The pouring rain and muddy pitch proved a huge leveller at Danie Craven Stadium on Friday as Wales handed New Zealand their first ever Junior World Championship loss after Argentina had beaten the other title favourites Australia.
New Zealand had won all 21 of their previous matches and had humiliated Wales 92-0 in last year’s tournament in Italy, but in difficult conditions there was never going to be a repeat of that clinical performance by the Baby Blacks.
Wales, particularly the players who experienced that painful defeat in Italy, were determined to set the record straight and played with immense pride and passion from start to finish to create their piece of history.
They certainly had to work hard for the 9-6 victory, making three times as many tackles as the Baby Blacks, but the boots of Matthew Morgan and Tom Prydie – capped four times by the Welsh national side in 2010 – sealed the win.
It was not an easy night for any of the kickers with no firm ground on which to plant their standing foot, Morgan, Prydie and New Zealand fly half Scott Eade missing seven kicks between them to keep the score low and tight.
Speechless at historic win
The Welsh players went wild at the final whistle and hooker Kirby Myhill, who took over the captaincy earlier in the day when Cory Hill had to pull out due to illness, could hardly put into words what the victory meant to them.
“It's an honour just to be captain, to play against New Zealand one of the best teams in the world, it's an amazing feeling. New Zealand are an amazing team but we were never going to lose, it meant so much to us after last year when we lost 92-0. That was a big loss, we wanted prove a point and I think we did that.
“They have never lost in four years, that says what a great team they are and shows how well we played – we cannot take anything away from the boys, it was amazing.”
His counterpart Bryn Hall admitted Wales had “done their country proud”, while New Zealand coach Rob Penney revealed the devastation in the Baby Blacks dressing room after seeing hopes of a fifth successive title dented.
“We are very disappointed with the result, the effort and energy was there but not the accuracy. Our game management was poor and the Welsh made us suffer for that.
New Zealand heartbroken
“The boys are desperately keen to do well, you will never see a New Zealand team lie down and I didn’t feel we were beaten, we were on the scoreboard but we got into positions and it just didn’t happen for us.
“The boys are heartbroken at the moment. They must get up, we have another job to do in four or five days (against Fiji) so we look forward to that.”
New Zealand’s first JWC defeat will steal the limelight, but Argentina deserve their share of praise too after proving that their opening day win over France was no one-off by causing an even bigger upset and beating title contenders Australia 15-3.
Los Pumitas had a smile on their faces when the rain began to fall in the early hours of Thursday, knowing the conditions would favour them more than Australia and they adapted better to the wet and muddy conditions, using their rolling maul to great effect as the match progressed.
Australia had started the better and spent much of the opening quarter in Argentina’s half but paid the price for missing three kicks at goal when Felipe Nougues intercepted near halfway and raced clear to score the opening try in the 26th minute.
Argentine pride and passion
It could have got worse minutes later had Sebastián Poet’s chip ahead not trickled over the dead ball line before he reached it, but Australia were boosted by Kyle Godwin’s kick just before the break and then the yellow card for Rodrigo Parada Heit for his side’s persistent infringements.
Australia, though, could not find a way through the resolute Pumitas’ defence despite having two thirds of the possession and instead it was flanker Pablo Matera who won the race to touch down Rodolfo Ambrosio’s kick through to make certain of the victory.
“In this tournament it's a another victory for us. We want to win, we have a dream and don't think anything is going to stop us,” insisted Argentina captain Sebastian Poet.
“We know the conditions were favourable for us, we have a very strong pack and especially in the scrums, rucks, mauls and tackles it was an advantage. I think it was mainly psychological, we knew we had a chance to win through the scrums.
“The team is very united and the passion is high, in Argentina that's how we live. Rugby is about passion, we are all amateur or semi professional players and it's with this passion that we come here and look for great things.”
Wales and Argentina now have their destiny in their hands with victories against Samoa and Scotland on Tuesday guaranteeing them a place in the semi finals as Pool A and C winners respectively.
