By Frankie Deges
Day one of IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Freire and Temuco in southern Chile provided no major surprises with pre-tournament favourites Japan and Italy securing bonus-point wins while Canada and Chile also managed victories.
Japan beat Uruguay 40-20, Italy won the game against Namibia 33-7, Canada were a 24-6 victor against Tonga and the home side secured an 18-6 win against Portugal.
After heavy rain in the build-up to the game, the weather was always going to be a factor to consider for the opening game between three-time finalists Japan and Uruguay. The Japanese made better use the strong wind in the first half and with speedy wing Kai Ishii scoring a hat-trick, took a deserved 40-20 win.
Within the first five minutes, Ishii scrambled for his first try in the left corner. Soon after, full-back Rikita Matsuda scored the second try and Uruguay lost the first of two players to first half sin-bins.
Before the end of the first quarter, Ishii against touched down for a converted try to set up a comfortable 17-0 lead. With clean, quick recycled ball, the Japanese made good use of their possession, while the Uruguayans only managed to control them in the scrums. A fourth first-half Japanese try was only countered by a solitary Uruguayan unconverted try by Santiago Carrasco and a last second penalty, for a 30-8 half-time score.
The second half saw Uruguay use the wind and continue to control the scrums, yet they were unable to find gaps to exploit. They did score two tries but it was not enough to push the winners harder.
“We played very well the first half, achieving all that we had planned despite the wind and the rain,” said Japanese captain Hayato Nishuichi. “We will work on our mistakes for the next game, especially the number of knock-ons. We are here to win the trophy."
Uruguayan captain Nicolás Fleitas said: “It wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for but we now need to focus on Tonga, which will also be very hard.”
Italy outplay Namibia
Italy came next in Freire and confirmed their credentials, starting strongly against Namibia. Having controlled the scrums and mauls up front, their backs then made good use of the resultant space, with centre Michele Campagnaro scoring a first-half brace of tries. The Namibians never found their feet and the 26-0 score against them going into the break was too big to recover from.
To add to their misery, the wind and rain lashed down while Italy began using their bench and the game’s composure was soon lost. The Italians overused the boot and Namibia took their opportunity in the 57th minute with more will than guile when centre Handre Bezuidenhout scored his side’s only try. The 33-7 was a fair reflection of what the game was.
“We are here to win this trophy and return to the JWC. We must stay focused until the end. This was a hard first game in which we should have scored more points,” said Italian captain Angelo Espósito.
His Namibian counterpart Daniel Arries found the weather hard to cope with. “We can’t blame conditions but we aren’t accustomed to this weather and didn’t cope well. We came to Chile to be champions but now we must work hard to ensure we can finish in third place.”
Canada control set pieces against Tonga
The trophy then moved to the tournament’s main arena, the Germán Becker Stadium in Temuco.
In the first game at the stadium, Canada was far more structured than Tonga, with outstanding defence and positive set pieces. Indeed, steeling five balls against the throw in the lineout along with a solid scrum were crucial as Canada scored a try in each half to set up victory.
The growth of Canada in the past year was evident, with fly-half Shane O’Leary, who kicked 14 points, and full-back Jack Fitzpatrick having great games.
Tonga looked dangerous from broken play but a lack of adequate support cost them dearly. They scored the opening points with a second minute penalty but their inability to secure first phase possession cost them dearly and were never really in with a try-scoring opportunity.
“Tonga are rated higher than us but we stuck to our game plan and things worked for us,” said Canadian captain Pat Kay. “We are expecting to continue on this trend and win every pool game as we want to qualify for the final.”
His Tongan counterpart Vai Hausia expressed his disappointment at the way his team performed. Looking forward to the next game against Uruguay, he said: “We are hoping to be more composed and work better as a team.”
Home team cheered on by 4,000
In front of around 4,000 home supporters, Chile showed why they feel they can challenge for glory this year, with an accomplished win over Portugal in the final game of the day.
It had been Portugal who opened the scoring early on, however, with a well-taken drop goal but Chile did not take long to recover and after a series of attacks on the Portuguese line, number eight Sebastián Kalm crossed from the back of a scrum in the seventh minute. Centre Tomás García crossed 17 minutes later following good build-up and the home side went in at half-time 15-3 to the good.
The second half was a tough, hard-fought affair and did not yield much on the scoreboard as an exchange of penalties closed the score at 18-6.
“We were expecting a physical game and Chile were a very strong opponent. Their game plan was very well thought out. I still hope to achieve good things and have to look forward to the next game against Namibia,” said captain Vasco Méndez.
His Chilean counterpart, Sergio Bascuñán, spoke of their next game. “Italy is the hardest opponent of the pool and we are here to try to win the tournament so we know how hard that game will be. As we are both unbeaten, this is a key game in our Trophy dreams.”
The next round of matches will take place on June 1.
By Frankie Deges