The IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 gathers momentum on Wednesday with the semi finals taking place in Tokyo, and the playoffs spread across Fukuoka, Osaka and Nagoya.
We take a look at some of the key battles that could contribute to the outcomes of the two semi finals at the Prince Chichubi Memorial Stadium.
NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA
The first semi final to take place will see Australia take on defending champions New Zealand in the 17:00 local time kick off. While the match will not be won by one or two players, there will be an interesting battle in the half backs.
At scrum half Frae Wilson has started one match for New Zealand against Ireland in the pool stages, and was a replacement for the other two Pool A matches. He scored a try in both matches he came off the bench, including the first of seven second half tries the Baby Blacks scored against Argentina within a minute of coming onto the pitch.
Wilson stands 176cm tall and weighs 85kg, and will play opposite Richard Kingi, who is the same height but 5kg lighter and has been grabbing a few of the headlines at this year’s JWC.
The Australian has started two matches and scored 42 points, the most by any player so far in this year’s Championship. On day one against Canada he equalled the record for the most tries in a match - four - and beat the record for the most points in a JWC match with a 26-point haul. Add to this the fact he was born in New Zealand and this will be an extra special battle for Kingi.
These two will be paired with Aaron Cruden and Matt To’omua respectively. Cruden is the New Zealand captain and has played in two of their three Pool A matches, having been rested for the decider against Argentina. To’omua has started all three of Australia’s matches and has scored 20 points (two tries and five conversions), 15 more than his opposite number.
To’omua, however, has a lot of respect for Cruden and knows the match against the New Zealanders will not only come down to his individual battle.
“Most Kiwi teams are all individually brilliant athletically. They have a lot of pace out wide, and a lot of with experience with people like Zac Guildford and a good controlling 10 who can play football,” said Australia’s vice captain.
“He [Cruden] is a good player. As far as I know he has been through a lot in the last few years. He has shown a lot of character to come out here and captain the side.
“Obviously I have got a lot respect for him but it is about the team and it is about us hopefully getting 15 players over instead of that one on one battle. But I am sure it will be interesting to watch and something to note later on.”
The New Zealand team make eight changes, including Wilson and Cruden’s inclusion in the starting line up. Guildford, who also came off the bench to score against Argentina, starts with Nafi Tuitavake moving from the centre to the wing.
Australia’s Robbie Coleman comes in for Kurtley Beale, who has flown home after suffering a hamstring tear against Wales in the Pool D decider, with Dane Haylett-Petty switching from the wing to full back.
ENGLAND V SOUTH AFRICA
In the second semi final at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, England will take on South Africa at 19:00 local time in a repeat of last year’s semi final which the European side won 26-18.
With differing fortunes in the back row throughout the tournament, with injuries and two number 8s performing beyond expectations, this is certain to be a battle up front.
South Africa lost their flanker Tendayi Chikukwa to injury against France, whereas England welcomed their flanker and captain Calum Clark back into their side that overwhelmed Samoa 52-7 and he is named in the line up for this semi final.
England’s number 8 Carl Fearns has scored four tries in the tournament and the scrum showed their ability, being too powerful for even the Samoans with Uini Atonio and Siaosi Otto Iona - weighing in at just under 300kg alone - in the front row. Fearns has a natural ability to control the ball at the back of the scrum and this has resulted in his tries and a few assists.
However his opposite number Cristiaan Stander has been demonstrating his own powerful ball carrying skills and is looking forward to the challenge up front. He believes the forwards is an area that gave England the victory last year, but one the Baby Boks can control this time around, despite losing the services of Chikukwa.
“This is the game we have been looking forward too. Last year they gave us a scare in the last semi final, so we were looking out for this game and it is going to be hard. That is our goal to beat them this year. And also in the scrums, they were physical in the scrum so we want to hit them in that point.
“I have seen a video of them and he [Carl Fearns] is my best opposition of what I saw. I don’t know him personally but I think it is going to be nice. He [Chikukwa] is our speedster in our loose forwards, so it is a blow to us. But we have great potential and great depth, so it is a big big blow but it is going to be fun.”
Marnus Schoeman comes in for the injured Chikukwa and Nicolaas Hanekom for the suspended Sias Ebersohn as the only changes for South Africa. England also make just two changes with James Gaskell replacing Dan Williams in the second row and George Lowe and Charlie Sharples switching wings.
In the other venues, Fukuoka will play host to the fifth to eight placed playoffs involving Ireland, Samoa, France and Wales with the matches having moved from the Best Amenity Stadium to the Level 5 Stadium.
Ireland make nine changes with Dave Kearney moving from full back to wing for their match against Wales, who themselves make four changes with captain Scott Andrews making his first start in this year’s Championship. Samoa meet France in the other match with the Pacific islanders making four changes and France making 10, including captain Alexandre Lapandry switching from flanker to number 8.
The ninth to 12th placed playoffs will be held in Osaka at the Kintetsu Hanazono Stadium. As with the first two pool matches, the kick off times will be earlier than the other venues, at 13:00 and 15:00 local time. Tonga become the first side to name an unchanged side and they meet Argentina, who make eight changes.
In the later kick off Scotland meet Fiji. The islanders make seven changes, and Scotland make six, with Finlay Gillies coming in for Fraser Brown at hooker, the Scottish captain having been ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.
In Nagoya, at the Mizuho Rugby Ground, the 13th to 16th place playoffs will take place. Uruguay make eight changes and Canada make five with Brett Beukeboom moving from number 8 to the second row. In the later kick-off Japan make four, including captain Ryuhei Arita reverting back to hooker, the position from which he scored a hat-trick against Samoa. Italy make seven from the team that lost 20-14 to Fiji.
** Watch the semi finals live and on-demand for free on Wednesday 17 June. First up at the Prince Chicuhibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo will be defending champions New Zealand against Australia at 17:00 local time, followed by a repeat of the 2008 last four showdown between England and South Africa at 19:00 **
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** 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, the Pool C matches (Fiji v Italy and France v South Africa) on 13 June, along with highlights of the matchdays. **
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