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The Welsh have been there before in 2008 – a side featuring the likes of Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies – but for Argentina it would guarantee them their best ever finish, beating their sixth place on home soil in 2010.
New Zealand and Australia now have to pick up maximum points in their final pool matches against Fiji and France and then keep fingers crossed it is enough to keep alive their title dreams.
Australia’s task will be the harder of the two after France bounced back from their opening loss against Argentina to beat Scotland 30-29 with late try from replacement prop Sebastien Taofifenua, the heaviest player in the tournament.
Scotland, swept aside 67-12 by Australia on the opening day, seemed on course to cause yet another shock in this tournament thanks to a 19-point haul from captain Harry Leonard and a penalty try only for France to deny them late on, just as they had in the Under 20 Six Nations earlier in the year.
“To be in the lead with a couple of minutes to go and then to lose the game is disappointing,” admitted Scotland coach Peter Wright. “But we challenged the players to be in the game with 20 minutes to go, which we were.
“They showed guts, determination and a lot of attitude and it was a huge improvement from our performance against Australia and that’s what we asked them to do, to be better in all aspects of the game.”
Win slips from Ireland grasp
Argentina top Pool C with eight points, followed by France with six, Australia on five and Scotland on one, leaving the hopes of the French and Australians hanging in the balance and praying for Scotland to upset Los Pumitas on Tuesday.
Wales, one of only two other unbeaten teams in the most competitive Junior World Championship to date, top Pool A with nine points, three more than four-time champions New Zealand with Fiji on four and Samoa bottom with no points.
The only other unbeaten team are England, albeit only after a strong second half performance by their forwards to turn a 15-3 half-time deficit into a narrow 20-15 victory at Danie Craven Stadium.
Ireland, buoyed by their opening day upset win against South Africa, were keen to avenge their loss to England in the Six Nations title decider and dominated the first half with half backs JJ Hanrahan and Kieran Marmion crossing the try-line.
England had two players sin-binned in the first half, playing with 13 men at one stage, but it was the yellow card for Ireland replacement Shane Buckley just past the hour which proved decisive in determining the winner.
Within seconds of his departure, England were awarded a penalty try by Lourens van der Merwe and a second try quickly followed through prop Kyle Sinckler, the 2011 runners-up scoring 14 points while they had the advantage.
Ireland battled bravely but had to settle for a losing bonus point, coach Mike Ruddock admitting they would “look back on that and say we let them get away” before paying tribute to England’s second half recovery.
South Africa restore pride
“But we must give England credit, a great second half for them, they took us on up front really and they were very organised in the second half and showed a lot of metal to get back from that deficit.”
For England captain Ryan Mills the fight back showed his side are not a one-dimensional outfit. “It was a fantastic effort from all the boys, especially the boys up front who showed that we can win in a different kind of way, instead of chucking the ball around the way we normally do. It's great to know that we got that in the locker as well.
“It was a fantastic effort from my forwards. It's not the type of game where you can chuck the ball around. We tried it in the first half - it didn't work for us. We had to change to using our forwards, play a tighter game and it worked for us.”
England top Pool B with nine points, followed by South Africa on six and Ireland a point behind with Italy on zero. The Irish will expect to pick up a bonus point win against Italy on Tuesday, but then face a nervous wait to see if it is enough to secure a first ever semi final depending on the South Africa-England tussle.
The two rivals met to battle it out for top spot in their pool last year and played out a classic, England’s win ultimately condemning South Africa to the fifth to eighth place play-offs, something they won’t want to contemplate again on home soil.
South Africa bounced back well from their loss to Ireland and simply had too much for Italy to handle at the University of Western Cape Stadium in Cape Town, much to the delight of their vocal fans who had braved the wet conditions.
They may have been nervous with the Junior Boks leading only 19-3 at half time, but second half tries from Vian van der Watt, Jan Serfontein, Braam Steyn, Steven Kitshoff and Patrick Howard ensured South Africa ran out convincing 52-3 winners over the Azzurrini.