The IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 continues on Saturday with the third and final round of pool matches taking place in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Saga.
Another record Junior World Championship crowd of 10,693 attended the encounter between Japan and Samoa on Tuesday, and with every match in this round having implications for all 16 teams, this record could be broken again.
Defending champions New Zealand will face next year’s hosts Argentina in the pool decider at the Mizuho Rugby Ground in Nagoya. Second row Leighton Price takes over the captaincy from the rested Aaron Cruden in one of several changes to the team which beat Ireland 17-0.
Argentina make four changes themselves, including fly half Tomas Rosati replacing Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, whose 13 points in eight second half minutes proved decisive last time out against Uruguay. Last year New Zealand beat Argentina at the same stage 60-0, but assistant coach Diego Albanese believes his side have a better chance this year, despite being underdogs.
“This year the boys are better prepared physically and we know how hard it will be. New Zealand are the favourites to win this Championship and we are 100 percent underdogs,” said Albanese. “We have to try to not make too many mistakes as we have been doing.”
For the opening match in Nagoya against Uruguay, Ireland make a number of changes to the side beaten by New Zealand. Nevin Spence fractured his wrist in the 17-0 defeat and has returned home, his replacement Danny Barnes stepping straight into the starting XV at outside centre.
Ciaran Ruddock, who captained the Irish against New Zealand, turned his ankle in training and is replaced in the second row by Joe Moran with Peter O’Mahony returning to lead the side after a one-match suspension.
Uruguay have also made a change at captain with Federico Perez Pirotto coming in for Juan Diego Ormaechea at number 8 to lead the side, while Gaston Mieres moves from full back to centre in place of Rodrigo Martinez.
Whoever emerges victorious from the first match at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo between England and Samoa will become the first side into the semi finals as the other pool deciders do not kick off until 15:00.
England are boosted by the return of captain Calum Clark from injury as he comes in at flanker for Josh Ovens. There are seven other changes, including Carl Fearns returning to number 8 in place of Chris York.
Clark’s return will add muscle to the scrum, which will be needed against the likes of Samoan captain Siaosi Otto Iona and Uini Atonio with the two props alone weighing in at almost 300kg.
“We are really looking forward to a massive challenge,” admitted Clark. “We can’t underestimate what it is going to be like and what it means to them. It is the group decider, effectively the quarter final, so we are expecting a battle and I am sure we will get it.
“They have some weight in the scrum, but hopefully we will be tight enough and together enough to combat that and hopefully be effective around the park as well.”
Samoa make just two changes to the team that edged Japan 29-20 on Tuesday with Vailele Tauloa coming into the second row in place of Faatiga Lemalu, who moves to flanker to replace John Totini.
For the second match in Tokyo, Scotland also welcome back their captain Fraser Brown, who comes in for Finlay Gillies at hooker. Scrum half Peter Jericevich, Scotland’s only try scorer against England last time out, comes into the starting line-up at the expense of Henry Pyrgos.
Japan’s second half hat-trick hero and captain Ryuhei Arita moves from hooker to flanker with Ryotaro Suzuki playing in his place in the front row. In the only other change, injury replacement Opeti Feamini plays on the wing in place of Shohei Takeshita.
France and South Africa meet in the pool decider at the Hanazono Stadium in Osaka. France’s Aristide Barraud suffered knee ligament damage in the 48-25 victory over Fiji and is replaced at fly half by Pierre Bernard, one of 10 changes for Saturday’s match.
France’s team manager Philippe Sella, who himself played three Tests against South Africa, admitted: “This match on Saturday will be very interesting. It is like a quarter final. The important thing is to keep up the level of the match. It will be difficult but we are really looking forward to playing this kind of game.”
South Africa also make several changes with Francois Brummer replacing Nicolaas Hanekom in the centre. With the inclusion of the centre, South Africa will start with their two joint leading all-time JWC points scorers in Brummer and Sias Ebersohn in the backline.
The other match between Italy and Fiji will determine who finishes in the top 12 and as such secures their place at next year's Junior World Championship. Italy have completely reshuffled their backline with a new half back pairing of Luca Martinelli and Tommaso Iannone. Centre Denis Majstorovic to remain in the same position from the team that lost 65-3 to South Africa.
Fiji also make several changes, but only one of them positional. Captain Kini Murimurivalu reverts back to full back from centre, with Tevita Raogo filling the void. The Fijians finished 14th last year, so a win here would see them better that. finish.
Last year’s hosts Wales meet Australia in the Pool D decider at the Best Amenity Stadium in Saga. Wales make just three changes from their match with Canada, whereas Australia make eight, welcoming back Richard Kingi and Kurtley Beale - their four try heroes on the opening day.
An Australian win would guarantee them a better final position than their fifth place last year, but Wales captain and the tournament's leading try scorer Justin Tipuric believes his side's collectiveness will be an advantage.
“I think both sides are evenly balanced and it is going to be a tight game. Australia have got a lot of experience and good individual players. But collectively I think we are better as a team. Rugby is a team game. So hopefully that will be an advantage for us,” said the flanker.
In the earlier kick off in Saga, Tonga make just two changes from the side that lost to Australia, while Canada make four with captain Harry Jones reverting back to his normal position of full back.
Last year Tonga finished 13th so a win here would guarantee them a better finish and a spot in the top 12. However, Canada will be eagerly determined to avoid bottom spot in Pool D, not only because they finished 12th in 2008 but because only the top 12 teams in Japan will play in next year's IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina.
** Watch the climax of Pool C in Osaka live and on-demand for free on Saturday 13 June. First up will be Italy's encounter with Fiji at 13:00 local time, followed by South Africa's battle with France at 19:00 to determine who will travel to Tokyo to contest the semi finals. **
** You can also watch on-demand the Pool B matches (England v Japan and Samoa v Scotland) on 5 June, the Pool A matches (Uruguay v Argentina and Ireland v New Zealand) on 9 June, along with highlights of both matchdays. **
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