Semi-final: England 26-18 South Africa
By Hamish Stuart
England squeezed past the challenge of South Africa in the pouring rain to triumph 26-18 and book their place in the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship final against New Zealand in Swansea on Sunday.
They led by just three points going into injury time, but prop Alex Corbisiero went over from a lineout drive to make certain of victory against a South African side that had challenged them all the way.
Scrum half Joe Simpson had a Man of the Match performance at the base of their effective pack, but the South Africans made it a mighty close contest and even had a chance to draw level in the dying minutes but fly half Francois Brummer pulled his penalty attempt wide to the right.
Simpson had earlier opened the scoring with an opportunistic try in the fifth minute, breaking round the fringes of a ruck 20 yards out to touch down with fly half Alex Goode kicking the conversion.
The South Africans cut the deficit with a Brummer penalty and then as the game entered the second quarter took the lead with two tries in three minutes.
First the England defence failed to deal with a kick into the 22 which bounced back into the hands of wing Cecil Afrika, who passed to his captain Gerrit Jan van Velze for the score.
Then Goode had a kick charged down in the middle of the pitch and Afrika was first to the loose ball to sprint 40 yards to the line. Brummer converted the second, but maintaining the period of loose play, England drew level at 15-15 when wing Noah Cato intercepted on halfway and sprinted clear to touch down.
Goode nosed England ahead at the start of the second half with another penalty and his side’s forwards were able to maintain the pressure by keeping their opponents penned in their own half for long periods.
That pressure paid off as Goode extended the lead with another penalty, this time from a wide angle near the touchline with 11 minutes remaining, but South Africa again pegged England back to just three points with a Brummer penalty to set up a thrilling finale.
Brummer had a kick to level the match, but his 50-yard kick was both wide and short. With the wind at their backs, England played a territory game to close the semi-final out with Corbisiero easing any nerves in injury-time.
England Scrum Half Joe Simpson: “It’s amazing [to reach the final]. We thought we could do it throughout the tournament. We just believed and we managed to pull it off in the end. We’ve got a big pack and they were very committed. I think we won the game in the tunnel. We were quite psyched up for the match and we just went out there and gave it our all.
“I’m chomping at the bit to get to them [New Zealand]. I’ve been looking forward to playing them all tournament. They’re always going to be the favourites and we’ve just got to pull our socks up again and dig in one more time and hopefully we can do it. We’ll be looking at their videos, we’ll be looking at how they play, but we’ll just be concentrating on ourselves, getting fit again, getting hydrated, getting everything prepared and hopefully we can do another one.”
South Africa Captain Gerrit Jan van Velze: "I am very disappointed, but I take my hat off to the boys, they really stuck to their guns and in the second half I think we put ourselves under pressure. We played all the rugby in our own half and we couldn't get into their half and turn it into points. All the best to England in the final.
"It is going to be very tough [against Wales in third place play-off]. For me and my boys it is all about pride now, we have to keep our heads up high and play our rugby and end the tournament well."