England became the first side to reach the IRB Junior World Championship 2008 semi-finals after edging a tight but enthralling clash with Australia 18-13 at Rodney Parade in Newport on Saturday.
It was hardly a classic full of running rugby that the Newport crowds had witnessed on the opening two match days, but it was a game you could barely take your eyes off as Pool C’s top two teams went toe to toe and slugged it out in what was a feisty affair from the very first minute.
Australia went into half-time looking visibly shaken as the England pack tore into them up front, severely disrupting their set piece ball and a massive effort in defence from the whole England side put the men in gold on the back foot and forced numerous errors.
Nigel Redman’s England side led 11-6 at the break after two penalties from fly half Alex Goode, matched by a pair from his opposite number Quade Cooper, with wing Miles Benjamin scoring the only try after a smart interception from centre Luke Eves.
However, Australia were a very different proposition in the second half and the hulking replacement wing Ratu Nasiganiyavi started to become a real factor, although England had a try for Benjamin disallowed for a forward pass after a superb break from deep by scrum half Joe Simpson.
A decisive blow appeared to have been struck when England captain Hugo Ellis was sin-binned in the 55th minute and, in his absence, a well-worked backline move allowed Nasiganiyavi to cross in the corner with Cooper’s conversion nudging Australia into a 13-11 lead.
Both kickers had chances in the final quarter to decide the outcome, but ultimately a mistake proved the difference as Jordan Turner-Hall charged down Dane Haylett-Petty’s risky kick metres from the line and Benjamin pounced on the loose ball to score, Goode’s conversion making the final score 18-13.
It was certainly a day for the left wings who shared all the game’s tries and while Australia scrum half Will Genia was a deserved Man of the Match for his display, it was all about the team performance for England.
England will now meet the Pool B winner in the last four - be it South Africa or Samoa - on Wednesday, while Australia must regroup with fifth the best placing they can now hope for in this inaugural tournament.
England Head Coach Nigel Redman: “It was a Test match played between two full blooded teams with some brilliant players and at full intensity. There was a lot riding on it, winner takes all and producing a game like that is credit to both teams. It had just about everything.”
England try scorer Miles Benjamin: “It was a brilliant result, everything we’ve been working towards for the past six months. It was definitely a challenging game but we’ve got belief in ourselves as a group. We work hard for each other which you saw today with 10 minutes to go. We kept grinding and we got the result.”
Australia Head Coach Brian Melrose: “It was a great match but we couldn’t get into the first half. We were pressured into making far too many mistakes by England. Once we found our feet in the second half and had some ball, we turned things around but a couple more mistakes cost us.”
Australia Man of the Match Will Genia: “We’ve obviously very disappointed. With the start we had, we were more than happy to be in front and thought we were home with just a few minutes to go. The result is very hard to take at the moment but the overall tournament experience has been great.”