Defending champions England and 2012 winners South Africa signalled their intentions to lift the distinctive IRB Junior World Championship trophy with impressive victories over Australia and hosts New Zealand respectively in round two on Friday.
England cut through Australia's defence at will at times in their Pool A match but could never truly shake off their opponents in the 38-24 victory, while South Africa also came from behind to beat their hosts 33-24 with captain Handre Pollard steering the ship impressively. With the failure of Australia and New Zealand to gain a bonus point, England and South Africa will top their respective pools regardless of results on Tuesday.
France are the other unbeaten team after they beat Fiji 37-5 win in Pukekohe and 2013 runners-up Wales fell to a 35-21 defeat against a rejuvenated Ireland team. The shock of the day, though, was caused by Italy who edged a seesaw battle with Argentina 29-26.
VIEW THE POOL STANDINGS >>
Pool A: Argentina 26-29 Italy DETAILS >>
Italy caused the first shock of the tournament by handing sixth seeds Argentina their second defeat thanks to captain Filippo Buscema's boot. The Azzurrini left coach Alessandro Troncon almost lost for words afterwards, having time and time again edged themselves in front in the dying minutes through Buscema and then held firm to prevent Argentina sneaking the win.
First half tries from Gabriele di Guilio - whose twin brother Daniele played on the wing - and Lorenzo Maria Bruno gave Italy the lead at half-time. They were never headed after that, although Patricio Fernandez three times kicked Los Pumitas level. Argentina had a chance to tie things up with less than two minutes to go, but Fernandez went for the corner and Italy's defence held firm.
Troncon: “I am very happy. I am very proud of these guys. The boys needed this, they played a great game of rugby and were mentally tough. We wanted to win this match and we stayed mentally tough. You can see at times these players don’t believe in themselves so a result like this is fantastic for the team. Our defence was good at the end – still lots to work on, especially around the offside, but they grew and showed the belief to win.”
Pool A: England 38-24 Australia DETAILS >>
England produced a performance befitting their status as defending champions, recovering from the setback of conceding an early try to five tries of their own with scrum half Henry Taylor and Nathan Earle both grabbing braces at QBE Stadium.
Two tries in four first half minutes by Turner allowed England to build up a real head of steam with Australia, who had looked so impressive against Argentina on day one, struggling to stay with them. Andrew Kellaway, though, scored a double for the second match in a row to keep his side in it at 24-17 at the break.
The defending champions had other ideas and continually broke through the Australian defence, picking up their second bonus point win to book their place in the semi-finals with a match against Argentina still to come.
England coach Nick Walshe: “I would have liked us to get away but credit to Australia they kept coming back at us. I am really pleased with the result. We felt like we can improve, which you have to do when you’re in a tournament like this. There were periods we played well and times when we made a few mistakes. It is a good Australian team – so we have to be happy. We don’t have too many superstars in this team but we have a lot of players very close in ability.” Pool B: France 37-5 Fiji DETAILS >>
France stuttered through the opening half against Fiji before turning an eight-point lead into a convincing victory with five second-half tries, including one from Arthur Bonneval whose older brother Hugo will play for the senior team against Australia on Saturday.
With scrum half Thibault Daubagna catching the eye just as Baptiste Serin had in round one, France didn't look back after they were awarded a penalty try within minutes of the restart. Fiji at times showed glimpses of Sevens-like attack but they could only manage a consolation try through Vasikali Mudu with time up on the clock and with a man down after Maika Baleinaloto had been sent off.
France captain Francois Cros: "Yes we are happy but in this match the first half was not really good, so we are happy but we have to work for the next match.I think they scored because we were tired at the end of the match, it's not good for us but it was a good game."
Pool B: Wales 21-35 Ireland DETAILS >>
Ireland avenged their loss to Wales in the Under 20 Six Nations to keep alive hopes of reaching a first Junior World Championship semi-final with only Fiji to face in Pool B. Wales may have started in red-hot fashion against Fiji, but this time Ireland were out of the blocks quickly with two tries in the first 12 minutes in Pukekohe.
Wales did rally to trail by only two at half-time and hit the front in the second with a penalty try when Ireland had two players in the sin-bin, but 18 unanswered points from the men in green - including tries from Garry Ringrose and Cian Kelleher secured another important bonus point too.
Ireland captain Jack O'Donoghue: "We are absolutely thrilled, things didn't go our way against France but we surely put them right today now. It was a massive performance by all the boys and I couldn't be more proud of them. They got one over us in the Six Nations and it's our turn today."
Pool C: Scotland 17-28 Samoa DETAILS >>
Two tries in four minutes early in the second half gave Samoa the breathing space they needed to secure a first win of the tournament over Scotland. First Nathaniel Apa ran in after a great pop pass from his centre partner Paul Ah Him and the fly half William Talataina Mu picked up one handed and stepped the cover defence to go over unchallenged.
With the Samoan supporters making plenty of noise in the crowd, along with pupils from Wesley High School and Rosehill Primary School who were given time off to come to the match, the team proved that their performance against New Zealand on day one was no one-off and then treated their fans to a Siva Tau as a thank you.
There was one milestone reached by Scotland with Jamie Farndale's try in the first half drawing him level with New Zealand's Zac Guildford and Andrew Conway of Ireland as the leading try scorers in Junior World Championship history with 10.
Samoa captain Henry Stowers: "Well we didn't want to disappoint them. We've got a good crowd out here and we got good support so the boys wanted to put in a good performance for out Samoan family and also the school kids out here supporting us."
Pool C: New Zealand 24-33 South Africa DETAILS >>
Tevita Li scored a hat-trick of tries for New Zealand but it was South Africa who came out on top to confirm their place in the semi-finals after denying their hosts a bonus point. That failure to collect a bonus point leaves New Zealand in real danger of missing out on the semi-finals for the first time in JWC history.
The pace of Li helped New Zealand into a 14-6 lead midway through the first half, but with the South African forward pack laying a strong foundation again, Pollard was able to impress at fly half and the Kriel twins - Jesse and Dan - silence the highly-rated centre pairing of the hosts.
Pollard finished with 18 points, including a try, to close to within 10 points of the leading point scorer mantle in JWC history, while Jesse Kriel and fellow backs Warwick Gelant and Lloyd Greef also dotted down in another display that shows their intention to claim a second JWC title.
South Africa coach Dawie Theron: "The game could have gone either way, but it went ours and we are thankful for that. The competition is tough and it was made tougher having New Zealand in our pool. We both knew what was at stake and we trained and played like a final. This game was something we really worked for and it will give us significant momentum."
New Zealand coach Chris Boyd: "We were very positive at half time. We felt we had taken the opportunities we had been given but in the second half we could not get out of our red zone and were starved of possession. We wanted to run them around but could not play that game. Their forward pack laid a great platform and put us on the back foot and we ended up having to take risks which worked sometime but most of the time we could not keep our shape."