Samoa will face Japan for the right to play in next year’s IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa after topping their respective pools in what has turned out to be a tightly contested Junior World Rugby Trophy in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Wednesday.
The Oceania champions were clear leaders in Pool A and completed their clean sweep with a 50-14 win over Russia, while Japan needed all the energy they had to beat their hosts 29-14 before a partisan crowd at the Avchala Stadium in the Pool B decider.
Georgia must now regroup to face Uruguay in the third place play-off on Saturday, while Russia tackle Canada for fifth spot and USA meet Africa champions Zimbabwe to avoid finishing bottom of the rankings.
Uruguay 33-5 USA
Under a blazing Tbilisi sun, Uruguay bounced back from their defeat by Samoa to show why they are the second ranked Under 20 side in the Americas with a 33-5 victory over the USA at Avchala Stadium.
Los Teritos were stronger in almost every department and scored four tries as they showcased their ability to turn possession into points, their first coming when, following some quick recycling of the ball, USA could not stop full back Guillermo del Cerro from touching down.
Felipe Berchesi, who had taken over the captaincy from the injured Agustín Ormaechea, kicked a 45-metre penalty before adding a second, angled penalty just before the referee called a much-needed water break in the 20th minute.
The break gave the Americans a lift and within five minutes they managed to score their only try. By slowing Uruguayan ball in a ruck and turning over ball in their own half, they spun the ball wide to wing Madison Hughes, who drew the last defender before sending captain Will Magie over the line.
Control and possession were the clues for the second Uruguayan try, centre Joaquín Prada crossing at the end of a passing movement. With this try, Uruguay went into the break leading 19-5.
The second half continued to see Uruguay in control, with second row Franco Lamanna and Francisco Benhayon, who had a good game, scoring the bonus-point try with a short run after number 8 Santiago Puppo’s straight running opened a wide gap.
“Samoa is in a higher plane, and we are happy to be in the second level where we feel comfortable. We studied what had gone wrong in our game against the Samoans and worked hard to put those wrongs right for the game against USA,” said Uruguay coach Fernando Silva.
“We wanted to finish higher than in Russia and we’ve already achieved that.”
USA captain Magie added: “During the game there were certain moments when we got the better of our opponent, [but] our mistake count was reflected on the score. We trained hard and tried to correct our flaws from the previous two games; we were partially successful in doing this.”
Samoa 50-14 Russia
Samoa confirmed their intentions to secure an immediate return to the Junior World Championship with their third conclusive victory in Georgia, downing a combative Russian side 50-14 with centre Robert Lilomaiava scoring four of their seven tries.
The 36-point difference was built on their ability to create space from broken play with an uncanny knowledge of how to break, even through the smallest of spaces, and it didn’t take long for their attacking intentions to show.
Without allowing Russia a sniff of the ball, Lilomaiava had touched down twice within seven minutes, but their opponents gradually found their feet through their own attacking weapons with full back Denis Simplikevich, hoping to make Russia’s RWC 2011 squad, running straight to generate sufficient momentum for wing Alexander Tolmachev to touch down.
Samoa captain Patrick Fa’apale kicked penalties either side of half time, but Russia refused to buckle and, with the advantage of an extra man after Samoa’s second yellow of the match, chose to attack from the base of a scrum.
Scrum half German Godlyuk combined with Simplikevich for the full back’s try and then managed to angle the conversion between the posts to cut the deficit to only seven points.
However, this did not deter the attacking ambitions of Samoa, who found space through the backs for wing Saato Iosua to dive over in the corner. The 57th minute try opened the floodgates as from the restart centre Sagato Sua touched down and soon again, Lilomaiava scored back-to-back tries.
By now, Russia was unable to compete at the breakdown as they were always going backwards and Sua and flanker Oneone Fa’afou capitalised to score the last two tries.
Samoa coach John Schuster insisted his team “was missing a number of players through injury, but yet managed to play to our desired game plan. We were somewhat surprised by the positive attitude of the Russians and their attacking game. Still, once we adjusted to this, we were in control.”
“Early during the game we scored two very quick tries, afterwards our performance became too disorganised. But in the second half we managed to get on the move again and won the game – deservedly, I think.”
Russian head coach Andrey Cherevichny added: “This game showed that Samoans can be resisted. Yes, their class is much higher than that of other teams but we did the best and for 50 minutes we showed we had the capacity to play against them.”
Captain Stanislav Sel'skiy, hiding his tears, said: “We have one game left and we are going to fight till the end of the tournament. We want to finish in fifth place. The large score margin is probably due to fatigue, it was very hot during the game. At the next match we will stand our ground firmly and will fight for the victory.”
