at 17:00 local time.
The two teams remain undefeated after two rounds of scintillating action and South Africa currently top the Pool B standings heading into the final round of pool matches. However, with just the pool winners progressing to the semi-final at Cardiff Arms Park on June 18, Saturday’s big match takes on massive significance.
For Samoa, victory would mean a place in a top tier IRB age grade semi-final for the first time, but in reaching the milestone, the Pacific Islanders would have to produce a herculean performance against a South African side that has scored 180 points - conceding only 21 - and claimed a maximum 10 points from their matches against USA and Scotland.
“We made a lot of mistakes against the USA and we have been working hard to improve ahead of the big match against South Africa,” admitted Samoa captain Afa Aiono. “The USA match was a tough one and we did not expect it to be so physical, but we are all looking forward to Saturday’s match. It will be a very hard game, but we are aiming to win.”
South Africa will be aiming to reach a second successive IRB age grade championship final, after losing the Under 19 World Championship final to New Zealand last year. However, head coach Eric Sauls insists that his side will not be looking beyond what promises to be a very physical match against Samoa.
“The performance against Scotland was a good one, but we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground. Samoa are a tough side and we will have to do the things we’re good at; the scrums, lineouts, and mauls and keep the basics functioning well. We are in good shape and we certainly have the backs who can break the line. "
North Wales venue a huge success
The big match will be preceded by Scotland v USA. Both teams are yet to record a victory in the Championship, but Scotland will be looking to secure a victory that will mean a play-off place in Newport against the third team in Pool C – either Canada or Fiji – and a final placing of between ninth and 12th.
“We now have to pick ourselves up for the important game against the USA,” said Scotland captain Lewis Calder. “Right from the start against South Africa we struggled with the pace and physicality and this is something that we must address ahead of Saturday.”
The Tournament in North Wales has been heralded as a great success, generating strong crowds to rival the established rugby venues in the south and generating a welcoming, family atmosphere across the two match days to date.
“The IRB has been particularly impressed with the operation in Wrexham,” said IRB Tournament Director for North Wales Steve Griffiths. “The level of enthusiasm and support from the organising committee, the Wrexham FC staff and the team of volunteers has been incredibly, while it appears that the whole rugby community in North Wales has got behind the matches here in Wrexham. All the teams have been impressed by the welcome that they have received.”
Following the pool phase the Racecourse will play host to a ‘finals day’ on June 21, where positions 13 to 16 will be decided. It promises to be an extremely exciting day with Tonga or Ireland, Scotland or USA, Fiji or Canada and Japan or Italy playing off to avoid finishing bottom and a match against Uruguay, winners of this year’s IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy.
“Those coming to Wrexham for finals day will be in for a real treat,” explained Griffiths. “Different teams will bring a fresh interest, while the matches promise to be incredibly competitive. It will be a day not to be missed as Wrexham looks to sign off from the IRB Junior World Championship 2008 with a bang.”
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