Italy secured an immediate return to the IRB Junior World Championship after overcoming Canada 45-23 in the final of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2013 in the Chilean city of Temuco in early June.
The Azzurrini, who were relegated to the second tier after losing 19-17 to Fiji in the relegation play-off at JWC 2012, won all four of their matches in Chile to ensure their place among the world’s elite Under 20 teams in New Zealand next year.
Having safely negotiated their way through the pool stages, Italy made their intentions clear from the start of the final at the Estadio Germán Becker with Marcello Violi crossing in the opening minute.
But, despite leading only 10-6 at half-time, Italy took advantage when Canada had two players sin-binned in the second half, scoring five tries, including a second by Violi, to run out impressive winners.
“I have no words to describe this moment,” admitted delighted captain Angelo Espósito. “We are overjoyed that we have taken Italy back to the JWC. The way the public supported this tournament was incredible and it certainly pushed us to play our best rugby.”
Gianluca Guidi’s side had got off to a comfortable start, beating Namibia 33-7at the Estadio Municipal Freire on 28 May.
Victories followed for the tournament favourites over hosts Chile (50-6) and Portugal (59-13) to confirm their place in the final as Pool A winners, while Canada defeated Tonga (24-6), Japan (39-15) and Uruguay (36-15) in the other pool.
The Italian defeat may have been hard to swallow for Canada, but it was a significant improvement on their sixth place finish 12 months earlier. Canada coach Mike Shelley admitted that Temuco “had been the best” of his three tournaments, before admitting that “going from sixth last year to second in 2013 is thanks to a long-term project that we hope will put us again in a position to play for the trophy.”
Chile were perhaps the surprise package of the tournament, however, finishing an impressive third, two places higher than in 2012. Having beaten newcomers Portugal 18-6 on the opening day, they bounced back from their defeat to Italy to edge Namibia 23-21.
The hosts had led 20-0 and were on course to reach the third place play-off before Namibia struck back and scored 21 unanswered points to take the lead with just two minutes remaining.
But a late penalty by Francisco Urroz gave Chile a 23-21 win to the delight of the home crowd and set up a match with Japan, which was equally as entertaining in front of 10,500 spectators ahead of the final.
The lead changed hands no less than nine times in the match, and once again it was Chile who struck late on to snatch the win against Japan, who had reached the three previous finals.
With the defence keeping wing Kai Ishii, who had earlier scored five tries in Japan’s 40-20 victory against Uruguay and a total of eight in the pool stages, Urroz was the hero again. Japan took the lead through Joji Sato with a minute remaining, before the Chile full back collected the ball in midfield and placed a perfectly weighted kick into the corner where wing Jan Hasenlechner jumped to take the ball and score a much celebrated try, fittingly converted by Urroz.
Despite Temuco stepping in to host the tournament just a month before when Antofagasta pulled out, the 2013 edition was a huge success with more than 35,000 spectators turning out – the most in the tournament’s fledgling history – and this was a fitting celebration for the home fans.
“It was a privilege for us and the region to host such a great tournament. Having eight nations in Temuco was not only good fun but great exposure for a region that has everything: mountains and sea, farmland and great people,” said Araucanía Region Governor Andrés Molina.
Tonga finished fifth in Chile, two places lower than the previous year, after beating Portugal 27-7, while Uruguay were too strong for Namibia in the seventh place play-off, winning 40-29.