Pool C: South Africa survive France scare
By Yuki Ogawa
In a thrilling climax to Pool C, South Africa fought back from 20-0 down to beat France and secure the semi final place. France must regroup to face Samoa in Fukuoka on Wednesday, the same day Fiji will tackle Scotland in Osaka and Italy meet Japan in Nagoya.
FULL TIME: FRANCE 27-43 SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa staged an amazing comeback to beat France 43-27 in their Pool C decider at the Kintetsu Hanazono Stadium in Osaka and reach the semi finals of the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 in the process.
The French had simply blown South Africa away in the opening half hour with their frenetic start, scoring two converted tries and two penalties, but the Baby Boks changed the complexion of the match by scoring 18 points either side of half time while Pierre Bernard was in the sin-bin.
Bernard had given France the lead with a penalty inside two minutes and when captain Alexandre Lapandry capitalised on his scrum half Florian Cazenave’s decisive break the fly half added the extras to give his side a 10-0 lead with barely five minutes on the clock.
South Africa, last year’s third placed team, were on the back foot against the Under 20 Six Nation champions and, although Bernard missed three consecutive drop goal attempts, he did convert France’s second try, scored by wing Geoffrey Doumayrou after some good work from the loose forwards.
The advantage soon grew to 20-0 thanks to another Bernard penalty just after the 30-minute mark and South Africa seemed to have no answer to the French, although three missed penalty attempts did not help their cause.
However Francois Brummer, the all-time leading point scorer with his teammate Sias Ebersohn, finally steadied South African nerves with a 35th minute penalty and, once Bernard had been sin-binned for tackling him without the ball, he added a second.
The sight of one of their chief tormentors heading to the bin seemed to spur South Africa on and on the stroke of half time Sampie Mastriet crossed for their first try, the number 8 dotting down the loose ball after France had failed to deal with a cross-field kick.
Brummer missed the conversion to send South Africa in trailing 20-11. The Baby Boks picked up where they had left off and within a minute of the restart had their second try through Jandre Marais with Brummer’s kick taking them to within two points of France.
Another penalty from the boot of Brummer gave South Africa the lead for the first time and when Bernard returned to the pitch seconds later, he did so with the Baby Boks having scored 18 points in his absence and turned the match on its head.
South Africa’s advantage grew with a drop goal from Sias Ebersohn, a kick which seemed to sap the energy from the French as they began to lose all the possession and territory they had enjoyed in the first half and been responsible for their lightning start.
Scrum half Ross Cronje made matters worse for France when he took a quick tap five metres out and stretched over the line to score with Brummer adding the conversion. The bonus point came in the 69th minute when fly half Lionel Cronje dummied to pass and slid through the gap to score. Mastriet then claimed his second of the match with Brummer’s conversion taking it to 43-20.
France, who had looked like they could cause a shock at the beginning, scored their only points of the half after 77 minutes when they were awarded a penalty try after a period of pressure on the Baby Boks’ line, which Bernard converted.
South Africa’s win means they will head to Tokyo for the semi finals where they meet England in a repeat of last year’s final four. France go to Fukuoka and will play Samoa in the fifth to eight place play-offs.
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POST MATCH REACTION
South Africa coach Eric Sauls: “It was a tough one, especially in the first half. It was a pleasure that we came back and showed the character of our team. We took the opportunities that were there for us.”
“We are World Cup champions, [IRB] Sevens champions and Super 14 champions, so people expect so much from us. That puts pressure on players and sometimes at the beginning of the game they are under pressure and make mistakes.
“The next match against England will be tough. We stay humble now and go back and start building up the team again because in this competition last year, in the semi final, they beat us. We will be wary of that, and start analysing them.”
South Africa captain Robert Ebersohn: “It was a tough match. At the beginning we were not totally in the game but I told the boys to stick to the game. In the second half, we came back by showing our character and won the game by 20 points. We knew we could win if we kept on going because we’ve done the necessary preparation.”
