JWC 2010: Play-offs Preview

(IRB.COM) Wednesday 16 June 2010
 JWC 2010: Play-offs Preview
Scotland and Tonga will meet for the second time in five days

They may no longer be able to be lift the IRB Junior World Championship trophy, but the race for places from fifth to 12th continues in Argentina on Thursday.



The action will get underway first at the Club Atletico Estudiantes in Paraná where the matches take on extra significance for Ireland, Samoa, Scotland and Tonga as the side losing their next two matches will drop out of the Junior World Championship for 2011.

The consequences of defeat may not be as high for the four sides taking to the Estadio CA Colon pitch in Santa Fe, but France, Wales, hosts Argentina and Fiji will all be eager to finish as 'best of the rest' behind the four semi finalists.

With Argentina having relocated to Santa Fe after finishing third in Pool B, the crowds are certain to flock again to the stadium for Los Pumitas' first ever encounter with Wales in Junior World Championship history.

Wales will be looking to bounce back after the disappointment of losing 43-10 to New Zealand in their Pool A decider, having kicked off with wins over Samoa 22-13 and Fiji 31-3. This is in stark contrast to Argentina, who picked up their first win of the tournament - 24-21 against Ireland - in Rosario that day.

"Our objective is to go as high as possible in the ranking, but we are just thinking about being well prepared for the match against Wales, we cannot think further ahead," said Alejandro Molinuevo, one of the Los Pumitas' triumvirate of coaches.

"The boys have got over the bad beginning of the tournament. We're now a strong group and we aren't only physically but also emotionally prepared. We're working very hard on this."

Wales ring changes

Argentina have made four changes to the starting line up, two in the forwards and two in backs where Fernando Luna, a call-up last week after full back Ramiro Moyano was ruled out of the tournament with concussion, will get his first start.

Wales, who finished sixth in last year's tournament, have also rung the changes with coach Phil Davies welcoming captain Dan Watchurst back into the front row with fly half Matthew Jarvis' hopes of becoming the third player to reach a century of points in Junior World Championship history put on hold as he drops to the bench.

The other play-off in this bracket of fifth to eighth brings together France and Fiji, two sides who met in the pool stages last year in Osaka with the European outfit running out 38-25 winners in an entertaining match.

France will be looking to bounce back from a 17-9 loss to England that ended their hopes of a first ever JWC semi final appearance and ensure they remain on course to match their fifth place finish of 2009.

Fiji, by contrast, are already guaranteed their best ever finish in the Under 20 tournament - having previously finished 14th in 2008 and 12th in Japan last year - after Iromi Dawai's last minute try snatched a 15-12 win over Samoa in the last round.

Josh Matavesi, Fiji's youngest every international player, reverts back to fly half after starting against Samoa in the number 15 jersey, with Thomas Linde taking his place and Christopher Nasiganiyavi coming in for Penaia Driu Naweilulu.

Italy or the JWRT?

The four sides in Paraná will all be eager to taste victory on Thursday, knowing that if they do they will have safeguarded their future in the Junior World Championship for another year, booking their ticket to Italy and not the Junior World Rugby Trophy instead.

Ireland are arguably the most disappointed of the sides to be in this predicament, having arrived in Argentina full of confidence as Under 20 Six Nations champions but finished bottom of their pool after defeats by France, England and the hosts.

Coach Allen Clarke, who saw his captain Rhys Ruddock whisked away to join the senior squad in New Zealand before the third round of matches, has made nine changes to the side beaten by Los Pumitas.

Four of these come in back, while Michael Heaney and Noel Reid get their chance to shine at half back in place of John Cooney and reliable goal-kicker James McKinney as Clarke seeks to rediscover the winning formula.

"The match will be very important since we're looking to reach the highest position possible now in the ranking. We´ll try to get a good result and to win our first match in the tournament. Samoa has a very compact way of playing. We do not know much about them but we will try to be well prepared for the match."

Samoa, who beat Ireland 9-3 to finish seventh in the 2009 tournament, are also still seeking their first victory in Argentina after losing to Wales (22-13), New Zealand (77-7) and Fiji. They have made only two changes, one of them forced with captain and hooker Steven Savali injured and replaced by Ausetalia Vaiomanu.

Repeat performance

The fans in Paraná could be forgiven for doing a double take as Scotland and Tonga run out onto the field in the 15:00 local time kick-off, the two sides having only met in the last round with the Scots triumphing 27-3 for their first win of the tournament.

Scotland, who beat Tonga 28-25 to finish ninth last year, had previously suffered heavy losses to Australia (58-13) and South Africa (73-0) before overcoming the islanders and know that they will have to be on their game to beat Tonga again.

"We won the last game of the pool against Tonga and we know that they're a very tough team. The team is very physical and we should take care of the ball, go through different phases and score points, but we also know that it is going to be a test of character," admitted Craig Chalmers, the Scotland assistant coach.

"We should take advantage of the opportunities when we have them. It's a very important match for both teams and we should achieve a victory and I hope we can make it."

Tonga also found life difficult against the free-scoring Australians and South Africans, losing 67-5 and 40-14 respectively, but coach Nili Tu'ipulotu has said his side must win on Thursday "to be satisfied".

"The last time we played Scotland we should have won since we had territorial advantage and ball possession, but we failed in turning that superiority into points. When they had the chance, they took advantage of it."

In the knockout stages of the tournament there must be a result, with sudden death extra time played in the event of the sides being level at full time. If this fails to produce a winner, then a kicking competition will be used to determine the winner.