Canada 49-23 Zimbabwe
Canada will play for the fifth place having beaten a good Zimbabwean side 49-23 in what was clearly a game of two halves. The first half was error-strewn and unattractive, the second a festival of attacking rugby in the only game played at the Shevardeni Stadium.
The first half, probably influenced by the sultry conditions, was played at a slow tempo and with many forced errors from both sides. Canada stuck, throughout the 80 minutes, to a strict pattern of attacking close to rucks and mauls.
In a game of 11 tries, only two were scored in the opening 45 minutes, Canadian wing Jeff Hassler and Zimbabwe flyer Justin Coles showed their speed to score them with Sean Linfield’s penalty to Andrew Ferguson’s conversion proving the difference in an 8-7 advantage to the African champions at half time.
Linfield would kick a second penalty in the 43rd minute and soon after Hassler got his brace, before one of the tournament’s best players, Zimbabwe scrum half Charles Jiji scored in the 48th minute as the game suddenly became interesting with scores coming thick and fast.
As the lead changed hands and Canadian centre Michael Fualifeau scored a converted try, Zimbabwe lost their influential captain Marco Mana with a rib injury. Despite this, Jiji crossed for his second try, converted by Tommy Nelson, although this would prove to be their last points.
Leading by five points Canada took control of the game. From the back of a scrum, captain Tylor Ardron scored before tries from replacements Lucien Nel and Brendon Tennant closed out the game.
“The last game in our group was of enormous importance for us. We had lost the two previous games, so winning against Zimbabwe was crucial to us. Our first half performance was bad, but we closed the game in the second half and our boys were more accurate and as a result managed to score five more tries,” said Canada head coach Michael Shelley.
Zimbabwe assistant coach Godwin Murambiwa admitted that the “Canadians were more efficient both in physical and mental aspects. Their defence was very tough and we failed to overcome them. We couldn't take advantage of our territorial opportunities, there was a lot of silly handling errors.”
To this, captain Marco Mama added: “We are very disappointed. It was clear we were neither physically nor mentally prepared. Playing for seventh place is not a good result for us. I believe we can play better.”
Georgia 14-29 Japan
In what was in essence a semi final at this Junior World Rugby Trophy, both teams fought very hard in their eagerness to reach the coveted final. In the end it was Japan’s ability to convert into points their moments of dominance that put them through to a second consecutive final.
The first half of a highly contested game saw Japan being slightly more efficient, not only scoring the only try of the opening 40 minutes, but also taking all the scoring opportunities that came their way.
After Ryodo Nakamura had kicked two early penalties, a superb long pass from prop Mao Enoki to Masakatasu Hikosaka saw the wing run in for an unconverted try in the right corner.
Georgia full back Bakhva Kobakhidze kicked penalties from 35 and 45 metres before Nakamura stretched the lead. When Enoki was sin-binned right before half time, Kobakhidze kicked a penalty as the teams went into the break with Japan leading 14-9.
Georgia could not capitalise on the advantage as their goal kicker went on to miss two penalties. In fact, with Japan back up to 15 players they took advantage of a collision between the Georgian centres to find an extra man to score through Kazushi Hano.
The hosts now had to score next if they weren’t to lose touch of their very tidy and effective opponents. Georgia managed this through replacement prop Zaza Navrozashvili after a succession of attacking moves and playing an advantage. The much-needed conversion was missed and soon Nakamura made them pay by extending the advantage to 10 points with his fourth penalty of the afternoon.
Georgia failed to capitalise on a couple of scoring opportunities and Japan soon found themselves with a lineout close to their hosts’ try-line and attacked through the forwards with replacement hooker Yoshikatsu Hikosaka scoring to settle the game at 29-14.
“The Japanese attacked our scrummage which was one of our strongest platforms and that upset our game plan. Their forwards played very well and I must admit that the Japanese were much stronger than my team. We made many mistakes and our boys showed their nervousness. Our kicker missed a couple of crucial kicks which he would normally get,” said Georgia head coach Paata Narimanashvili.
“Japan beat us playing at our game.”
Captain David Losaberidze added: “We could have won had we taken advantage of our strengths.”
Japanese head coach Yukio Motoki was happy with the win. “We knew that the Georgian pack was big and powerful and that is why we had a pragmatic approach, taking little steps at a time. We achieved our goal that way. Our defence was very tight.”
Captain Keisuke Uchida added: “Our endurance was the difference in the game. We knew what their strengths were and managed to control them. We are proud of this win and we will take a lot from this very hard game. Now we must refocus for the final against Samoa."