The IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011 kicked off in Tbilisi with some impressive displays, not least by top seeds Samoa, hosts Georgia, former champions Uruguay and last year's runners up Japan who all tasted victory.
Uruguay were the only one of this quartet not to pick up a try scoring bonus point under the Georgian sun, leaving them second in Pool A behind top seeds Samoa, with the hosts topping Pool B on point differential from Japan.
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Samoa 48-11 USA
Samoa signalled their intentions to secure an immediate return to the IRB Junior World Championship in 2012 with an impressive 48-11 victory over the USA in the first of three matches at the Avchala Stadium.
Led by captain Patrick Fa’apale, Samoa’s greater physicality and speed proved decisive in the victory as the backs took advantage of some good work by their forward pack at the breakdown, securing them quick ball with which to put pressure on the American defence.
There were only three minutes on the clock when prop Ausetalia Vaiomanu touched down and with the Samoan strength seeing them bounce out of tackles, the bonus point was already in the bag by the 20 minute mark with the lively Suamalie Tuiletufuga, Robert Lilomaiava and Talaga Alofipo touching down.
USA captain Will Magie did get his side on the board with two penalties, but Samoa – relegated from the IRB Junior World Championship after finishing bottom in Argentina last year – fully deserved their 24-6 lead at half time.
Tuiletufuga and Faavae Faavae increased Samoa’s lead with tries but the latter’s sin-binning for a high tackle in the 57th minute gave the Americans a boost and they began to put some phases together, getting their reward when wing Madison Hughes won the race to touch down Magie’s kick towards the corner.
The Americans did begin to trouble the Samoan defence more, but also spent long periods defending in their own 22 and the pressure ultimately told with centre Lilomaiava capitalising on some holes in the defence to complete his hat-trick in the last quarter.
“We had to play against a much stronger, very physical opponent,” admitted Magie. “Samoa is a high class team indeed. We will consider the mistakes committed during this match and will try to improve them in our next game.”
USA’s next match is against Russia – a side their senior counterparts will face at Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand – on Saturday, while the pool’s two unbeaten sides Samoa and Uruguay will meet in what promises to be an interesting.
Russia 5-33 Uruguay
Uruguay, who were crowned inaugural Junior World Rugby Trophy champions in 2008, have made a winning start to their 2011 campaign by defeating Russia 33-5 at the Avchala Stadium.
The impressive four-try display was characterised by pace and inventiveness from the former champions, led by their impressive captain Agustín Ormaechea – the son of Uruguay’s legendary coach and captain Diego and younger brother of Juan, who captained his country to that 2008 title.
Uruguay took the lead inside 10 minutes when Federico Favaro surged down the wing, neatly side-stepping a defender to touch down under the posts for the opening try. Ormaechea, who had missed a penalty in the opening minutes, stepped up to make it 7-0 and Uruguayan nerves were settled as Los Teritos showed their flair for attack.
Los Teritos were rewarded again in the 15th minute when they managed to steal a Russian lineout just five metres from the try-line, despite the distinct height advantage of their opponents who boast the tallest team in the tournament.
If the first try was born from sheer pace, the second was worked across the line before Ormaechea touched down in the opposite corner and then converted to make the score 14-0. Lively fly half Felipe Berchesi kicked a drop goal just before half time and when Russia again infringed at the ruck, Ormaechea converted the resulting penalty to ensure a lead of 23-0 at the break.
The second half saw the Russian Bears stem the flow of Uruguayan pressure, and begin to limit some of the handling errors that had cost them possession in the first half. They moved the ball well, and broke the Uruguayan dominance of the scrum to attack with purpose, ultimately creating the opening for their only score of the game, a try by Denis Simplikevich in the corner.
Russia kept the momentum for a 15-minute spell and committed numbers forward until one such move in the 76th minute led to a stray pass being intercepted by the exceptional Ormaechea, who burst through the Russian line at speed to score.
The Uruguayan captain then converted his own try and then added another penalty in added time as they got the confidence boosting victory they would have hoped for before facing top seeds Samoa in round two on Saturday.
Georgia 38-9 Canada
Georgia proved their billing among the favourites to be crowned IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011 champions was justified by defeating Canada 38-9 in their opening Pool B encounter in front of a passionate home crowd of over 2,000 at the Avchala Stadium.
A nervous start from both teams meant that all the points scored in the first half came from the boot with full back Bakhva Kobakhidze leading the Georgian attack with four penalties, including one of over 50 metres, as his Canadian counterpart Liam Underwood responded with a penalty of his own.
The close encounter reached half time with the score at 12-3 as Georgia’s captain David Losaberidze admitted “at the beginning it was a bit difficult, we felt sort of constrained – this is why the score was so small. However, the game got organised after a while.”
The home side settled their nerves, however, in the second half and began making their dominant possession count. A disallowed try for Georgia was followed quickly by the first try of the match, scored by Levan Chilachava after enforced pressure on the Canadian line.
The reliable boot of Kobakhidze again converted and Georgia began to pull away. The partisan home crowd responded and when Giga T khilaishvili recovered the ball after a restart on the hour mark, they held their collective breath as the flanker rampaged through the Canada defence and sprinted 30 metres, finding space where there seemed to be none to cross for a memorable individual try. The conversion from Kobakhidze meant the score was now 26-9 and the Georgians looked dominant across the park.
With time running out Georgia won a lineout five metres from the Canadian line and a clever move saw Kote Mikautadze touch down, but it was left to Zura Zhvania to secure the bonus point with his side’s fourth try, a score which could prove crucial with only the pool winner keeping alive their hopes of winning the title.
Japan 37-24 Zimbabwe
Last year’s runners up Japan got their IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011 campaign off to a winning start, running in five tries for a 37-24 victory over Zimbabwe in a highly entertaining encounter at the Shevardeni Stadium.
Nothing could separate the teams when they drew 20-20 in the pool stages last year, but this time around Japan were keen to lay down a marker early on and despite Tommy Nelson’s early penalty for the African champions inside two minutes, Hiroki Murakawa set the wheels in motion with a sixth minute try.
Fly half Ryodo Nakamura made amends for missing the conversion by kicking a penalty six minutes later and further tries from captain Keisuke Uchida and Kazushi Hano ensured the dynamic Japanese reached the break with a comfortable 23-3 advantage.
Zimbabwe put aside any opening day nerves and rallied in the second half, perhaps sensing another opportunity to cause a tournament upset. They were rewarded with three tries of their own through Takura Tela, Kuda Chiwanza and Dylan Coetzee, all of them converted by Nelson.
In between however, the enterprising outside centre Lafaele Vaifu, who shone throughout this Pool B match, and Jungkyu Kim added further scores for a Japanese side that looked comfortable throughout.
“We are satisfied with the result but not with the performance quality, especially in the second half,” said captain Uchida, whose side will face Canada in round two on Saturday. “The Zimbabwe team is very strong physically and they used every conceivable opportunity to attack, especially at the end of the game.”
Zimbabwe captain Marco Mam added: “This was our first game, we were very nervous, probably this is why our performance in the first half was so weak. In the second half we successfully attempted to amend the situation and, hopefully, will play better in our next matches. I really liked the Japanese team – they are very good at every component of the game, all the players are quick and skilful.”