France coach Philippe Boher: “We are so disappointed by this defeat. We would like to congratulate South Africa who fought back from 0-20 down. We stopped playing our game too early, we should have continued to play with the ball more. When South Africa started putting pressure on us, we could not manage that well. Then we lost one player to the sin bin just before half time – that was a turning point of the game.”
France captain Alexandre Lapandry: “I am very disappointed with this result. South Africa took more risks than we did, especially in the second half. Even though we were leading, against a team like them, we didn’t think that we had made it. I want to congratulate them, as well as our team.”
FULL TIME: FIJI 20-14 ITALY
Nikola Matawalu’s try seven minutes from time proved the difference in a tightly-contested encounter at the Kintetsu Hanazono Stadium in Osaka as Fiji ran out 20-14 winners over Italy to finish third in Pool C and guarantee their place at next year’s IRB Junior World Championship.
The replacement capped off a flowing move typical of Fiji with the ball going through several pairs of hands before Matawalu broke free, slipping the desperate tackle of Italian scrum half Luca Martinelli to run round under the posts to give Henry Seniloli an easy conversion to make it 20-11.
Italy hit back almost immediately to keep their hopes of victory alive with centre Tommaso Benvenuti’s third penalty of the match, but they wasted their final attacking opportunity after the hooter had gone. They would have to have run from their own line in any case, but Martinelli kicked the ball into touch.
Fiji could finally celebrate with a guaranteed top 12 finish and an improvement on their 14th place in Wales last year. Italy, by contrast, were left to reflect on what might have been and the knowledge they would not be playing in the elite Under 20 competition in 2010.
Benvenuti had kicked Italy into a ninth minute lead with a penalty, but within minutes the scores were level again after centre Noa Nakaitaci’s long range effort banished memories of his teammate Kolinio Vunaki’s earlier miss before a crowd of 5,379.
Italy tried to overpower Fiji in the set pieces, but this tactic didn’t have the desired effect as they lost the ball at three lineouts and handling errors handed the ball back to the islanders, who went in leading 6-3 at half time after Nakaitaci’s second penalty and two missed kicks from Benvenuti.
The second half looked set to continue in such a tight vein, but within minutes of the restart a knock-on by Martinelli was quickly turned into more points for Fiji with flanker Joseva Levula passing the ball to his fellow forward, second row Penisoni Ledua, to touch down.
Italy’s response, though, was swift with their forwards laying the platform with two strong five-metre scrums before the ball was worked out wide to Giovan Battista Venditti, the wing stepping inside and bouncing off two defenders to touch down in the corner.
Benvenuti missed the conversion, but it was his penalty that was the next score to make it 13-11 just before the hour mark. Fiji looked the more likely to score the match-winning try and Koroi Yavala’s superb break would have delivered it but for a pass going astray.
Fiji, playing the free-flowing Sevens style rugby they are renowned for, made no mistake when it came to creating Matawalu’s try, even if they did have to survive a few nervous minutes as the brave Italians refused to accept the match was lost and battled to the final whistle.
By finishing third in Pool C, Fiji will remain in Osaka for the ninth to 12th place play-offs with Scotland their opponents on Wednesday. Italy will travel to Nagoya on Sunday and face Japan in the play-offs for 13th to 16th.
POST MATCH REACTION
Fiji coach Osea Umuumulovo: “We have suffered from two losses, but we played good and came back to beat Italy to play in this Junior World Cup next year. This year we played in a very tough group with France and South Africa because we finished 14th last year. What we want to do this year is try to finish as high as possible and to be in not so strong a group next year.”
Fiji captain Kini Murimurivalu: “Today, the boys made a hard effort. We are very happy for the win. We are training very hard for the next game.”
Italy head coach Alessandro Ghini: “The match was what we expected – very hard, tough and very close in the result. We knew that Fiji were quick to react to the loose balls and they can be dangerous. Our game plan was to play good in the scrum and use our techniques in mauls and rucks, then penetrate with the speed. Today, we lost a bit of control and discipline and that gave advantage to Fiji. However the team showed the right spirit.”
Italy captain Luca Petillo: “Today, it is difficult, my heart is broken. I’m sad because we cannot play next year in this competition. I’m also sad because today we could not win.”