By Frankie Deges
After three hectic rounds, the 16-day long IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy will reach the final on Sunday afternoon in Temuco, southern Chile. Italy and Canada, the best two teams in the tournament, have 80 minutes to decide which one of them will advance to next year’s IRB Junior World Championship in New Zealand.
Both came through their pools unbeaten, yet it was Italy who managed the bigger scores and they will go into the final as marginal favourites. After a solid 33-7 win in the opening round against Namibia, they posted 50 and 59 points against Chile’s 6 and Portugal’s 13 in the following two games.
Led by fullback Angelo Espósito, the Azzuri have shown power up front and a barrage of attacking options out wide that has led to those big scores – tries have been plentiful and have come in different forms. Despite the evidence, however, they don’t feel they are going into the game as favourites.
“We are a humble team that only wants to do their job the right way,” said Espósito, speaking in Temuco’s main square, where he and his Canadian counterpart, took part in a media photo session with the Trophy ahead of the final. “Nobody can think before you play a game that you are the best.”
“Italy has played hard games and we needed to play very well to win them. Canada has had tough games and came through playing good rugby so both teams deserve to be in the final.”
I dream of playing for Italy
The Benetton Treviso player, who arrived with a beard and shaved for the last round, did not play in last year’s JWC because of injury and has his sights set on a senior career. “I would first like to play more for my club and of course I dream about playing for my country some day.”
Next to him was Pat Kay in his third JWRT. Having finished fifth in Tbilisi two years ago, his team dropped to sixth in Salt Lake City last year. He is hoping to take the side he’s enjoyed for three seasons in the JWC and then move into his senior career.
“I don’t want to look ahead of Sunday’s match against Italy but I am hoping to be selected for the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 and then hopefully be able to make it to Rugby World Cup in 2015,” said the Canuck captain.
With regard to the Canadian performance so far, he added: “After two hard games to start, in the last game against Uruguay we gave a couple of first choice players some rest.”
Underdogs want support from home crowd
“It might be a fair assumption that we go into the final as underdogs but that can’t be too bad. Hopefully, we’ll have more support from the big crowd. Team bonding has helped get here and we are looking forward to a good game.”
Before the final, three other matches will complete the JWRT. Uruguay and Namibia will fight hard to avoid the wooden spoon. Both teams take pride in their forward play and the game at the Universidad de La Frontera, walking distance from the Germán Becker Stadium, should be a tough one. Uruguay and Namibia could have won at least one game in pool play, confirming how close some of the games have been and how competitive the tournament is.
Soon after, debutants Portugal will play against a Tongan side that lost four players to suspension. This should not deter from their passion going into a game they are desperate to win to ensure they finish strongly. Likewise, the Portuguese who became the 20th nation to play in the JWRT will take pride in the way they played the final quarter against Italy scoring two tries.
The game that will attract what promises to be another new attendance record is third/fourth-place playoff between Chile and Japan. The Japanese were well beaten by Canada and have struggled in the heavy grounds. Hopefully, the lack of rain in the 48 hours leading into their game and the stadium being rested in the last round of games, will give them the space and firm ground they crave.
But the Chileans will also want to bow out with a win – the third in the tournament. Crowds in excess of 11,000 are expected at the biggest venue the JWRT has ever had.
As much as these age-grade tournaments are about developing players, a group of referees have also worked hard to ensure that the standard of officiating is maintained high and, of course, that their own careers take a positive twist. Argentinean referee Juan Sylvestre has been selected out of a pool of five to control the final. Kelekolio Petelo from Samoa will handle the third/fourth-place playoff.
By Frankie Deges