With the two top pool finishers meeting in the final of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2014, the results of the final round of pool matches will prove crucial in determining which two teams will have a chance at promotion to next year’s Junior World Championship.
As the teams prepare for the final round, it is Pool B that will throw up the most intriguing encounters at the Hong Kong Football Club.
The USA are the only side to have won both of their opening two matches, and they conclude the Pool A matches at 15:00 (local time) knowing a win over Tonga will guarantee them a spot in the final.
Hosts Hong Kong open the action two hours earlier against Georgia and will be looking for their first win, but if Georgia and Tonga win, three teams will have ended Pool A with two wins each.
At 17.00, Uruguay will face Namibia with both teams just one point off the pace set by Pool B leaders Japan, who face tournament second seeds Canada, a side still in search of their first win in Hong Kong, at 19.00.
Boosted by bonus point performances in the opening two rounds, Japan top Pool B with seven points. Namibia and Uruguay are just one point behind with six, with Canada a further five points back.
All to play for
With Namibia and Uruguay still in with a chance of making Saturday’s final, and number two seeds Canada out to restore some lost pride, it’s all to play for in Pool B at the Hong Kong Football Club.
Namibia coach Jan Dames knows that much will depend on how his side performs against the Uruguayans, and he has been assessing their strengths and weaknesses.
“We have watched video footage and some of their play live [in the competition]. Their loose forwards are quick on the ball and physical, while their back three are quick on the counter attack. They are a very good side,” Dames said.
Dames is satisfied with the way his side has fared so far in the tournament. The Namibians caused one of the shocks of the first round by beating Canada 37-25, before narrowly losing to Japan 34-28.
“The first game was very good but in the second match we lost control of our possession of the ball and didn't play our style of rugby. But overall I have been pleased with how the boys have performed,” he said.
“We’ve been focusing on our strengths and building unity within the team. We have a strong bond within the team. We believe in ourselves and in our national pride. We can still be in the final on Saturday.”
Making a mark
Dames also believes that reaching Saturday’s final would be a great boost for the development of Namibian rugby.
“That would put us on a higher level. The world would see that Namibia is a country that can and will in the future make a mark on world rugby,” he explained.
“The level is high here - all the games are being played at a fast pace and are very physical. There have been some good games, and all the teams are playing hard for their countries. A lot of effort has been put in to prepare and lift the level of rugby.”
USA top Pool A after narrowly keeping their unbeaten record intact by fending off a brave challenge from Georgia to emerge with a 13-12 victory last Friday.
Following their opening 37-0 result over hosts Hong Kong on the first day, the USA are two-from-two and are expected to emerge top of Pool A.
They stand on nine points; four points clear of Georgia and Tonga, with their final pool game to come against the Tongans.
Identifying future stars
“We have watched Tonga play and have done some analysis on them. They play an aggressive style of rugby and have some great individual athletes,” USA head coach Billy Millard said.
“We are happy with our two wins but we know we need to take advantage of the position we are in. Our work rate is important. That is our foundation. We need to keep improving core skills such as line-out lifting, all breakdown elements, and our one-on-one ball carrying and defence.
“There’ll be no changes. We’ll continue doing our own thing. I have a sensational management group and they continually tweak things to enhance our performance.”
Although Millard said his side would approach every game on its merit, and that their only priority now was to beat Tonga and then regroup, he knew how essential it was for American rugby to win the competition outright.
“It is important this group of players keeps improving and obviously we want to finish on top. We want to identify future senior Eagles then really support them to make the next step,” he said.
“It is a great competition and our whole group is thoroughly enjoying the experience. All the teams are pretty even, so it makes for a great tournament as any team can get up on the day.”