England will appear in their 6th World Rugby U20 Championship final in a row on Sunday, facing host nation France who are in their first ever final at this age-group.
The two sides won contrasting semi finals, England winning a points fest and just about resisting a South African fightback for a 32-31 victory. France meanwhile were in a game that felt like fully fledged Test match against New Zealand in Perpignan.
They eventually ran out 16-7 winners in a hugely tense game, but one that saw a wonderful performance from France. In an utterly dominant first half display they only took in a 3-0 lead, but it could have been so much more. In Woki, Bamba, and the outstanding Jordan Joseph they had the three dominant carriers and offloaders in the game, while in Carbonel at ten and Ntamack at 12 they had two classy operators directing proceedings.
The reward for that outstanding intensity and play in the first half came in early second half points as Ntamack finished some good play and Carbonel added the extras for 10-0.
A pair of Carbonel penalties put France in dreamland with fifteen minutes left at 16-0 up. This in New Zealand though, the reigning champions and of course they came back, all Kiwi sides do. With ten minutes on the clock left their outstanding fly half, Plummer, finished a brilliant team move and then converted his own try to give his side a chance.
From there many sides would have capitulated amidst the inevitable Baby Blacks onslaught but the home side held firm and claimed a famous 16-7 victory to send them into the final in Beziers this Sunday.
England meanwhile for a period must have feared going the way of their senior side at the weekend after an early 19-0 lead, secured thanks to tries from Tom Parton, Tom Hardwick, and a brilliant counter attacking score from Ben White, began to be overhauled by South Africa.
They scored tries either side of half time, with Marcus Smith penalties just keeping England with enough momentum. South Africa dominated the second half though and later added a third to narrow things to 25-19. Perhaps the decisive moment came when instead of South Africa scoring a fourth, England turned the tide with a breakaway score from Jordan Olowofela.
It took them to 32-19 ahead with the Smith conversion, meaning South Africa needed two converted scores. They got the two tries, as those memories of Saturday’s senior test came flooding though, but unfortunately for the men in green they could not convert, sending England through to a truly remarkable 6th final in a row.
Elsewhere there was a key game between two home nations as Scotland and Ireland met in a 9th-12th place semi final, with the loser going through to a very worrying relegation play off game on Sunday. Ireland took an early lead but Scotland came flying though for their first win of the campaign, playing some excellent rugby for a 45-29 win. They now play off for 9th against a Georgia side that narrowly beat Japan 24-22, Ireland meanwhile must beat Japan to avoid relegation in what has been a heavily injury hit campaign.
Wales meanwhile missed out on a 5th place play off spot as they lost to this impressive Argentina outfit 39-15 in the early kick off. Argentina will face Australia in the 5th place play off after they beat Italy 44-15, Wales meanwhile will face the Italians, who finished in second place, ahead of Argentina, in England’s Group B.
Finals day takes place on Sunday 17th June in Beziers, with games running from 10am, with that France v England final at 6pm in front of what will surely be a full house if France’s semi final in Perpignan is anything to go by. For those still here in the UK, the game will be shown live on ITV 4.
World Rugby U20 Championship Finals Day Fixtures (All times BST), Sunday 17th June:
Ireland v Japan – 11th Place Play Off – 10am, Beziers
Scotland v Georgia – 9th Place Play Off – 12.30pm, Beziers
Argentina v Australia – 5th Place Play Off – 1pm, Beziers
Wales v Italy – 7th Place Play Off – 3pm, Beziers
South Africa v New Zealand – 3rd Place Play Off – 3.30pm, Beziers
England v France – Final – 6pm, Beziers
World Rugby U20 Championship Results:
Semi Finals – Tuesday 12th June
New Zealand 7-16 France
England 32-31 South Africa
Wales 15-39 Argentina
Italy 15-44 Australia
Ireland 29-45 Scotland
Georgia 24-22 Japan
Wales 18-17 Japan
New Zealand 27-18 Australia
Italy 30-26 Argentina
England 35-10 Scotland
Ireland 20-24 Georgia
South Africa 29-46 France
Australia 54-19 Japan
New Zealand 42-10 Wales
Argentina 29-13 Scotland
England 43-5 Italy
France 24-12 Georgia
South Africa 30-17 Ireland
New Zealand 67-0 Japan
Wales 26-21 Australia
England 39-18 Argentina
Italy 27-26 Scotland
France 26-24 Ireland
South Africa 33-27 Georgia