USA will play Romania in the final of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2009 following a thrilling, yet nail-biting conclusion to the pool stages in the Kenya capital Nairobi on Wednesday.
The Junior Eagles, who were relegated from last year's IRB Junior World Championship, left it late to score the fourth try against Namibia to win 29-24 and pip hosts Kenya to top spot in Pool A and with it passage to Sunday's final.
David Tameilua's try secured the bonus point to take them above Kenya in the standings, the hosts having done all they could by scoring 10 tries in a 67-0 victory over the Cayman Islands in the opening match at the RFUEA Grounds.
The Pool B decider also went right down to the wire with Romania centre Filip Lazar capitalising on a Chile mistake to score in the dying minutes to avenge their loss at this stage last year and book their place in the final with a 26-20 win.
Chile, the 2008 runners-up, will now face hosts Kenya in the third place play-off, while Namibia can finish no higher than fifth again this year and will meet Papua New Guinea after the Oceania champions claimed a first win in the tournament - 43-19 over Korea.
The other match on the tournament's final day will be the seventh place play-off between the Cayman Islands and Korea, the only two sides yet to record a victory in this Under 20 tournament in Kenya.
Cause for celebration
The climax to Pool A could not have been more tense with Namibia and then Kenya having one foot in the final until Tameilau silenced the home crowd and sparked celebrations among the USA players and management on the sidelines.
The Junior Eagles looked to have blown their chance of facing the Pool B winner when they conceded two tries early in the second half as Namibia, fired up by coach Johan Diergaardt's words at half-time, caught them cold.
First replacement Johannes Tromp was handed a try on a plate with an easy interception to race clear, then Namibia took the lead for the first time after flanker Waldo Schafer charged from halfway through some slack tackling to score.
USA though kept plugging away, upping their work-rate and piling the pressure on Namibia to get the two tries they needed as a simple win would leave them tied on 11 points with Kenya with the hosts progressing by virtue of winning their head-to-head 33-32.
Tai Enosa gave them hope, the fly half side-stepping through the Namibian defence with eight minutes remaining to edge USA ahead, but it was Tameilua who proved the match-winner as he barged over the try-line.
"We knew what we had to do when we went into the game," admitted stand-in captain Barry Sheehan, who had seen Brett Thompson and Kyle Stroman tries give his side a 12-3 half-time advantage.
"We were confident, focused and needed to be more physical. We lost concentration in all the set pieces, but being eager to play in the final kept us working."
While USA coach Salty Thompson admitted it was a "tremendous feeling" to have made the final, his counterpart Diergaardt was concerned by Namibia's hunger for victory after seeing them go from top of the standings to third following the Kenya and USA wins.
"I feel that my boys were not hungry enough for a win and let the USA carry the day. They wanted it more than we did and that's why we lost the game. We dominated in the lineouts and even turned over some of their rucks, but unfortunately we lost."
Nervous affair decides Pool B
The final match of the pool stages, between the unbeaten teams in Pool B, was another encounter full of twists and turns with the added spice of Chile having beaten Romania 14-3 to reach the final in last year's competition.
Romania made the better start against the nervous South Americans, capitalising on a number of handling errors to take a 6-0 lead with two penalties from fly half Stefan Patrascu. His counterpart Juan Bostelmann kicked a drop goal to get Chile on the scoreboard before Patrascu saw a drop goal charged down and a penalty go wide.
George Laban had looked nervous under the high ball early on, but the full back started the move which resulted in a try by wing Mauricio Rey that Chile the lead for the only time in the match, one that did not last long as they gave away a kickable penalty for Pastrascu within a minute at the RFUEA Grounds.
Both sides missed penalties attempts at the start of the second half before Chile started to exert some pressure and pin Romania in their own half. However failure to turn pressure into points proved costly when wing Cristian Rizea scored two tries in as many minutes to establish a 21-8 lead with 20 minutes to play.
His brace of tries looked to have broken Chile's resolve, but the desire to reach the final to fulfil their promise to win the tournament in memory of their team-mate Santiago Fuenzalida - who died in a car accident last November - ensured they kept fighting.
They got their reward within minutes with Rey scoring two quick-fire tries to cut the deficit to one point, but their lively scrum half Nicolas Herreros saw his touchline conversion fade wide at the last minute to leave Chile trailing 21-20 and needing to score again.
Romania avenge painful loss
Both sides created scoring opportunities as the match drew to a tense conclusion, but as Chile swung the ball from left to right, a pass went behind their player and Lazar pounced, hacking on the ball before re-gathering and winning the race to touch down in the corner.
Even then the victory wasn't certain as Patrascu missed the conversion, meaning that Chile were only a converted try away from the final. They made it into the Romanian 22, but lost the ball and with it their dreams of succeeding Uruguay as champions.
"It's a bad feeling when you lose, but I congratulate the Romanians who played really well," said Chile coach Rodrigo Boyé. "I believe that at some moments we were perhaps nervous and also at some point, especially towards the end, we lost concentration.
His Romanian counterpart, former national captain Mircea Paraschiv, added: "I am happy, the team is happy. Last year they beat us back in Chile and this is more of revenge, although only five players in this team were present in the previous encounter in Chile.
"We kept the bulb burning and the communication amongst the players won us the match. Lineouts are always our strong point, but it was so unfortunate we lost most of the balls."
Hosts await Chile
Boyé must now pick his side up to face a Kenyan outfit who have grown in confidence as the tournament has progressed and will have the advantage of a passionate home crowd cheering their every move in the third place play-off.
"For now we wait for the next match against Kenya - they have good skill and the home ground advantage gives them an upper hand. It will be a tough match," added Boyé.
The hosts were within five minutes of the final themselves before Tameilua's intervention, having earlier secured the required bonus point victory in style, running in 10 tries to beat Cayman Islands 67-0 with the forwards key to Kenya's win.
Seven of the tries were scored by forwards with flanker Oscar Ouma claiming a hat-trick as hooker Matthew Musalia, prop Dennis Karani, replacement prop Jeremy Ngoroge and the impressive number 8 Ken Isindu also crossed the try-line.
"I was not expecting to score a hat-trick, but truly the co-ordination among the back rows is what has really brought in the tries," admitted Ouma. "In the first half we hadn't really settled."
Kenya would have had the bonus point wrapped up by half time had Patrice Agunda not dropped the ball as he went to touch it down in the fifth minute, but the centre made amends by scoring his side's third try after Ouma and Musalia had touched down to make it 22-0 at the break.
The Cayman Islands were a much-improved side from their losses against USA and Namibia and took the game to Kenya early on, but the hosts' determination and constant battering with their forward pack proved the difference to leave their opponents still looking for a first win in an IRB international 15-a-side tournament.
"It feels better than the other matches we have played before, Kenya is a good team and the boys really played their hearts out," said Cayman Islands coach Richard Adams.
Try burst seals first win for PNG
Adams' side will hope to break their duck against Korea in the seventh place playoff, the Asian champions unable to recover from a burst of three tries in six first half minutes from Papua New Guinea in the only match of the day played at the Impala ground.
The Oceania champions displayed the same boundless energy and attacking verve that had seen them score six memorable tries - many of them end-to-end scores - in their previous losses to Romania and Chile.
Flanker Christopher Namani gave Papua New Guinea the lead after 20 minutes before wing Bobby Pau and captain Christopher Kakah also crossed to stamp their authority on the match. Number 8 Joshua Posu scored a fourth try in the 34th minute to give his side a 26-0 lead at half-time.
Korea were much improved after the break, more disciplined and controlled in their kicking game, and scored the first tries of the second half through Kim Kun Hui and Yang Soo Woong to cut the deficit to 29-12.
However any thoughts of a Korean comeback were soon dashed as flanker Desmond Korpok and Pay crossed for Papua New Guinea. Korea did though score a consolation try through Choi Muk Hwan and will be looking to end on a high with a first win of the tournament against Cayman Islands on Sunday.
"We are disappointed with the loss. We played well but it was unfortunate we never won. We are going for the kill on Sunday," said Korea captain Lee Seung Bae.